Door-to-door deception: stay vigilant for common summertime home repair, landscaping, and security system scams

For many of us, Winter 2017 was a cold that wouldn’t quit (and here in our Nation’s Capital, Spring 2018 has been a total wash).  With Summer Solstice less than a month away, we can finally trade the jackets and galoshes for sandals, sunglasses, and a tall glass of iced tea.

But shorts and flip-flops aren’t the only things making their 2018 debuts right about now: just like mosquitoes, you can expect seasonal scammers to start buzzing around front porches near you.

And while phone, mail, and email schemes are snow, sleet, and rain-proof, summer sunshine offers scammers yet another opportunity to bilk seniors out of money–one that can be incredibly lucrative if they’re willing to step up and ring the doorbell.

Door-to-door scamming uses the warm weather to take advantage of those thinking about big summertime renovation projects, like repairing the roof or fence, resealing the driveway, or installing a brand new security system.

It’s also a time of year homeowners are spending a lot more time out in their yards–especially retirees on weekdays when neighbors are off at work.  These scammers can screen neighborhoods, easily identify their preferred victims while they’re weeding their flowerbeds, and approach the victim right in their yard to make a high-pressure sales pitch.

As with many scams, senior victims are frequently ideal targets.  Imagine a victim living alone–someone who may have health, cognitive, or mobility challenges–being approached by several people incredibly eager to make a sale.  People of all ages struggle with aggressive sales situations, but seniors can be especially vulnerable.

The scammer can offer anything from fence repair to tree trimming to house painting or siding repair.  He might offer some kind of free inspection service for home security or pests.  Recently, many of these scammers even claim to be with a utility company offering some kind of new product, upgrade, or inspection.

But in the end, no matter what service they’re offering, their goal is to make you a promise, take your money, and run.

Particularly clever door-to-door scammers have even been known to base their scam narrative off legitimate work being done in the neighborhood.

For example, a con artist might give his driveway paving scam the semblance of legitimacy by knocking on doors when actual paving trucks are working down the block.  In a common version of this scam, the fraudster will make his pitch by saying, “we’re with the paving company working down the street and we have some extra asphalt–we noticed your driveway could use work and we’d like to offer you a deal.”

Like any scam, these “contractors” will usually ask for money up front–in cash–before work has even been initiated.  Once payment is secured, the scammer will either show up to do incredibly shoddy work or won’t show up for the scheduled work at all.  Though the latter may seem particularly bad, the former is often much worse–not only does a victim lose thousands of dollars in payment to the scammer, but it may also cost thousands more to hire a professional to correct the damage that was done.

Rule #1: as door-to-door scamming season approaches, don’t trust any kind of contractor, landscaper, or renovation specialist soliciting you without your inquiry.  This isn’t to say ALL door-to-door sales are sinister–it’s very possible a roofing company could try to drum up a little extra business near a work site by leaving their information with neighbors in need of a few repairs.  But you should be very skeptical and you should NEVER agree to any kind of work based on a doorstep solicitation.  Always, always, always research a company and read reviews before you schedule work.  Ask for information and time to consider the offer, but definitely don’t make the decision on the spot.

Rule #2: high-pressure sales tactics are the hallmark of scammers.  “We can only give you this low price if you schedule the work right now,” “this offer is only available today,” “if you don’t act now, we won’t be in this area again.”  These strategies are intended to make you go against your better judgment and make a split-second uninformed decision.  A legitimate contractor gives you time to consider a quote. Be wary of those who don’t.

Rule #3: do not pay contractors upfront.  While it is common and customary for homeowners and contractors to negotiate a reasonable down payment for major repairs or substantial work, don’t trust someone demanding most or all of their compensation upfront.  A scammer will try to squeeze every last drop of money out of a victim upfront as possible.  A professional will understand and expect that a client needs to see great work being completed as promised before making full payment.

Rule #4: whatever payment structure you agree on, get it in writing before you make payment.

