Is this a scam? Pay attention to way someone asks you to pay

phone-449836_1920.jpgThe hardest part of preventing yourself from becoming the victim of a scammer is recognizing whether an offer or threat is a scam in the first place.

Many people fail to appreciate a seasoned scammer knows what he’s doing. The more confident you are no one can get one over on you, the more susceptible you are to a true professional.

A successful scammer is charismatic, very convincing, and failing all else, knows how to apply pressure and intimidate his target. He’s anticipated your questions and prepared responses–and he’s maybe even prepared to counter some of the well-known techniques recommended to identify a scammer.

That’s why we can’t ever fault someone for falling for these schemes. These people are very good at what they do. And anyway, if it were easy to recognize a scam, no one would be a scammer. There wouldn’t be any profit in it.

But even a brilliant social engineer can’t hide every telltale sign of fraud. At the end of the day, the scammer has to be able to make a financial transaction to receive his prize. And this transaction has to be done in a way that obscures his identity and can’t be reversed.

Basically, a scammer needs his victim to give him cash. Cash leaves no paper trail, can be picked up at anonymous locations, and payment can’t be stopped when the fraud is discovered.

No matter what the scam is or how good the scammer is, they will give themselves away when the time comes to ask a victim to pony up. Not only will he eventually ask you for a form of cash, he’ll probably also tell you it’s the only way you can pay.

Absolutely no trustworthy company or organization does business this way.

The Federal Trade Commission recommends watching for this very ask if you suspect someone who has contacted you for money is trying to trick you.


Just bear in mind it won’t always be paper currency. There are several payment options a scammer might suggest that essentially function the same as paper currency:

  • Wiring money
  • Sending or providing the number from gift cards, like Amazon, iTunes, Apple (the scammer will usually sell these gift cards to receive a profit)
  • Sending or providing the number from prepaid debit cards, like MoneyPak/Green Dot cards, Reloadit cards, or VISA gift cards

Again, keep this in mind: with the exception of small retailers and eateries you’d visit in person, almost no legitimate business deals in cash only (many won’t deal with cash at all). And no illegitimate business will deal in anything else.

No matter how good his “you owe the IRS a ton of money” game is, a scammer blows his entire setup when he has to ask you for cash–especially if it requires you to buy 13 iTunes gift cards at exactly $150 each and call him back to read him all 13 numbers (hahaha, the IRS wants you to do what?).

So ignore the offer, the personality, the threats, and the details. All you need to do to catch a crook is keep an ear out for the dead giveaway: scammers always ask for cash.

Once the caller demands a wire transfer or a VISA gift card, hang up the phone. Don’t argue, don’t reason with the scammer, and don’t let him know you find his demands for cash suspicious (as we’ve already said, top notch scammers know to finesse you and talk themselves out of corners). Don’t even say a word.

Just abruptly hang up the phone and block the number.

Exploitation, racketeering, theft, and perjury: court-appointed guardians are building empires on senior abuse

“It’s unfortunate, but old people fall.”

These are the words of Barbara Andruccioli, who worked as a guardian and conservator of an elderly couple in the suburbs of Detroit.

The callousness in Ms. Andruccioli’s reply to the news that the two people she was charged to care for had been experiencing frequent fall is emblematic of the cruelty of court-appointed guardians for elderly across the country.

Ms. Andruccioli also allowed the couple over whom she was in charge to sleep in their own urine, according to WXYZ TV in Detroit.

That loss of dignity—indeed, of humanity—is, sadly, common for elderly people who are taken from the care of their children and other relatives and legally confined to the inadequate care of so-called guardians. Anyone over the age of 60 must know their rights, and the legal system must work to reform to prevent these tragedies from continuing.

In theory, elderly people are placed in the care of a guardian as a way of protecting their health and their finances. Most guardians are private citizens with no prior background in elder care. One would think this would occur when a vulnerable person is without loved ones to care from them. But that is where the crucial difference between theory and practice comes in.

In the case of Milan and Janet Kapp, the elderly couple handed over to Ms. Andruccioli, they had daughter taking care of them, with two other children living nearby. Often, seniors with very active relatives who take regular care of them are yanked from their homes. They may be placed in assisted-living facilities, or elsewhere, and are all too often cruelly neglected.

These people are deemed unfit to handle their finances, but what is worse, their families lose legal authority to help, and often the person’s assets are sold to pay for their care–and to provide a profit for the guardian.

