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Common Online Scams and How to Avoid Them

Common Online Scams and How to Avoid Them

The online world is rife with scams, and the number of people in the online world makes it a target rich environment for scammers. Seniors and near seniors should be aware of some of the more common attacks aimed to gain access to your money as well as identity. If you have social media accounts, email, or shop online, you are being targeted by scam artists. Here is what you need to know about some of the most common online scams. 

The product reads or sounds to be amazing. There are testimonials of success or satisfaction galore with the product that includes a Free Trial Offer! What can go wrong if all you do is pay a modest sum for shipping and handling? Here is what is wrong. Your payment for shipping and handling allowed them access to your credit or debit card information and buried deep in the fine print are the real terms of the deal which obligate monthly payments of some much higher monetary amount after your free trial expires. This payment has to be canceled within the stringent guidelines of the contract you agreed to by clicking a box. Read the user agreement or contract parameters before accepting the free trial. Reputable companies will allow cancellation of the advertised product however, if you cannot get out of the contract immediately cancel your card and negotiate a refund. If that doesn’t work, contact your credit card company and make an appeal for their help to gain restitution.

Always be aware of your digital surroundings as local Wi-Fi zones may leave you vulnerable to a hotspot imposter. In a coffee shop or an airport if you are logging onto free Wi-Fi or what resembles a pay service like Boingo Wireless you may be logging onto an illegitimate site designed to look like the real thing. A criminal can be hosting a false Wi-Fi site near you on a laptop. Free, unsecured sites allow for crooks like this to data mine your computer or phone for credit card, password, or banking information. The information is then typically resold to another criminal who will exploit your information for money. It can be tough to tell what a legitimate Wi-Fi spot is. One protective mechanism is to ensure you are not automatically set up for non-preferred networks. If you are not sure how to do this, ask a trusted internet savvy family member or friend. When traveling pre-purchase a credit gift card through MasterCard or Visa and use this for online purchase for access to airport Wi-Fi to protect your data and do not do banking or internet shopping from any public hot spot unless you are sure the connection is secure as it is not worth the risk.

Don’t fall for click bait. The chances of you being the winner of a contest for a free iPad or other expensive prize is likely a scam to get you to click the link provided to “learn more”. Often the connection is grabbing your IP address and adding your computer to a botnet that can be used for a multitude of nefarious purposes. Before clicking on a shortened URL typically found on Twitter and other social media that limits characters check the profile of the user promoting the link. For instance, if the user is following thousands of people, but no one follows them, it is most likely a bot set up to trap your data. 

Sometimes on a computer, a window will pop up about seemingly legitimate antivirus protection with an alert stating that your machine has been compromised with a dangerous virus, bug or malware. You are then prompted to click on a link that will scan and remove the offending virus for a fee and the promise to clean up your computer. When you click on the suggested link, the bogus company will instead install malware, or malicious software, on your computer, compromising all of your data. The front is to scare you into acting right away out of fear to protect your computer, but the opposite happens. Often the design of these pop-up windows has a look and feel that mimics reputable companies like Microsoft. If a pop-up virus warning appears, close the window without clicking on any links, and then use tools in your operating system to run a scan to check for system integrity.

If your bank sends you a text message on your cell phone stating there is a problem with your account and you need to call right away with account information it is not legitimate. Another text message might read that you have won a gift certificate to a well-known store and that all you have to do is call the toll free number and provide your credit card information is also a scam. The gift certificate scam will ask for payment information for shipping and handling to receive your winnings. This is a technique known as smishing, which stands for SMS phishing. Like its email version counterpart phishing, you will lose control of your credit card data and have to chase down fraudulent charges. A real bank and legitimate store would never ask you to reveal account information over the phone for security or to claim a prize, so don’t do it, ever. 

It is noble to be charitable, and Americans are some of the most generous people in the world. Whether in email, social media, text, or phone call do not donate sums of money to charitable causes as the charity is most likely a scam designed to gain access to your money and banking data. Many of these bogus charitable scams will use current headlines to garner your sympathy and get you to act now. Donate to real charities on their legitimate and secure websites only. Write a check to the Salvation Army or Hospice and send it to their valid mailing addresses. Do not be goaded into immediate action. Have a plan for what you choose to donate to charity and follow your plan. 

One of the cruelest scams online is the dating site or chat room scam which preys upon the lonely elderly. You might play a virtual game together online, exchange pictures, or even talk on the phone; that is the hook. You feel like you have met someone you can relate to that eases your loneliness. Typically what happens next is there is a need to wire money to escape a foreign country, an abusive parent, get medical care, or buy a plane ticket to travel to you. It isn’t true. This person isn’t the new love of your life, and you will lose your money and have your heart broken. Scam artists in online social networking specialize in luring the lonely into friendships and love affairs. Be smart about how you approach dating and social networking sites. The minute someone asks for money immediately sign off and employ these tips for keeping yourself safe from online dating scams.