Rule #5: be wary when asked to pay in cash.  Like Rule #1, this is not always a marker for a scammer.  Legitimate contractors take cash the same way a scammer will–some professionals may even offer a small discount on work if you pay in cash.  But the difference between a professional and a scammer is a professional accepts several forms of payment–scammers only accept cash.  Combined with demanding payment upfront, if a door-to-door solicitor only accepts cash for services, you’ve probably got a scammer on your hands.

These aren’t the only solid suggestions you should keep in mind to avoid being door-to-door scammed. Check out this article at AgingCare for some more common door-to-door scam tactics and key things to keep and eye on to avoid becoming another victim.

Gone phishin’: scammers’ favorite crime and what you need to know to protect yourself

Phishing scams–so-called because they bait victims into “biting” and handing over cash and personal information–are some of the fastest growing scams in the world. Phishing scams have grown by 65% in the past year, and 76% of businesses fall prey to phishing attempts every year. These scams cost individuals and companies millions of dollars in damages.

The most basic phishing attempt consists of a scammer reaching out in some way and presenting himself as someone he’s not in an effort to convince you to either give him money or information he can use to take your money later.  He might offer you a product, service, or some kind of counseling to entice you, or he might make threats to scare you into coughing up your information (think the latest “you owe the IRS” scams going around).

Phishers–like a great many other kinds of scammers–frequently target seniors due to their retirement accounts, assets, the variety of opportunities and narratives a scammer has to dupe seniors, and most importantly the isolation and loneliness that many experience with age.  And since the majority of phishers use the internet to contact and deceive their victims, it is likely thought many seniors won’t have the technical wherewithal to notice the red flags of a scam.

Here are three common ways you might encounter a phishing scam:

Phone calls 

Responding to recent data breaches and an overall increase in fraud related to identity theft, Medicare beneficiaries received replacement Medicare cards featuring new Health Insurance Claim Numbers (HICN).  Previously these numbers were based on the cardholder’s SSN, making seniors vulnerable to identity theft should they have their card stolen or copied.

Ironically, scammers used this security update as an opportunity to extract tons of sensitive information–including the SSNs Medicare was trying to protect–from beneficiaries who believed they were providing a legitimate agency with details related to the card update.

In reality, they were being phone-phished by scammers pretending to work for Medicare.  In one scenario victims were told they’d need to pay for their replacement cards and were prompted for bank account numbers, credit card numbers, or asked to wire money for the fee.  In another, they were told in order to receive the updated card, they’d have to verify or provide personal information.

In both cases, these phone numbers were often “spoofed” to appear as though the call were coming from a legitimate source, and callers came prepared with the name of the target.


It is estimated 46,000 phishing websites are created every single day, with an average of 1.4 million every month.  These websites reach us via the email, social media links, and advertisements we view every day.  Most masquerade as seemingly legitimate online stores or services, and more insidious versions are designed to mimic and sometimes totally replicate a well-known company or agency website.

Take for example the Google login page.  Gmail is an incredibly popular web-based email service that millions of people log into every day.  We all know the simple yet highly identifiable white login screen:

Actually, this isn’t the Google login page.  This was a phishing site that was stealing users’ Google account credentials in order to gain access to their personal data.

THIS was the legitimate Google login page at the time:

This is how sinister these sites can be.  To recognize the fake from the authentic, the user would have had to notice the serif font in the Google logo (Google abandoned its famous serif font for the sans-serif font seen on the authentic image in 2015) and the lack of a two-prompt login process (meaning you are prompted to enter your email first and then your password on the next screen instead of both on one screen–another change Google made in 2015).

Would you have paid that much attention?  Do you even know the Google login that well?  Most people probably don’t.

Now imagine it’s a Medicare site.  Or a Social Security Administration website.  Or an online pharmacy offering amazing deals on critical prescription medications.  Maybe it’s a seniors dating service or a seniors travel club or a retirement community.  All you need to do to access your amazing deal or offer is enter your name, your address, your phone number, your SSN, your credit card number, your bank account number, or enter the login details to your existing my SocialSecurity account or email.