Picture it: an elderly couple being ushered out of their home with meager bags holding a fraction of their belongings, then driven to a facility for the elderly, while the stranger who’d dragged them away under threat of taking them to respite care would make decisions on their healthcare.

A well-known story of particular abuse was chronicled in The New Yorker last fall. Rudy and Rennie North lived in a retirement community in Las Vegas, complete with a view of the golf course. Their daughter, Julie, lived just minutes away and visited them almost daily. They also received the care of a nurse who came daily, which was beneficial and necessary for Rennie’s neuropathy.

The Norths woke up one morning and had breakfast with no reason to suspect anything was amiss. With no warning, a local—now notorious—guardian named April Parks entered the apartment with a few co-workers.

Without the Norths knowing it, Parks had gone to court to obtain guardianship over the two, arguing that they were mentally unfit to take their medications properly, an argument that ignored their nurse and visitations from Julie. While it sounds absurd, the court did what it does throughout the nation, which was to grant the guardianship, thus opening aging adults to the indignity of a stranger making the most basic decisions in their lives for them.

Picture it: an elderly couple being ushered out of their home with meager bags holding a fraction of their belongings, then driven to a facility for the elderly, while the stranger who’d dragged them away under threat of taking them to respite care would make decisions on their healthcare.

This is something none of us thinks will ever happen to us or our loved ones. We take for granted a measure of freedom—that’s what we work for. What people fear, to some extent, is the sticky matter of having to put their parents in an assisted-living facility, perhaps doing so in the face of tears or of pleas to the let their parents stay at home.

What probate guardianship represents is much worse, since it dislocates bewildered seniors, treating them like property. Once the wards have been forcibly relocated into sub-par housing, with their family legally barred from visiting except at designated times, they are neglected by the guardian, who initially posed as being concerned for their welfare.

For example, Milan and Janet Kapp, in addition to gaining no sympathy for their frequent falls, also had to live without wheelchair ramps outside their home, where they still lived after having been classified as wards.

The request for the accommodation was made to a new guardian, who took over after the resignation of the aforementioned Andruccioli, who buckled under the shame of an evidentiary hearing that was made by Douglas Kuthy, attorney for the Kapp’s daughter. Kuthy told WXYZ that a series of e-mails requesting the ramps that would allow the Kapps to leave home went unanswered by the court-appointed guardian.

While the callous and inhumane attitudes of Andruccioli, Parks, and guardians across the country, are shocking, they are rooted in the motives of these guardians.

That motive is profit.

One of the chief ways in which these sham-guardians enrich themselves is by billing obscene amounts for their services.

As an example, Andruccioli charged $245/hour, while her staffers charged up to $165/hour. These and similar fees charged by various guardians, are expected in return for their violating their wards and their families, for their making decisions counter to the will of everyone involved, and for their often greatly endangering the very lives of the seniors they exploit. All of this is court sanctioned.

But there’s a second way these predators line their pockets. As allowed by courts, these guardians sell the assets of the people they victimize. In the case of the Norths in their sunny Vegas apartment, a crew of scavengers trudged in after Parks, just minutes after the guardian had whisked the couple away.

These people stole from the Norths not only valuable artwork, but paintings made by their son. They sold Rudy’s Chrysler for less than $8,000. Parks put the North’s savings in an account in her name.

Assuming guardianship over wealthy seniors, is, then, a business model. Those engaged in it have no interest in any aspect of senior care. Rather, they are glorified burglars, casing homes, salivating over riches inside, and hatching schemes to get those riches.

People such as Parks–and her former rival, the notorious Nevada guardian Jared Shafer—depend on cronyism with one or more guardianship commissioner, who will green-light their thefts. For example, Parks was granted guardianship over the Norths ex parte, meaning with there was no requirement that anyone—not the Norths, nor their members–be present.

It should be clear that inadequate laws—or laws made to promote corruption—are a major part of the problem here. As with many cases of opportunists breezing in and benefitting from their knowledge–and in the case of Shafer—the actual crafting of obscure laws, one problem is that people are just unaware that any of this can happen.

To bring closure to these horror stories, they did have endings with some measure of justice. This past November, the Norths were liberated from the ill-intentioned guardianship of Parks, which Rudy described as a kidnapping. They were awarded $8.3 million in damages.

Parks, along with her team, was indicted on more than 200 counts of exploitation, racketeering, theft, and perjury. The charges apply to crimes committed to more than 150 victims.

As for Andruccioli, she was fired by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, meaning her racket as an estate thief is over.

