Based on a true story; names have been changed.
By Barbara Ellington-Lofton, Resident Benefits Specialist, Bedford Care Centers
What comes to mind when you think of a scam? Do you ever think of a sweet little senior citizen sending money over and over and over to people and places unknown until a lifetime of savings have been totally depleted? How will this impact future needs of this senior?
Recently, I joined a family trying to resolve problems stemming from their mother’s scam. It all began with a phone call to a lady we will call Helen, and she was asked to contribute to a good cause. Being a good person she agreed; the caller prayed with her to close the call. Helen went to the bank and cashed a check and sent the money as she was instructed. She felt confident that she had done something good.
But the good feelings did not last long. The next day Helen got another call, and another, and another. Each call was more demanding. The callers possibly threatened Helen’s family. Or they possibly promised riches beyond her wildest dreams. The caller said surely Helen wanted to leave an inheritance to her family, didn’t she?
And she was hooked. Helen went to the bank day after day, call after call. She cashed checks ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, most days she cashed multiple checks. She left the bank with large sums of cash in her pocket. The caller instructed her to use this cash to buy something called Green Dot Cards, available for purchase at any large retailer. She would load money onto these cards, wait for a call, and give the caller a serial number. The caller would then upload the money, probably by using a cellphone and never having to leave home. Essentially the caller dipped her or his hand into Helen’s bank accounts and quickly depleted her life savings.
Helen was suffering from mild dementia. Her family was aware of it, but she could still live alone, drive, shop, and manage her bank accounts. Her children, as most children, wanted her to be in charge of her own affairs as long as possible. Bad idea.
It took only a few weeks for all of Helen’s money to be gone. She was traumatized by what she had done, and over time her dementia escalated. She stopped eating and was confused about what medication to take and when. She had to be hospitalized, then moved to a nursing home so that she could have 24/7 care.
For Helen’s family, this is where the nightmare got worse. She had no money left to pay for nursing home care. Medicaid penalizes anyone who disposes of assets for no or inadequate compensation. The penalty is that Medicaid will not cover nursing home charges for a set period of time. However there is a Medicaid policy that says one exception to their transfer of resource penalty is when:
“The applicant or spouse or representative has exhausted all legal action to have the transferred assets that caused the penalty returned.”
But there was also a problem here. When you do not know who the perpetrator is or how to get in touch, how do you exhaust legal action? If you wanted to engage an attorney, what action would you be seeking? Can you take a person to court when you don’t know that person’s name or contact information?
The MS State Attorney General’s website, www.ago.state.ms.us, has much information on protection from and reporting of scams. Here is some of the information provided there:
“As a consumer, you should beware of any unknown caller who creates a sense of urgency or uses high-pressure tactics to “act now.” That caller is probably a scam artist. Be cautious of callers, web ads, or mail that pushes you to act, unless you’ve initiated the contact or the communication is from a trusted, reliable source—and you can prove it.
“If there is one sentence you should memorize regarding how not to become a victim of a scam it is this: “Never wire money to someone you don’t know.” Another good sentence to remember is this: “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” Listen to your “inner voice” when it’s telling you to beware, or call a trusted friend or family member to get another perspective before you act.
Sometimes people who fall victim to scam artists are embarrassed and ashamed that they’ve fallen for crazy schemes. Many times these individuals have participated in the scam because they or their loved ones desperately need financial support. If this has happened to you, or your loved one, we encourage you to set your pride aside and contact our office. The more detailed reports we obtain, the better positioned we will be to identify and prosecute these criminals.
So, if you have concerns about whether something is legitimate or a scam, or you suspect that you have become a victim of a scam, please contact the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General’s Office at 601-359-4230 or 1-800-281-4418, if you are in Mississippi.”
The Attorney General’s website has many resources available for order or download. These include the Senior Financial Abuse Handbook and Resources for Combatting Senior Financial Abuse. This list is one of the many tools to use in protecting those you love:
Common Warning Signs Of Financial Abuse
- Frequent, expensive gifts from an elder to a caregiver.
- Personal belongings, papers, credit cards are missing.
- Bills start to stack up and are not paid, often leading to shut off notices.
- A recent will is made when the person doesn’t seem capable of writing a will.
- A caregiver’s name is added to the bank account or credit cards.
- The elderly person is unaware of his or her monthly income.
- There is an increase in the number of checks made out to “cash.”
- There is unusual or erratic activity in the bank account that is uncharacteristic of the account holder.
- There are irregularities on tax returns.
- The elder is unaware of the reason for an appointment with their banker or attorney.
- Caregiver refuses to spend money on the older person including grooming items and food.
- Caregiver is spending an excessive amount on new clothing, jewelry, automobiles and other items for himself or herself.
- Signatures on checks or other documents do not resemble the older person's signature, or signatures appear when the older person cannot write.
- Unusual or inappropriate activity surrounds investment properties or bank accounts, including the use of ATM cards to make large or repeated withdrawals.
- Power of Attorney is given; there are recent changes in a will; or there is the creation of a will or trust, when the person is incapable of making such decisions.
- The elderly person is missing personal belongings such as art, silverware or jewelry.
- Someone sells assets and properties.
What happened to our friend Helen? In her case, a report was made to the MS State Attorney General’s Office, Vulnerable Persons’ Unit. Medicaid did accept this as legal action, although there is no hope that assets will ever be recovered. Her case was resolved in the most positive way possible and she will continue to receive the care she needs in the nursing home.
We know that many families will be together through the holidays. Our hope is that families will have conversations with parents or other senior family members about these very serious issues. Ask if your loved one would be willing to review bank and other financial statements with you. Ask your loved one to allow you to accompany her/him to the bank. Many times the bank can express concerns during a visit when they cannot release information directly to a family member without the account holder being present. Helen’s family agreed for her story to be published with hope that it can be used to inform, educate, and protect others from such abuse.
Barbara Ellington-Lofton is the Resident Benefits Specialist with Bedford Care Centers. She can be reached at 601-264-3709 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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