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.

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.