Let’s hope that guardians throughout the country are aware of the very real consequences faced by their crooked colleagues.

People learning about these horrors may wonder how likely it is to happen to them or to their parents or other loved ones. While stories about terrible examples of guardianship have recently come from Nevada, it’s a national issue. It’s true that less populous areas will have less guardians, and that areas with higher concentrations of seniors have too many of these exploiters. They are on the lookout for wealthy seniors with estates that make their crimes worthwhile.

The biggest warning sign is a potential guardian going to a judge to get permission for guardianship. Guardianships should arise due to a real need, such as complaints of poor care made by the potential ward, reported by neighbors, etc. In this case, you may find a guardian who has legitimate concern about the well-being of seniors. However, guardianship by a probate guardian is problematic in any circumstance.

That can be due to the very high fees charged and the generally disconnected nature of the guardian. It can be the case that if the guardian sells assets of the ward, they may illegally take some of the profits for themselves. In fact, they sometimes sell large items such as cars to a partner at low prices, report that low price to the courts, and then have their partner re-sell the item to someone else and get a tidy profit.

A lot of what is driving the abuse of guardianship powers is the way the system is set up and run. First off, the requirements for becoming a guardian are minimal. Some lawyers or government employees cynically identify opportunities for exploitation. Some entrepreneurs have the same motivations.

While information on the guardianship process can often be found on a state’s web page, information on background checks and other screening processes for guardians is shadowy.

A recent Huffington Post article cited a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) saying it was impossible to find any entity that provided “comprehensive information on this issue.” This means that those guardians who may feel they are helping their wards may have a hard time acquiring the right philosophy to do their work with the right compassion and stamina. No one holds guardians to standards, except the families, who are relatively powerless.

It’s also important to know that no limits are placed on the number of wards a guardian can have. While the jail-bound Parks had a roster in the hundreds, that is, fortunately, a bit extreme. The Huffington Post tells us that in Virginia, there are, on average, 20 wards per guardian, while it’s 40 to 1 in Florida. How can a guardian attempting to oversee so many elderly people be a better situation than their children or the staff at an assisted-living facility doing so?

Another condition that creates a safe environment for probate guardians is corruption at the local level, which can include judges or probate commissioners who are essentially co-conspirators with guardians. A good example is Jon Norheim, who is notorious in Nevada, and whose many callous and sarcastic remarks at the expense of wards or their families are well documented in the New Yorker article. He presided over many cases of Parks’, as well as those of Jared Shafer, an infamously aggressive and unscrupulous guardian.

In a 2013 hearing in a case involving Shafer, the attorney for Shafer’s ward claimed that the ward’s bank account was empty, with no records to show where the funds had gone. Shafer, who, like many guardians, is not a lawyer, asked Norheim to close the court. Norheim—not a judge—complied, meaning that everyone but the ward’s attorney and Norheim had to leave, unable to hear what came next.

The fact that probate guardianship has a Wild West quality is depressing. Yet, it also offers a ray of hope, since it indicates room for legislative remedies to much of what is wrong with the system. Laws could be passed to install stricter requirements for potential guardians; this could include requiring guardians to be government employees, who’d have no profit motive; legislation could limit the number of cases heard by a commissioner or judge and provide greater oversight over their rulings; laws could strictly limit the number of wards a guardian could have, and could require that family members be given a chance to attend hearings.

However, corruption is difficult to stop in its tracks. Bad judges will always enable bad guardians. Those in power can get away with breaking laws.

Some of the most promising solutions for this crisis come from people themselves.

One cheering development—which we are trying to perpetuate with this essay—is a greater awareness. In the tragic tale of the Norths, a change came midstream. At a 2015 hearing at which the Norths were to discuss finances, local media was present, since a Las Vegas newspaper had recently run an investigative article. The members of the media found a Norheim who was suddenly concerned about the Norths while he’d presided over Parks’ exploitation of them for nearly two years. In fact, at that hearing, Norheim suspended Parks from the case—a tremendous load off the Norths, and what would become the first domino to fall in their eventual victory. No one familiar with Norheim’s record would fail to realize this as a cynical attempt to cover himself, an act for the press. But it was a big victory for an oppressed elderly couple, and it wouldn’t have happened without a spotlight on the story.

Later, Norheim was permanently pulled from probate hearings involving the elderly. Now, the fact that he was moved to guardianship cases pertaining to minors is frightening, but it shows that the judicial system is capable of some oversight, long overdue though it may be.