According to the Canadian government, over 156 million phishing emails are sent every single day–and despite our best attempts to identify and destroy these mass emailings, as many as 16 million malicious emails sneak past spam filters daily.

Email is without a doubt the go-to weapon in every cyberattacker’s arsenal.  Not only is it a great way to communicate with a victim or coax a victim toward a phishing website, but it opens the door to just about every way an online attacker can access your data, your devices, and your network.

As much as 91% of ALL cyberattacks begin with a simple email.

Typically the goal of these emails is to use trick the recipient into clicking a link to a phishing website.  Like the websites, these emails can be cleverly disguised to mimic the branding of a trusted website, vendor, or online portal.  But a scammer may reach out directly to message and manipulate an intended victim–such as in the now famous “Nigerian Prince” scam.

But these emails can be particularly harmful when they act as vectors for malicious code. Some of the most devastating exploits and infections in the history of the internet were released into the digital wild via an innocuous-looking email attachment.

A sophisticated cybercriminal can disguise just about any flavor of data-stealing, device-damaging malware (Cofense estimates over 97% of phishing emails now contain some kind of ransomware, a particularly brutal and usually irreversible malware that encrypts your hard drive until you pay a ransom for the decryption key–if the attacker plans on giving you that key at all).

And don’t be too hasty in thinking you’d instinctively recognize a malicious message or attachment: Intel found 97% of users globally are not able to identify a truly clever phishing email.

How to recognize a phishing scam

  • Don’t trust anyone who contacts you and demands money or sensitive information on the spot. This is not how ANY legitimate business or agency does business.  Email and phone are unsecure–nobody looking out for your best interests will demand SSNs and bank account numbers over these channels.  And most of the agencies these people pretend to be from (like Medicare) will NEVER call you or email you asking you this information. They already have it.
  • Don’t trust anyone demanding payment with cash or cash-like methods. Wiring money, buying gift cards in round amounts and reading the numbers over the phone, and sending cash are ALWAYS signs of a scam.
  • Don’t trust anyone demanding payment or information with threats, pressure, or scare-tactics. Again, this is not how a legitimate agency does things.
  • Always, always, always look closely at website URLS. The #1 giveaway that you’ve been navigated to a phishing website is the URL.  Before you enter login information or credit card information into a site, check the URL to make sure it matches that of the legitimate site you’re trying to use.  Though a phishing site may look dead-on, you’ll often find the URL exposes you aren’t where you should be.  Dummy URLs often have long strings of gibberish, subtle misspellings or errors, are missing forward slashes, or don’t have the s in “https”.
  • Don’t ever trust forms embedded in emails.
  • Check the legitimacy of email links before clicking. Hover your cursor over hyperlinks in emails to show the true link URL.  What is displayed in the text may not match the true URL.
  • Make sure the sender email address is valid.The sender’s domain address may not be a legitimate email address of the company or agency the sender claims to be part of.
  • Ignore pop-up ads that ask for your login or information.
  • Use fake passwords to test the legitimacy of a login. A phishing site has no idea if the login credentials you’re using are correct–they will sign you in no matter what username or password you give because they are simply logging what you’ve entered.  If you enter a fake username and password into a login screen and appear to be successfully logged into the site, it’s probably a phishing site.
  • Don’t assume all links in an email are legitimate if one or two appear to be. It is a common tactic of phishers to hide bogus links in a cluster of legitimate links.
  • Don’t click suspicious email attachments for any reason. Unless you are absolutely certain of the identity of the sender, you should never download unsolicited email attachments.  The ONLY email attachments you should open are those you are already expecting to receive.  Businesses do not send attachments unsolicited.
  • Don’t trust display names or email address headers. In the same way a phisher by phone can spoof a phone number, an email phisher can spoof the name of the sender and the headers of email addresses.  Always look closely at domains and never take display names for granted.

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.

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.


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.