Medicare and prescription drug scammers taking advantage of seniors

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey wants seniors to be on guard for scammers looking to bilk money and personal information from older Americans and Medicare beneficiaries.

The Consumer Resources section of the Mass.gov website sounds the alarm on a variety of scams and identity theft tactics used within the state, but among them is a warning bulletin on Medicare scams acutely targeting senior citizens.

But even if you aren’t a resident of the Bay State, Medicare scams, like many scams affecting seniors, are only increasing across the country, so it’s wise to be on the lookout no matter where you live.

According the Mass.gov site, though these scams come in a few different flavors, most rely heavily on social engineering techniques to convince a victim to provide sensitive information for the purpose of identity theft.

These con-artists will call, mail, or otherwise contact their victims with bogus credentials, phony official documents, and say anything they need to convince the target to give up information–including threatening the target with loss of Medicare benefits if he doesn’t sign up for a drug benefit and promising prizes or money for signing up to some new drug plan.

The problem is those taken in by these scams don’t know Medicare will NEVER call and ask you for your personal information–nor does your enrollment in Medicare prescription benefits affect your other benefits one iota–and they don’t know promising cash and prizes for enrolling in a drug plan is highly illegal.

Just knowing these simple facts, however, could spare the next potential victim from financial heartbreak.

The Attorney General’s official website offers several ways you can spot a Medicare scammer before you’ve been taken for a ride, as well as some of the most common ways Medicare scammers try to take advantage of seniors.

The CDC declares senior financial abuse a public health crisis

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is known for its fight against major diseases. Now, it’s turning its attention to another public health concern: widespread senior financial abuse.

In a word, the increasing financial abuse of seniors is epidemic–though unlike an outbreak of disease, there isn’t any definitive strategy to contain and eradicate it. Up until now, there hasn’t even been a clear-cut definition of what constitutes senior financial abuse.

But this kind of exploitation ultimately has serious health ramifications for its victims, forcing the CDC to formally declare senior financial abuse a danger to public health:

“The need to address financial fraud and exploitation has not been a traditional area for public health focus, but increasingly, the potentially devastating effect–on physical, mental, and financial well-being–is being recognized. In many cases, exploitation occurs at the hands of family members or caregivers, creating further devastation for the individual being exploited.”

The CDC pays particular attention to seniors experiencing some form of cognitive decline or impairment–these people are heavily at risk for financial abuse at the hands of someone they trust.

Among the far-reaching effects of financial exploitation are:

Emotional and psychological damage: stress, anxiety, depression, insecurity, fear, shame, anger, mistrust, diminished self-value.

Financial damage: a victim can lose the ability to afford his home, medication, adequate nutrition, therapy and medical treatments, and even become unable to afford to hire legal counsel or assistance should he choose to pursue recourse against his abuser.

Physical damage: lack of access to vital health services, good nutrition, and a comfortable home coupled with a constant state of psychological turmoil translate into poor physical health quickly–even young people with these problems can develop serious chronic health problems, putting themselves at risk for heart attacks, stroke, memory-related illness, diabetes, stomach ulcers and digestive disease, high susceptibility to colds, flus, and other viruses, insomnia, and chronic body pain.

In taking the first major steps to define and recognize senior exploitation as a very real health concern, the CDC hopes to begin measuring both its spread and the impact it has on our society, ultimately taking action to put a stop to it.

The CDC joins the effort of medical professionals and watchdog organizations already fighting for stronger regulations holding financial institutions legally accountable when red flags of financial abuse are present, and preventing them from putting their own interests ahead of their senior clients.

But experts say working toward effective fraud monitoring is only half the battle. Families are the first line of defense for their senior members–the most effective layer of protection rests with children and grandchildren who are active in their senior family members’ lives and learn to recognize the warning signs before the exploitation goes further. Judith Shaw, Maine’s securities administrator stresses in a recent Politico article:

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“If my great-grandparents needed something they could turn to my grandparents, or my parents, or my aunts and uncles. Those types of communities are becoming more and more rare. That social isolation contributes to making our population more vulnerable… If I had one wish, it would be that we all call our parents at least as frequently as the scam artists do.”