The Norths’ large settlement that came later shows that not all components of the system heartlessly conspire against elderly people and their families. Justice is reachable. But it must be fought for. Further, the tragedy of the mental and physical abuse countless people have suffered cannot be made up for with later corrections. Stopping these exploitation campaigns from ever happening is crucial.

This may be a new topic to you—the lay person can’t be expected to understand or to know much about these events, particularly since most would assume something would be in place to stop them. Awareness is the key. While in a perfect world the responsibility wouldn’t be on all of us, there are preventive measures we can take.

As a society, we need to make the ways of avoiding unscrupulous guardians common currency. The power of united people is the best deterrent to would-be exploiters, while an awareness of one’s rights is a defense against neglect and incompetence.

One major course of action is establishing power of attorney. This designates a person to act on behalf of the person in question, making decisions about finances and about healthcare. In fact, that acting attorney can can actually be the person’s guardian.

Elder Law attorney Eric Goldberg told HuffPo that a specific healthcare power of attorney can allow a person invested with the power to make all healthcare decisions for the person when he or she becomes incapacitated.

According to Goldberg, the key is to take these precautions in advance and to be sure that appropriate parties have copies of your paperwork and are aware. In some of the horror stories we’ve outlined, the ward had already drawn a will, which was ignored. This is certainly a worse-case scenario—one can only be as prepared as possible.

Goldberg has a great piece of advice along these lines. He counsels the families of aging relatives to consult with their bank and ideally get it to accept their power of attorney. Similar arrangements are possible with hospitals and doctor’s offices.

This kind of effort helps create partnerships between families and community members who may be there when important actions are to be carried out. This makes it much less likely that the elderly person’s wishes will be lost or ignored.

As a society, we need to make the ways of avoiding unscrupulous guardians common currency. The power of united people is the best deterrent to would-be exploiters, while an awareness of one’s rights is a defense against neglect and incompetence.

We should remain hopeful that legislation will proceed in a moral fashion, helping with the fight. We should contact our representatives.

But ultimately we must be vigilant and take all the precautions we can. The best way to hold onto power is to take it in the first place.

Kentucky lawyer pulls off $550 million disability con–the largest Social Security fraud in U.S. history

In 2010, small town Kentucky lawyer Eric Conn was the third-highest-earning disability lawyer in the United States, winning $3.9 million for his clients in their disability claims against the Social Security Administration.

By all appearances, Conn was a virtuoso. He boasted a 99% success rate in getting his clients their disability payments–collecting as much as $6,000 for himself per win. In his advertisements, Conn used the moniker “Mr. Social Security.”

But those were just appearances. While it’s true Conn successfully argued most of his cases, it had nothing to do with skill.

Well, not litigation skills, anyway.

Unbeknownst to his clients, the Social Security Administration, and just about everyone who knew his reputation, Conn was committing the single largest Social Security fraud in history.

His high win rate was purchased from a corrupt Social Security judge willing to approve anything Conn put across his desk in exchange for over a half million dollars in bribes.

For the next seven years, law enforcement built their case against Conn and his accomplice, Judge David Daughtery. While Daughtery plead guilty to multiple felonies regarding his role in the fraud, Conn fled the country to escape imprisonment.

Meanwhile, as many as 1,700 innocent people suddenly lost their Social Security disability payments, which they came to know in time were obtained illegally.

CNBC reports on the mind-boggling scheme, its impact on Conn’s victims, and how those seeking assistance with their own Social Security cases can guard themselves against unscrupulous third party claim representatives.

How a small town lawyer pulled off the biggest Social Security scam in U.S. history and why it could happen again from CNBC.

 

Brace yourself: popular health scam promises free medical equipment and fraudulently bills your Medicare

It can happen a few different ways: you might be contacted via a phone call, you might receive a notice or postcard in the mail, or you may choose to contact the individual yourself after seeing an ad in your local circular or newspaper.

And the person you end up speaking to won’t always have the exact same story. Sometimes he’ll be a Medicare representative. Sometimes he’ll say he’s an employee of a medical device manufacturer or supplier. He might even tell you he was referred to you directly by your personal physician.

But though the contact method and back story is variable, what’s definitely going to happen when you start going back and forth with this scammer is he’s going to recommend you take him up on an excellent medical equipment offer.

Has your back troubled you recently? Do you have aches in your knees at all? Well, a brand new back or knee brace might be just the thing to improve your stability and ease your pain in these areas.