Even be wary of online shopping sites like Amazon or eBay as they allow resellers access to their platforms. Just because you are on a reputable site does not mean the reseller is trustworthy. In some cases, the scammers will send a product, but it will be counterfeit. In other cases, they will post delivery to you 3 to 4 weeks from purchase date, knowing that Amazon pays sellers every two weeks. The scammer will then receive the money from the you and the legitimate company, and you will never receive anything. They have your money, and you have nothing.

The online world is always changing, and scam artists change with it because it is so lucrative. Even if 1 percent of their targeted victims fall prey to their tactics, scammers can make a lot of money. Don’t let that money be yours! Dealing with reputable companies and trustworthy information is the key to your ability to enjoy a successful aging strategy. Contact our office today and schedule an appointment to discuss how we can help you with your planning by calling us at 1.800.660.7564 or by emailing us at info@covertlaw.com.

US Justice Department Elder Fraud Sweep

US Justice Department Elder Fraud Sweep

In the largest ever nationwide elder fraud sweep the US Department of Justice (DOJ) has identified more than 260 defendants in fraud accounting for more than 750 million dollars. In each case, the defendants allegedly engaged in financial tactics that either specifically targeted or mostly affected seniors. The fraud operations are evident in every federal district in the United States. 

Fake drug discount cards, remote access to computers under the guise of technical support, relative in distress needing cash stories (the so-called “grandparents scheme”), insurance fees to collect nonexistent sweepstakes prizes, mass mailings and money mule fraud, and posing as debt collectors are some of the more prevalent schemes used by con artists. In one of the most horrific cases an 83-year-old woman was defrauded of her life savings by her caregiver; with no means to afford her retirement home bills, the woman sadly took her own life.

In earlier decades fraud schemes were not uncommon. Snail mail and phone scams however reached more limited victims. Now that digital technology, the internet, email, and social media is pervasive, transnational criminal organizations are “all in” to defraud the elderly of their money at a time when the cost to a senior’s life is frequently “catastrophic and irreversible” according to Attorney General William P. Barr. The Justice Department has vowed to prosecute these despicable crimes with an all-out attack against these swindlers and it’s a good thing as the numbers of incidence continue to rise. The current sweep involves 13 percent more criminal defendants, twice the amount of fraud victims and 28 percent more in elder monetary losses. In total, over 2 million older adults were affected by the current alleged fraud crimes. 

The transnational component of elderly fraud cannot be understated. The Office of International Affairs through the DOJ is working with numerous countries to secure evidence and capture defendants. Extraditions from Canada, The Cayman Islands, Costa Rica, Jamaica, and Poland are all part of this latest sweep of elderly fraud cases. Law enforcement partnerships such as the International Mass-Marketing Fraud Working Group (IMMFWG) is a network of criminal and civil law enforcement agencies including Belgium, Canada, Europol, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. By sharing information and providing avenues for criminal extradition this international body is a model of cooperation against specific threats that endanger the financial well being of member country’s residents.

What can you do at home to help protect yourself or a loved one from financial scams? Education is critical as to how these fraud operations function. A scammer will try to evoke a strong emotional response in their targeted senior to persuade them to part with their money. For example, a senior experiencing a high arousal emotion like excitement or anger makes them more susceptible to opt in on a risky decision. So a senior should not make what is called a “first flush” decision. Allow 24 hours to pass before opting in on an enticing scheme if you are becoming overly excited and feel pressure to make a quick decision shut down your contact with the person or organization and wait. 

One of the easiest ways to avoid scams is never giving out personal information to unknown entities. Ask for credentials, speak to supervisors, do a background check, get another trusted individual in your life involved in what you are considering BEFORE making any decisions. Have systems in place for a trusted family member or financial professional to approve of financial transactions when they are outside the scope of your normal daily purchases or bill payments. Also, review any auto deductions in your bank account monthly. Scammers often start with a small withdrawal to see if there is oversight in the account that targets fraud or identity theft.

Consumers can file elder fraud complaints with the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov or 877-FTC-HELP. The Department of Justice provides resources relating to elder fraud victimization through its Office of Victims of Crime. Get educated; learn more ways to protect yourself by connecting with trusted counsel. 

If you have questions or would like to discuss anything you’ve read, please don’t hesitate to contact us at 1.800.660.7564 or by emailing us at info@covertlaw.com.

The Senior Safe Act

The Senior Safe Act

The Senior Safe Act, signed into law by President Trump earlier this year, is designed to protect our elders from financial abuse from either within a family or support system, or by scam artists preying upon them. Tens of billions of dollars each year are illegally taken from US seniors and these numbers only reflect the crimes being reported. 

