If an offer seems too good to be true,
it really is!
Identity theft is real and the exploitation of the weak and elderly is on the increase. Seniors be informed and aware!
by Patricia Riley and Janice Limbaugh
That’s the message of Protecting Yourself and Your Loved Ones – The Realities Behind Physical, Emotional, and Financial Elder Abuse, a six-speaker forum of professionals coordinated by the Area Agency on Aging and the Kent County Elder Abuse Coalition. The group recently provided a free seminar to citizens at the Wyoming Senior Center and will repeat the event on Tuesday, June 10 at the Forest Hill Fine Arts building.
Topics of discussion covered a gamut of abuses on seniors and how to recognize abuse and report it to authorities. Each year, 15 million people in the U.S. experience identity theft or fraud. Of that number, approximately 90,000 Michigan seniors are vulnerable subjects.
“Out of the fifty states in America, Michigan ranks number four with highest crimes concerning fraud and identity theft,” says Glenn Sweeney, vice president of Chemical Bank’s Loss Division, one of the speakers at the event.
“People steal personal information from vulnerable adults by searching through trash bins, dumpsters, and mail boxes.”
Other unsuspecting and common methods of identity theft he says include pulling names, addresses, and phone numbers from entry forms for drawings as well as rerecording voices from voicemail messages in order to recreate a false message from the victim.
“Be very careful about going to ATM machines,” Sweeney warned the attendees, “Sometimes criminals place cameras on top of the machine to get your personal information. Be sure to use your hand to cover entering your pin so they cannot get that information. Play it safe!”
Nancy Kropiewnicki, Contract Coordinator with the Area Agency and Aging and Coordinator of the Kent county Elder Abuse Coalition, coordinated the forum which features: Assistant Chief Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker, elder law attorney, author and founder of Safe Place Consulting, Beth Swangman, Mike Faber of The Learning Center for Older Adults at Grand Rapids Community College, Regional Coordinator of the Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan Bob Callery, Michigan State Police Trooper Martin Miller, and Glenn Sweeney of Chemical Bank Loss Division.
Assistant Chief Prosecutor Becker says that vulnerable adults of elder abuse are targeted because of age, developmental disability, mental disability, illness, or physical disability that requires supervision or personal care.
“To be a vulnerable adult you do not have to be completely out of it,” she says. “One out of eight abuse cases are reported. Sometimes the victim doesn’t know they are being abused or doesn’t want to report the abuse.”
She adds that the abuser can be an unsuspecting individual like a church or family member, a caregiver, a neighbor, a guardian or Power of Attorney to name a few. Many times it’s a person with authority over a vulnerable adult she says.
“Just because people have power to conduct business for the victim, does not give them the right to abuse their power because they are guardian” says Becker.
“We have done a good job persecuting criminals committing crimes relating to elder abuse in Kent County. But, on the contrary, many cases don’t go to trial because people do not report the crimes.”
This forum and others like it are created in hopes that Michiganders will step up and speak out by reporting elder abuse.
“The forums are also created to let seniors know we have people who care about them and they do not have to be afraid to report issues concerning abuse,” Becker states.
Attorney Beth Swangman took the floor saying, “Abuse comes in many forms. It can be physical abuse or threats, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse.”
Her long list of abuse includes signs of the obvious such as bruises, broken bones, bed sores, poor hygiene, and genital injury, but also inconspicuous signs such as a change in financial status, depression and withdrawal from social activities and people, loss of bowel control and incontinence, strained or tense relationships or deteriorating health due to medication in balance.
Swangman states that although elder abuse does not draw the same attention as child abuse, it should. As part of her commitment to the community, Swangman works hard to get the word out about elderly abuse.
“Elder abuse awareness must be created first in order to get to restoration, reconciliation, and forgiveness,” states Swangman, adding, “All abuse is accompanied by shame and fear. These are the reasons why people do not report them.”
One of the sources of elder abuse is caregiver stress. Mike Faber coordinates and teaches a program at GRCC to train people how to work with older adults. Faber states that 80 to 90 percent of caregiving is provided by family members. One in three households in Kent County is involved in some form of elder care. This is why, Faber states, “It’s important for caregivers to know the resources are out there to help ease the stress from giving care and avoid burn out.”
However, Faber says that only 10 to 20 percent of caregivers take advantage of the support available to them.
“Many caregivers abuse their love ones because they are burned out. Anybody can break. They think they are all alone and don’t seek help,” he explains.
“But in Kent County, we have the best aging network and community support services. The problem is people don’t know the services exist, or they don’t recognize themselves as being a caregiver. Are you a caregiver?”
Giving the heads-up on scams in West Michigan was Trooper Martin Miller. He listed such scams as: international lottery scams through documents sent via email from the United Kingdom; individuals calling pretending to be a grandchild who is overseas, is in some kind of trouble and needs bond money.
“Police have no way of tracing these scams to help you get the money back you have sent through Western Union,” he warns.
Other known phone scams in West Michigan include: a request for money for the ‘fireman support group,’ ‘police memorial fund,’ political organizations, hurricane relief, or calls stating you have won a lottery and owe money for sales taxes.
“If you wish to donate to a cause, go directly to the offices of these organizations yourself,” he stresses. “Please do not give information out to anybody. You don’t know who is on the other end of the phone.”
According to Trooper Miller, latest scam trends in the area are coming through the mail as official-looking letters from court. The letters state that a license may be suspended if an unpaid ticket is not paid. After the fine is not paid, the victim receives another letter from a fake collection agency stating that now a warrant is issued and the victim maybe arrested.
“If we have a warrant for your arrest, we will come straight to your door” states Miller.
Other trendy scams to be aware of are people requesting deposits for home repair work to be performed, phony census workers asking for personal information, and buying into bogus offers to get discounts on future purchases.
“Never give perpetrators your social security number, bank numbers, credit card number and do not send money in advance. If the offer is too good to be true, IT IS!” stresses Miller.
Bob Callery, regional coordinator of the Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan discusses Medicare fraud and abuse.
“Over a million people per year are affected by medical identity theft,” he says. “The average cost per incident of medical identity theft is approximately $20,000.” He explains that Medicare fraud is committed when criminal calls stating you have reached your limit and need to pay.
For the record, Medicare will never call you stating you have reached your limit. If you get a call from someone stating they are from Medicare and you’ve reached your limit and owe money, Callery says too call the Senior Medicare Patrol Program (SMPP) and report the incident.
“Protect your Medicare card,” he stresses. “Always read and compare your Medicare Summary Notice, or MSN that is sent to you through the mail by Medicare. The notice shows the services you have used. Report any doctors or services on your report you might not recognize. If you notice something suspicious, call the SMPP.”
Callery also advises seniors to track or log all their medical services for verification. Personal information should only be given out to Medicaid or Medicare approved doctors and suppliers. He suggests taking labels off prescription bottles before throwing them away as a way of protecting personal information.
The information provided at this event is beneficial to seniors, caregivers and family members. It pays to be aware. To learn more about elder abuse, fraud, or exploitation contact:
The Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan: 616-222-7025
Kent County Prosecutor: 616-632-6665
To file a complaint against a business or to check a business’s complaint history call 1-517-373-1140
The Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan, 616-456-5664 or 1-888-456-5664
Caregiver Resource Network: 616-234-3483
Michigan State Police: 616-666-4411
Elder Law Attorney Beth Swangman: 616-323-3443
Federal Trade Commission: 1-877-438-4338
or visit http://www.protectkentseniors.org/