And since this equipment is 100% covered by Medicare, you won’t have to come out-of-pocket at all if you’re a Medicare beneficiary.

…So are you currently receiving Medicare? Can I have your card number?

The problem with this scam isn’t that your Medicare won’t cover your new back brace–it’s that the “Medicare representative” on the other end of phone isn’t intending on sending it to you.

That’s because once the scammer has the number on your Medicare card and whatever other personal information he might need, he can bill Medicare for your equipment–whether he sends it to you or not.

Often, back brace scammers don’t stop at just billing for a device they never sent.

Not only do they bill Medicare far more than the device’s actual value, but they’ll go on to repeatedly bill Medicare over time for treatments and equipment you never asked for or received.

Medicare scammers can run up tens of thousands of dollars in fraudulent Medicare claims in your name before they’re discovered.

The bottom line is this: when it comes to your medical treatments and therapies, put your trust in your caregivers alone. Only your doctor knows your history and what your needs are as a patient. All of your medical decision-making, including what therapeutic braces or equipment you might need, can and should be done through a trusted medical professional face-to-face.

Keep your Medicare and personal information private at all times. And never respond to ads, calls, mailings, or emails making medical offers or asking for your personal medical information. Direct all concerns and questions you have about your healthcare to your doctor alone.

“Just Hang Up”: Dan Rather Reports investigates the devastating impact of lottery and sweepstakes scams on seniors

They say “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” But saying something isn’t all that hard to do.

In theory, if a stranger reaches out to you and offers you the moon and stars out of nowhere, sure. It’s easy to say their promises probably come with a pretty big catch. After all, ain’t nothin’ free in this world.

But seasoned scam artists know you probably think that, so simply cold-calling, making the offer, and seeing who bites isn’t how they operate. Their challenge is to break through the wall of your common sense and good judgment by identifying the weak spots and chipping away until they gain entry.

They do this by selecting victims carefully and being willing to play a long game to gain trust and reap bigger rewards in time. Lottery scammers want lonely victims, victims who want to talk and trust, and victims who are likely to be in need extra funds. In most cases, this makes the ideal victim a senior.

Think about it: many seniors live alone, have few close friends, and limited contact with children and family members. Having few opportunities to sit and chat with someone, they’re likely to stay on the phone–and even more likely to share personal details and trust someone quickly.

These details and this trust are what the scammer needs to begin building a “relationship” with you. And it’s this relationship that makes the adage about looking gift horses in the mouth irrelevant–the scammer is just a helpful friend trying to give you a windfall of cash to help with medical and retirement expenses.

But once this trust is established, your “friend” will start asking you for money. To pay transfer fees. To pay taxes on your winnings. To pay for transporting your prize to your home. They’ll ask you to mail cash, to send Greendot or Visa gift cards, or wire money from your account.

And they’ll keep it going for as long as they can. The only thing you’ll ever receive from them are excuses–never your winnings.

Before a victim even realizes what happened, they’ve often lost thousands of dollars. In particularly heinous cases, seniors have lost their homes and nearly everything they’ve ever owned because of this scam.

In this three-part series from Dan Rather Reports, Rather and his team dive headfirst into the growing problem of senior lottery scamming. This investigation explores the lives of victims and confronts the lottery scammers face-to-face on their home turf.

 

Spotting an online scam: can you pass the quiz?

Home Instead Senior Care, the world’s largest in-home senior caregiving organization, recently launched a website focused on educating seniors and their families to recognize critical online scam red flags.

Just in time for tax season–a high traffic period for online scammers and identity thieves–Home Instead’s Protect Seniors Online offers visitors helpful resources regarding techniques to limit their vulnerability online and scammer strategies to watch out for as you browse websites, open emails, and post to social media.

And if you’d like to test your own knowledge of safe online navigation, you can take the website’s “Can You Spot an Online Scam” quiz.  It’s a 10-question test positing a series of common online scenarios–some safe, and some that should instantly set off alarm bells.  Your challenge is to differentiate the secure from the suspicious.

Check out this site if you want to learn more about how you can protect yourselves or your senior loved ones from online predators–and if you think you’ve got it all figured out, have a crack at the online scam quiz.  Let us know how you did!

 

During the biggest year for identity thieves in U.S. history, more Social Security numbers were stolen than credit card numbers for the first time

A brand new study conducted by Javelin Strategy and Research, reported by NBC News, revealed two discouraging facts about the ever-changing nature of cyber fraud and identity theft: thieves are increasingly able to adapt to attempts to thwart theft, and despite our best efforts, identity thieves are boasting more victims than ever before.