Issue

Percentage of cases reported

Third-party abuse/exploitation

27%

Account distributions

26%

Family member, trustee or power of attorney taking advantage

23%

Diminished capacity

12%

Combined diminished capacity and third-party abuse

12%

Fraud

6.30%

Elder exploitation

5.70%

Friend, housekeeper or caretaker taking advantage

<1%

Excessive withdrawals

<1%

SOURCE: North American Securities Administrators Association

 

Often a senior does not report financial abuse or identity theft because they are unaware, embarrassed, or worse, they think that someone will deem them mentally unfit and they might be “put away” as a consequence of having been exploited. While these are real issues and fears experienced by elderly people, the scale of financial exploitation is so great it has to be addressed.  This is why the enacted Senior Safe Act, coupled with the Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act (signed into law October 2017), as well as two Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) rule changes (which have already taken effect), will provide the legal protections and financial industry framework our senior population need and deserve. One of the most important aspects of the new FINRA rules is the ability for member firms to place a temporary hold on disbursement of funds or securities when there is a reasonable belief that a senior is experiencing financial exploitation, thus protecting assets before they are taken from the senior. This new rule, in conjunction with the Senior Safe Act, can help keep seniors’ assets from vanishing.

The Senior Safe Act, which was originally initiated by Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine, is based on the already existing program in that state with the same name. Similar to the Maine program, the federal legislation allows insurance and financial advisors to report incidence of suspected cases of financial fraud involving their senior clients to financial institutions, who in turn could pass the suspicions on to the proper authorities. 

As long as the insurance and financial institutions elevate concerns in good faith and their employees have received the proper training, the law will protect the institution and its workers from liability in a civil or administrative proceeding where information had been presented to authorities in the hopes of protecting a senior client from financial abuses or identity theft. The training includes a collaborative effort between state and federal regulators, financial firms and legal organizations, credit unions, broker-dealers, insurance companies and agencies, and investment advisers to educate employees on how to spot and report suspected elder financial abuse. 

Seniors who are most active in communicating with a trusted professional third party about their finances are the least likely to fall victim to financial fraud. Counterintuitively, most financial fraud happens to seniors who do not display signs of cognitive impairment. Senior participation with professional and properly trained employees of financial institutions is the back-story of this bill. All of the legal protections of the Senior Safe Act will achieve nothing if there is no participation by seniors. 

It is advisable to find a trusted professional adviser to help protect seniors against financial abuse and identity theft. The Senior Safe Act should make it much easier for seniors to find a properly trained individual who will monitor their financial accounts and be able to report signs of potential trouble to authorities. That trusted individual will be able to identify the warning signs of common scams and educate seniors as to how best to protect themselves; such as how often to check credit ratings for signs of identity theft, reviewing financial statements, identifying common phone and online scams, and more. The laws are in place to help seniors stay protected. Get protected by becoming more involved in your own personal financial world. Contact our office today and schedule an appointment to discuss how we can help you with your planning and participation – 1.800.660.7564 or email us at info@covertlaw.com.

Senior Living Options When Care is Needed

Senior Living Options When Care is Needed

As Americans age, living options can become a concern. Available options are tied to the resources a senior has to cover living costs, and vary widely in cost, assistance, and care provided. In addition to budget considerations, seniors must also realistically consider the needs they have and what senior living option best fits those needs.

Nursing Homes

Nursing homes, or skilled nursing facilities, are one option for senior living. These facilities are for seniors who can no longer live independently. They provide care for seniors with illnesses or mental conditions that cause them to require monitoring and medical care on a full-time basis. For example, many nursing home patients have dementia, are confined to a wheelchair, or spend most of their time in bed. Their conditions require that medical attention be available around the clock.

Nursing homes also provide the option for short term care, where patients come and stay for a limited time after major medical events such as strokes or heart attacks. In these facilities, the residents generally live in semi-private rooms and all meals are provided. Medicare may help cover the cost of skilled nursing facilities, assuming the resident meets certain financial requirements. Long term care insurance may also pay for nursing home care. Otherwise, a nursing home resident pays privately, which can often bring financial hardship upon the family. As a result, many families work with an elder law attorney to discuss care options as well as payment options for that care.

Assisted Living Facilities

Another option for senior living is assisted living facilities. These facilities are ideal for seniors who are still independent but may need some assistance with activities of daily living, as well as meals, cleaning, or other daily self-care tasks. These facilities usually offer a more private living conditions. Since residents may be fairly independent, assisted living facilities are an appealing option because they often offer a variety of activities and opportunities for seniors to interact with one another and to stay active. Assisted living facilities are generally paid for privately with a few exceptions, including long term care insurance or partial assistance from Medicaid.

