Court-Appointed “Guardians” Put Seniors In Assisted Living, Take Over Assets

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The New Yorker has a devastating article about the Guardianship Business in Nevada where Court-appointed “guardians” are able to take control of the lives of older people, selling their assets and moving them into assisted living.

“The scheme is ingenious,” she told me. “How do you come up with a crime that literally none of the victims can articulate without sounding like they’re nuts? The same insane allegations keep surfacing from people who don’t know each other.”

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.

Social Security scammers taking to text to extract personal information from seniors

In a report yesterday, KY3 News and scam target Allison Holden exposed yet another way senior scammers are contacting victims and posing as law enforcement or Social Security officials in order to extort sensitive information.

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Holden received a suspicious text message from an individual claiming to be “Officer Jason Green from Social Security Administration Department of USA.”

…The Social Security Administration Department of USA? Seriously?

Luckily, Holden picked up on this bizarre moniker immediately and refused to respond to the scammer. Unfortunately, she’d been the victim of a financial scam before, something she believes makes her a continued target for phishers and con artists.

“Officer Green” claimed Holden’s Social Security number was “suspended” and offered a return phone number for Holden to reach out for more information.

Since Holden trusted her gut and failed to respond to the scammer’s attempt, we don’t know what would have been said to her or what kind of information the scammer wanted to get.

Like many phony Social Security agent schemes before it, we can assume the scammer would have used scare tactics to get Holden to give her name, address, date of birth, Social Security number, bank account or card numbers, or possibly the personal information of close relatives for the purpose of “verification.” These are the kinds of facts an identity thief would need to know to collect your Social Security benefits, file your tax return, or apply for credit in your name.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the total havoc a scammer could wreak once he has this information.

But no matter how convincing or frightening the text may be, it’s a fact: the Social Security Administration, its agents, and its “officers” conduct important business through the mail almost exclusively. It’s highly unusual that an SSA employee will contact you by phone–even then, it will NEVER be via an informal, unsecure text message.

The best thing you can do if you receive a text message like this from someone claiming to have or need information regarding your Social Security–no matter who he says he is–is ignore it completely and report it to the REAL Social Security Administration.

CBS This Morning: awaiting sentencing, a former con-artist offers insight into the motives and techniques of senior scammers

Although it’s uncomfortable and might be angering for a law-abiding citizen to hear, there’s something to be said for listening on the rare occasion an offender decides to speak.

On this segment of CBS This Morning, correspondent Carter Evans sits down with a 31-year-old charged and awaiting sentence for his participation in the “grandparent scam,” a phone con that targets older Americans and exploits their emotions for big payouts.

Though the interviewee requests to have his name withheld, he sits down with Evans to reveal almost everything about how this scam works: what he’d say, who he’d target and why, and what (or what didn’t) go through his head when he made off with huge amounts of vulnerable seniors’ cash–an amount he says could be as high as “$10,000…in a day if you do it properly.”

Paired with the experience of an 81-year-old grandmother who became the unfortunate victim of nearly the exact phone call the scammer describes, it’s difficult to hear the scammer’s response to Evan’s questioning:

“What drives a person like you when you know how much pain it’s causing people?”

“I didn’t know how much pain this was causing people. I thought people are making $100,000 a year and they would lose a couple thousand here and there…people lose money all the time.”

But four years after the airing of this segment, law enforcement is still having trouble getting control of the grandparent scam. The scammers using it are no easier to catch now than they were in 2014. And the techniques are still working.

Despite our best efforts to shut down the bogus call centers where these crooks operate and catch the people victimizing seniors, it still largely falls to seniors themselves to watch out for grandparent scammers. That’s where getting into the heads of the scammers themselves can be very useful.

Throughout the segment, the former scammer gives some very useful flags for recognizing this strategy:

  • Since it’s likely the caller won’t sound anything like your grandchild, they’ll usually offer an excuse for it (“I broke my nose,” “I have a cold,” or “my connection is bad”).
  • They’ll avoid giving their own name since they don’t know your actual grandchild’s name (in the segment, when the victim asks who’s calling, the scammer replied “don’t you know?”).
  • After making the ask, they’ll heavily stress the need to keep the transaction secret–they’ll often beg the victim to not to tell anyone they’ve asked you for money.
  • To keep the fraudulent transaction untraceable and irreversible, the caller will ask you to send the money in a form that’s as good as cash: a wire transfer or loaded onto several gift cards.
  • If you’re unsure of the caller’s identity, a sure-fire way to peg a scammer is asking him or her a personal question only your real grandchild would know the answer to–the former scammer himself makes this suggestion.

Another important takeaway from the interview is the reason why the former scammer says those in his line of work go after seniors: they’re home, presumably alone or lonely, and it’s easy to tweak their emotions and get them to act without thinking. Afterward, the shame and embarrassment of falling for such a seemingly transparent trick is enough to keep victims from reporting it or speaking about it.

But no one is insusceptible in a heightened emotional state. We are all liable to act on impulse when we think someone we love is in danger.  It’s important to remember blaming the victim of a crime for the damage done to him by the criminal is NEVER acceptable–it was a CRIME.

The only one who should feel shame or embarrassment about the grandparent scam is the grandparent scammer.

And hopefully this former scammer finally understands the pain he has caused.