2017 marked an all-time high for identity theft. Approximately 16.7 million Americans fell prey to identity theft–the largest amount ever–with thieves pocketing around $16.8 billion in total. These crimes included using stolen credit card numbers to make online purchases, emptying bank accounts online, opening bogus Paypal accounts, and even stealing a victim’s reward points for shopping at certain merchants (IS NOTHING SACRED?).

In another first, theft via stolen Social Security numbers surpassed theft committed with stolen credit card numbers. This is largely due to the scope of this past summer’s Equifax breach.

But even without the disaster that created an all-you-can-eat buffet of our Social Security numbers, 2017’s identity theft trends suggest a larger shift in the way predators are targeting victims and using their data to steal.

With the gradual transition from traditional magnetic stripe bank cards to EMV or “chip” cards, point-of-sale skimming theft and duplicating physical cards has gotten a lot trickier.

This could be motivating many thieves to focus strictly on online transactions where a chip reader doesn’t come into play–or, better yet, stealing the identifying information needed to fraudulently open a card of their own.

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Having access to a Social Security number opens up a world of opportunities to cash in on a victim. Not only does it allow a criminal to sidestep tighter security that prevents transactions with a stolen or fake credit card, it also offers them a broader variety of ways to steal from a victim–especially in ways that might not be immediately noticeable.

Consider the uptick in thieves using stolen Social Security numbers and identifying information to file for someone’s retirement benefits. While using this data to alter the bank information and reroute direct deposit payments might tip off a victim quickly, a thief filing for benefits prior to the victim filing himself could stand to collect a tidy sum before the theft was detected.

It seems with each step forward we take to combat widespread identity theft, the fraudsters react with lightning speed, adjusting their methods to keep the cash rolling in.

But knowing where the focus has shifted helps us on an individual level take better care with our security, especially when using our credit cards and personal information online. If we appreciate the increasing risk and know where and how thieves access our information, we can take measures to minimize the bull’s eye on our wallets:

  • Encrypt, encrypt, encrypt. Your emails. Your photos. Your messages. The financial information or documents you might store on your devices. Encrypt everything. There are multiple tools available–some open source and free-to-use–that will help you do this.
  • Use two-factor authentication when possible. This is when access to an account requires more steps than just entering a password. For example, many social media platforms allow you to require a password AND a pin number texted to a mobile phone before access to an account is granted.
  • Don’t use public Wi-Fi. Intercepting data over a public connection is a classic way for a thief to snatch your personal information–especially if you’re making purchases. Just don’t ever use public Wi-Fi.
  • Keep an eye on your bank accounts and credit report. Many of us don’t actively monitor our financial health until the time comes to make a serious financial decision. By then, the damage could be done. Make time to screen your bank transactions for suspicious activity. Take advantage of each year’s free credit report to make sure you don’t see anything fishy (this is especially important after the Equifax breach).

The important takeaway from this report is that we all take our own cyber security very seriously–we should be as vigilant about protecting our digital information as we would about leaving our purses and wallets unattended.

Don’t wait to protect yourself until after you’ve been affected.

Isolate, medicate, liquidate: senior “guardians” make millions by keeping seniors in a virtual prison

At face value, senior guardianship is a great concept with the wellbeing of seniors in mind. It’s a legal ruling appointing an individual as guardian for those experiencing physical or cognitive health problems.

This guardian is expected to do everything necessary to assist and maintain a healthy, safe lifestyle for whom he’s appointed to care, including taking care of their physical, mental, medicinal and financial needs. This is strictly meant for situations where an individual is unable to care for herself and would have a better quality of life if someone made decisions on her behalf.

A number of entities can petition the courts for appointment of a senior guardian. The senior herself could request the courts for a guardian or even her spouse, partner, friend, or relative.

There are several advantages that such a system brings. The senior’s children might live too far away to provide regular care. Appointing a guardian would provide constant support that these children may not be able to provide themselves.

Senior guardianship can also provide a secure support system for ad-hoc requirements, of both medical and non-medical nature. With the kind of nuclear family life that we now see, the sheltering umbrella of a house full of aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings is no longer available to many of us. A guardianship for parents who want their independence from children or who stay too far away for the children to be present at all times could be a godsend.

If truly enacted in the best interests of the senior, the guardianship system is a very useful thing that could improve the quality of life for many older Americans.

But the reality of senior guardianship is far from that ideal.