Independent Living Communities

An independent living community is another viable option for senior living. These communities are for independent, active seniors who enjoy the idea of living in a community. Independent living communities are much like living in a condo or as a part of a community with an HOA. Often maintenance, housekeeping, and landscaping are part of what is included with living in these retirement communities.  Many seniors choose this type of community when they are no longer able or no longer wish to maintain a home. The housing options for independent living communities range from detached homes to apartments. Another benefit of retirement communities is the wide range of amenities and activities available. Seniors are often lonely and living among other seniors can provide friendship and companionship. Residents in independent living communities pay privately, and the cost varies from one community to another.

Memory Care

Memory care facilities provide a more specialized senior living option for seniors who have serious cognitive impairments, such as Alzheimer’s or dementia. These facilities are much like assisted living facilities, but cater to cognitive impairments. They may even be a specialized part of an existing assisted living facility. The staff at memory care facilities have specialized training that helps them better assist residents with cognitive impairments. They are often planned intuitively to help patients who may become easily disoriented. These facilities also give extra consideration to security for residents who may wander due to their cognitive impairment. If a senior needs this kind of care, it is important to plan and look for facilities that provide it ahead of time.

Senior living options vary greatly in care and cost. It is important that seniors have conversations with their families about the needs they have or may have in the future, as well as the cost of the type of care they wish to have. The earlier the planning begins, the better off the senior and the family will be when the time comes to seek alternative living options. This planning should be a part of the overall legal and financial plan of the senior.  If you have any questions, please contact us at 1.800.660.7564 or visit our website: www.covertlaw.com.

Vocational Rehabilitation: A Powerful Tool for Veterans Wanting to Enter the Civilian Job Market

Vocational Rehabilitation:  A Powerful Tool for Veterans Wanting to Enter the Civilian Job Market

Prospects for veterans looking to enter the job market have drastically increased since the Great Recession. In 2016, the unemployment rate for veterans (4.7%) was actually slightly lower than the rate for the entire population (4.85%). One factor that has contributed to veteran’s success in the workplace is the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) service provided through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

 

Through VR&E, eligible veterans or active duty service members are given a wide range of services to assist with job training, employment accommodations, resume development/review, and personalized coaching to assist with job seeking skills. If you want to fan your entrepreneurial flames after returning from duty, VR&E also provides guidance in starting your own business. Lastly, VR&E provides assistance for service members who are severely disabled and unable to work in a traditional work environment.

 

Eligibility requirements for active duty servicemembers:

  • Expect to receive a discharge other than dishonorable when leaving active duty
  • Acquire a memorandum rating of 20% or more from the Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Apply for VR&E services

 

Eligibility requirements for veterans:

  • Discharged with a status other than dishonorable
  • Have the VA declare you have a service-connected disability rating of at least 10%
  • Apply for VR&E services

 

The period of eligibility to register for VR&E services is 12 years from being notified of the latter of either the date of separation from active duty, or date you were first notified of a service-connected disability rating from the VA.

 

After eligibility has been established, you will be directed to a Veterans Resource Center in your area where you will be evaluated to determine your specific abilities and needs. This evaluation includes an assessment of your interests, aptitudes, abilities, and whether your service-connected disabilities impair your ability to obtain/hold a job. Post-assessment, you will be given vocational-specific training aligned with your interests. You will be assigned a case manager who will be in charge of guiding you through this process. Generally, the case manager will directly instruct you on subjects where he/she has expertise, and provide supervision to other instructors who provide supplementary services.

 

During your evaluation, if it is determined that your service-connected disabilities are too severe to participate in the traditional work environment, you may be provided with independent living services. You can only take advantage of these services for 24 months because they are meant to be a point of rehabilitation to help you transition into the workplace, rather than a place to stay. Some of the benefits provided include: making arrangements for consultations with health professionals, counseling services to aid in determining your individual independent living needs, and providing information for home modification benefits you may be eligible for, such as the Specially Adapted Housing grant.

 

By now, you’re probably thinking that this investment will take up a good chunk of your time, and you may be worried about maintaining an income while participating in this program. Another great feature of VR&E is that you may be eligible for a subsistence allowance provided by the VA. The amount you receive depends on your rate of attendance in the program, the number of dependents, and the type of training. To view the different rates, click here.

 

VR&E is just one of the many opportunities offered to veterans seeking to enter the civilian job market. If you would like to learn more about other programs, or need assistance in understanding your rights if you are a disabled veteran, please do not hesitate to contact our office.  Give us a call at 1.800.660.7564 or visit our website:  www.covertlaw.com.

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Your Plan. Your Family. Their Future.

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NEIL R. COVERT, Attorney at Law

Clearwater - Sarasota - Fort Myers - Naples

1.800.660.7564

email: info@covertlaw.com

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