Protect your elderly parents from scammers

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By Micha Shalev

Adult children and caregivers play an important role in helping older people avoid scams. Unfortunately, scammers often prey on lonely seniors looking for someone to talk to.

Sit down and talk to your elderly parents. Remind them not to give out personal or financial information to a stranger — no matter how friendly or persistent the caller or visitor is. Even if someone claims to represent a well-known charity, your loved one should hang up the phone.

Here are some of the con artists’ favorite senior-directed scams:

•Telemarketing fraud and fabulous offers — A scammer will call or send a letter or e-mail alerting you that you’ve won a big prize or that you can buy a product, perhaps prescription drugs, at a great price. Hang up the phone.

•Health insurance frauds and fraudulent anti-aging products — Never sign blank insurance claim forms. Never give blanket authorization to a medical provider to bill for services rendered. Ask your medical providers what they will charge and what you will be expected to pay out-of-pocket. Give your insurance/Medicare identification only to those who have provided you with medical services.

•Counterfeit prescription drug fraud — Use caution when purchasing drugs on the Internet. Do not purchase medications from unlicensed online distributors or those who sell medications without a prescription. Reputable online pharmacies will have a seal of approval called the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site (VIPPS), provided by the Association of Boards of Pharmacy in the United States.

•Funeral and cemetery fraud — Be an informed consumer. Take time to call and shop around before making a purchase. Take a friend with you who may offer some perspective to help make difficult decisions. Funeral homes are required to provide detailed general price lists over the phone or in writing.

•Reverse mortgage scams — Reverse mortgage scams are engineered by unscrupulous professionals — in various real estate, financial services and related entities — to steal the equity from the property of unsuspecting individuals age 62 or older. Seniors are also used to unwittingly aid the fraudsters in stealing equity from a flipped property.

•Phony mortgage offers — If you have a bigger mortgage than you can comfortably afford, watch out for companies that offer to negotiate a payment plan or loan modification. The fraudster might claim to be affiliated with your lender. You might be told to pay upfront fees. If you’re having trouble making your payments, call your lender or find a housing counselor approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

•Phony banks — Watch out for callers who claim to be from your bank or credit card company. They’ll tell you they’ve noticed suspicious activity on your credit card and want to check it with you. You’ll know the call is not legitimate if the caller asks for your credit card or Social Security number to confirm he’s talking to the right person.

•Phony e-mails — Beware of e-mails from companies — masquerading as a trusted institution — asking for your Social Security number or account numbers. Phony Bank of America and Citibank messages are common. One prevalent scheme is an e-mail promising a tax refund from the IRS — except the IRS doesn’t e-mail taxpayers.

•Investment schemes — If you think you can tell a con artist from a legitimate adviser, consider a finding from a major study that reveals investment-fraud victims are commonly financially literate. The hook: a promise of high returns with little risk.

Micha Shalev MHA is the owner of Dodge Park Rest Home at 101 Randolph Road, Worcester. He can be reached at 508-853-8180 or by e-mail at m.shalev@dodgepark.com; view more information online at www.dodgepark.com. Archives of articles from previous issues can be read at www.fiftyplusadvocate.com.