This well-intentioned law is often mercilessly exploited to line the pockets of guardians at the expense of the senior they’ve promised to protect. Most concerning are the requests that come from other agencies–not the individual or their family and friends–petitioning the courts to obtain an order for guardianship.

The crux of the concern is financial misappropriation might be the driving factor in someone taking over senior guardianship. Many seniors manage to save a tidy sum at the time of their retirement, and it’s this nest egg that’s often the target of those who claim to be a care-giving guardian for the senior. These guardians are given almost unlimited rights to make all financial decisions. They can even sell off property and other assets and keep the proceeds.

That is the magnet that attracts these so-called guardians to the frail and elderly. There are countless horror stories about guardians have stripping their wards of dignity, their physical and mental well-being, and their assets, leaving them in a worse state than when they took over guardianship.

When even family members don’t think twice about stabbing a relative in the back to gain financially, how much trust could one place on third parties that they will act only in the best interests of their wards?

And when it comes to determining who is and is not in need of a guardian, courts often rely on the word of “friends,” “family,” and those seeking to gain guardianship of an individual to make a guardianship determination.

At a certain age, a little bit of memory lapse and physical weakness are natural. But what if an unscrupulous agent uses these natural symptoms of aging against us to gain control of our lives, our belongings, and our finances? There have been far too many cases of seniors who have been diagnosed unfit to care for themselves based on the creative interpretation of these symptoms by an enterprising abuser.

So what happens when a predator successfully achieves guardianship over a senior victim?

Summarily handed a court order for guardianship, victims are asked to move at very short notice to places chosen by those guardians. Those places may seem to have several amenities, but they snatch away the independence and self-respect of the seniors placed there.

Their lifestyle is changed to fit in with the guardian’s schedule, their medications may be changed to their detriment, and contact with their children and other family members could be strictly regulated to prevent the victim’s family or loved ones from sniffing out the abuse–and to keep the victim totally dependent on the abuser.

Some of the biggest blows victims receive are on the financial front. The court order allows the guardian to charge their fees from the estates of the wards, allowing bad guardians to make excessive additions to their “fees” and withdrawal unseemly amounts of money from the victim’s estate. They’ve even been known to bill their victims for telephone calls or face-to-face conversations as extra “patient care.” The victim’s assets are often sold off under the guise of taking care of the financial interests of the ward.

Sometimes senior guardianship is a ruse used by family members to wrest control of the victim’s finances. Family disputes have long been a part of our society, and senior guardianship sadly provides the perfect tool for families to settle personal scores or usurp financial control of properties and assets.

Do the family of the ward or the wards themselves have any recourse to correct these wrongs, either legal or otherwise? In theory, yes. But courts generally tend to take the view that the guardian appointment is the last recourse, and any change from that arrangement would be to the detriment of the ward.

So, an appeal usually has the opposite effect, and instead of agreeing to revoke the senior guardian, the courts usually ask the sheriff or a similar authority figure to take steps to ensure that the legal guardian is given all access and cooperation.

Thankfully there are many organizations pooling their resources to fight this often unjust system., involving citizens, activists, and judges working to ensure senior guardianships are not awarded under false pretenses.

But it’s an uphill battle. The guardianship industry is well entrenched, and with so many people involved in the process–judges, advocates, medical practitioners, special care professionals, pathological labs, even law enforcement agencies–there’s a lot of room for abuse and plenty of places for someone with an impactful role in influencing a judge’s decision to drop the ball.

Personal bias, complete misinterpretation of a senior’s behaviors, or a failure to recognize the signs of a potentially exploitative situation can and do occur at every level of diagnosing and determining a person’s need for a guardianship.

The situation can sound hopeless, but all is not lost yet. There are ways this type of abuse can be controlled, if not uprooted altogether. There are three ways to combat guardianship exploitation: judicial activism, proactive documentary awareness, and family support.

Judiciary awareness: A special set of judges are appointed for deciding guardianship cases. These judges get elected to office and are re-elected at the end of their term–and one need not look far for information about how their judges handle cases like these.

It’s the responsibility of each state’s citizens to be aware of who their judges are and what their reputations may be regarding issues of senior guardianship (and any issue, for that matter). Ultimately, these judges are beholden to all of us to exercise their authority in a satisfactory manner.

Should a judge be lacking in their duties to suss out predators and issue fair rulings on matters related to seniors, no one who believes in protecting the rights of seniors should ever be willing to vote for him. Stay involved, stay aware, and be willing to exercise your rights to ensure those charged with making serious decisions for citizens in your state are the right candidates for the job.