Seniors looking to save money on pharmaceuticals may be receiving dangerous counterfeit medicines

In recent years, Big Pharma has come under fire for steadily rising prescription medication prices.

Value-based pricing on medications considered indispensable by health workers and the World Health Organization mean the sky’s the limit on prescription drugs that may in reality cost only a small fraction of the price tag to manufacture.

But how much can a drug-maker charge for a medicine a consumer quite literally can’t live without?

Often, the answer is far more than many of those on a fixed income can sustainably afford–especially as the cost of living rises, COLAs stagnate, and new health concerns pop up with time.

These challenges lead many seniors to seek out vital medications via non-traditional sources promising the same quality product for extremely reasonable prices.

Sadly, it’s often the case these “pharmacies” can offer such amazing deals on brand name prescriptions because what they’re selling contains only a small amount of the active ingredient. Or what they’re selling isn’t the medicine at all.

Welcome to the wide world of counterfeit pharmaceuticals and fake pharmacies. Just search for any medication online and you’re sure to see page after page of online pharmacies offering that medicine for cut-rate pricing.

But according to SafeMedsOnline.org, only 3% of the pharmacies you’ll find online are legitimate.

You may find one of these bogus pharmacies searching around online yourself or they may send you an email advertising a few name brand drugs for incredibly cheap to entice you.

Once you’ve navigated to their site, they may boast their certifications, their licensed pharmacists, access to “international drugs,” or the ability to provide drugs without a prescription or write the prescription via live chat with a doctor.

But all of these “bonuses” should look more like red flags:

  • Certifications? In the U.S., if they aren’t certified by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy? They aren’t certified at all.
  • Licensed pharmacist? What license? And for that matter, many of these “pharmacies” claim to be Canadian. In Canada, it’s illegal for a pharmacist to prescribe a medication to a foreigner. This is something a licensed pharmacist certainly would never do.
  • “International drugs” means drugs the FDA hasn’t approved. These are potentially dangerous and definitely unpredictable. Steer clear.
  • No doctor who wants to keep his license to practice medicine will prescribe medication to a patient he hasn’t examined. Live chat does NOT constitute an exam. Similarly, would you trust a pharmacist who fills prescriptions without the prescription? Probably not.

In reality, this pharmacy is not a pharmacy. The doctors aren’t doctors. And the pharmacist is not a pharmacist. In all likelihood, the drug you’re about to pay for isn’t the drug you think it is.

Counterfeit medicine manufacturers often operate in clandestine and unsterile conditions. The people making the drugs have absolutely no training in biology, chemistry, or healthcare of any kind. Their ingredients may be somewhat like those in the legitimate medication–there might be a fraction of the actual active ingredient in the dupe–or it will be a total knock-off.

In these latter cases, the pill you take can be a total placebo, or worse still, a cocktail of potentially harmful ingredients mixed together by an amateur and prescribed to a patient with absolutely no knowledge of her medical history.

The ramifications can be horrific. Suppose in an effort to be thriftier with her benefits during retirement, someone turns to these pharmacies for crucial heart medication. Weeks after taking what was promised to be a quality medication, her condition worsens. It then turns out later she was taking a fake pill and her heart condition went totally untreated.

The FDA warns of the over 10,000 pharmacies online advertising cheap medicine, just over 9,700 are operating illegally. They’ve officially deemed fake pharmacies and counterfeit drugs a serious health threat:

“Buying medicines from rogue online pharmacies can be risky because they may sell fake, expired, contaminated, not approved by FDA, or otherwise unsafe products that are dangerous to patients,” FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, MD, said.

And the fake pharmaceutical racket is showing zero signs of stopping.

For your own safety, don’t respond to emails and advertisements offering cheap medications online. Always acquire your prescription medications via a trusted healthcare professional after you’ve consulted a doctor face-to-face.

To end his phony collections calls, Andrew Therrien topples a false debt empire

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Rhode Island salesman Andrew Therrien takes on fake debt collectors in this piece at Bloomberg.

Staying in the loop about the latest financial schemes and frauds is kind of a drag sometimes.

Most of the time we write about some new phishing ploy or unscrupulous sales or dating tactic, the scammer is rarely brought to justice.  In many cases, the victims of these jerks have little if any recourse to get their belongings or money back–it just wasn’t caught in time or the nature of the con makes catching these criminals virtually impossible.

In other words, writing about financial scammers, especially those preying on the vulnerable, often means you’re writing about scammers who got away.  And writing about the exploited often means you’re writing about someone who will likely be left to suffer the consequences.

Unless you’re writing about Andrew Therrien.

In 2015, Rhode Island salesman Andrew Therrien totally lost his patience after receiving a phone call from his wife.  A man left her a threatening voicemail in an attempt to collect some debt Therrien apparently owed.

When the caller contacted Therrien himself about the alleged debt, Therrien immediately knew something was wrong.  He didn’t owe anyone any money.

And when Therrien treated the call as anyone would a spam call, the caller rang back and made hideous threats toward Therrien’s wife.

Enraged at the call, and fed up with repeated harrassing calls from “collectors” looking for money for debts he knew he didn’t owe, Therrien used his excellent sales skills to track down the source of the calls, obtain evidence of illegal financial activity, and take these scammers all the way down.

Bloomberg has the rest of the story right here.  It’s a lengthy read, but like The Count of Monte Cristo, you’re definitely going to want to get to the end.

Score one for the good guys!