Documentary awareness: Several organizations are pushing their senators and judiciary to do away with state laws allowing unlimited rights to senior guardians. But that’s like trying to correct a wrong already done.

There are some things that an individual can choose to do in advance before he may need a senior guardian. That includes several documents that the he can have created prior to the onset of any health problems. A basic will specifying all the assets and how they are to be distributed after death can also contain certain clauses regarding who would be authorized to take financial and other decisions even before death.

There are documents like medical power of attorney, joint ownership of assets, trust funds, and even documents that can safeguard the passwords for important files or for computers and phones. The individual could also enter into a written agreement to co-opt someone whom he trusts to provide supported decision-making for important issues.

Like a medical power of attorney, an agreement could also be entered into to designate a particular person for geriatric care.

But the difference between these documents and the senior guardianship granted by courts is the guardianship is often granted ex-parte (in the absence of the ward), whereas these other documents are initiated by the individual himself, so they can’t be imposed on the individual by a court.

Family support: As with any senior abuse, the whole family should stand united to protect itself against unwanted senior guardianship rulings.

People should be not only visiting their parents often, but must be documented doing so. Records must be created of their visits or by having witnesses while visiting. Any doctor visit for any of the usual age-related problems should be made in the company of children or other relatives, and careful attention must be paid to what the doctor is writing in his diagnosis or prescription.

Any kind of loose talk in front of third parties (like “my Dad really seems to be losing it,” for example) should be avoided–off-the-cuff remarks made in jest have been quoted out of context in guardianship courtrooms to prove that a senior really needs help.

As long as the judges and all the authorities in this vicious cycle continue to turn their heads the other way, seniors will continue to live under the threat of losing their good health, mental peace, and financial freedom to the guardianship industry.

While this lobby seems to have spread its tentacles well and truly around our society, there is light ahead. Awareness of this legal loot is increasing, and people are waking up to the dangers of the senior guardianship system. It’s incumbent on us, who have understood the real face of senior guardianship, to educate others who still labor under the impression of its benefits to older Americans.

Wisconsin’s DATCP offers seniors comprehensive guide to scam protection

Navigating the sadly wide world of financial fraud and scam techniques used by thieves to exploit seniors is tough.

Senior scammers have branched out to every method of communication, embedded themselves into many different industries, and use wildly creative tactics to convince their victims to hand over cash and information.

But organizations looking to help, like Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection, offer these extremely useful consumer protection guides to seniors.

The DATCP’s guide catalogs the numerous ways a senior scammer might try to get to you and everyday things we can all do to protect ourselves from these strategies.

While the guide goes into the particulars of Wisconsin law and how resident seniors can pursue complaints, most of the information inside is relevant to seniors across the country.

You can view the entire Wisconsin DATCP Senior Guide below.

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Using your position to steal Social Security money from clients is wrong. Sending a selfie with the money you stole to your ex? That’s just stupid.

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Pro-tip to all would-be criminals out there: the best way to avoid being caught for financial fraud is not assisting in your own investigation.

Charlotte Social Security representative Oliver Montgomery’s job was to help Social Security beneficiaries receive their benefit payments.

Instead, he helped himself to their “missing” money.

Over the course of one year, federal investigators estimate Montgomery stole as much as $37,000 of Social Security money from his clients— all while on the Social Security Administration clock and the taxpayer dime.

Social Security fraud is a lucrative business, but we tend to focus on false claims, identity theft, and family members or caretakers fraudulently collecting the benefits of a sick or deceased family member. We rarely consider Social Security fraud is a crime that can be committed from within just as easily as on the outside.

No one can say how long Montgomery could have abused his position and maintained this theft, but luckily for us, one incredibly stupid decision cut his 12-month side job short.

In an argument over a debt owed to his ex-girlfriend, Montgomery apparently decided it would be a good idea to rub his wealth in her face while refusing to pay the debt.

After she threatened to collect the money in court, he took a picture of himself at his Social Security office desk with a large amount of cash and the text message, “show them that stack on my desk.”

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Well. She did.

Montgomery’s ex-girlfriend contacted federal officials and reported the text. Investigators then concluded Montgomery had been changing his clients’ bank information and redirecting back Social Security payments into his own account.

In another case, he’d altered the release details of a prison inmate to make him eligible for back payments that Montgomery would then redirect to himself.

And he might have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for that pesky selfie…

You know what they say about karma.