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Protecting the elderly from Facebook trolls

There is a popular film and TV show of the same name – Catfish – the highlights people who make up personas on social media in the hopes of wooing love interests. Sometimes, these online relationships go on for years, until eventually the love dissolves or the person on the other end is exposed for being someone other than who he or she claimed to be.

Elderly people are especially at risk for being fooled by someone online. Many older men and women are lonely, having lost a spouse due to death or divorce, and whose children and grandchildren are grown or busy. Social media sites like Facebook can seem like a good outlet, but it’s also a place where scammers and criminals prey on unsuspecting victims who want companionship.

According to a report on CNBC, older Americans are at risk for fraud more than other age groups. Seniors over the age of 65 are 34 percent more likely to have lost money on a financial scam than people in their 40s, the network reported, citing research by by the Stanford Center on Longevity and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s Investor Education Foundation. About one in 20 elderly respondents in a large 2014 study of New Yorkers (many who retire to Florida) reported being financially exploited at some point in their later lifetime. Only one in 44 seniors report fraud or scams; most fear their children will think they are no longer capable to handle their finances.

So where does Facebook come in? A thief befriends an elderly man or women on Facebook, and starts to communicate often. The illusion of a bond ensues, with the suspect encouraging the senior to talk on the phone or text, away from the social media safeguards that protect such things from happening directly on the site.

Commonly referred to by law enforcement officials as a “sweetheart scam,” the online friend proclaims love and explains a problem he or she needs help with. As CNBC reports:

“They have lost their passport and can’t get home unless someone can give the embassy money to process their new one, or they’re on a business trip and their briefcase was stolen, or something similar.

Many single people make new year’s resolutions to find a partner…people are feeling vulnerable. They want to be in a relationship. They want to feel love. So they go online.”

One woman was swindled out of $180,000. According to the FBI, losses from sweetheart or dating scams have doubled in the past 10 years to between $15,000 and $20,000 per victim.

So what do you do? Wisebread.com offers a few tips:

  • Don’t get involved right after you are widowed or divorced
  • Don’t send money or valuables to anyone
  • Research your new friend or love interest; pay for a background check
  • Demand to meet in person at a safe, public place
  • Be wary of early “I love yous”
  • Watch his or her grammar. Bad grammar can be a sign that someone is really from in another country, whose English is a second language, and therefore is not who he or she says
  • Ask your family and friends for input.
  • Listen to your instincts. You likely know the truth deep down.

Our experienced and trusted estate planning attorneys have been serving Treasure Coast families for decades, and Michael Fowler is one of only nine attorneys in the state of Florida who is double board-certified in wills trusts and estates and in elder law.  Contact us for your initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.

Ohio bill aims to stop financial elder abuse with the help of financial officials

Ohio lawmakers are looking at a bill that would require bank employees, accountants, real estate brokers and financial advisors to report suspected elder fraud if they see it. The measure would in effect make people who work in those financial fields mandatory reporters to adult protective services officials.

As many as five million older Americans are victims of elder financial fraud. Fraud against the elderly costs seniors millions and millions every year. Many times, the suspects are family members or caregivers. However, federal and local authorities have said very few cases are reported, so that means the number of victims and amount of money lost is much higher. Either family members don’t want to turn in another family member, or an elderly person suffers from dementia and doesn’t know what is happening to them.

Nationally, broker-dealer firms reported to authorities nearly 2,300 cases of suspected senior fraud or exploitation in 2015, according to a new North American Securities Administrators Association analysis of firms. That includes relatives with unauthorized access to seniors money.

Sometimes it’s strangers; people trying to pull an IRS scam, a Grandparent scam or a prescription drug scam. But often it’s closer to home.

Under the Ohio bill, adult protective services officials could stop the transfer of money before it happens. At the same time, the bankers, financial advisors, accountants and brokers would be protected from lawsuits, the Columbus Dispatch reports.

Joel Potts, executive director of the Ohio Job and Family Services Directors’ Association, told the newspaper the bill was called the bill would detect fraud before it becomes a problem.

“Usually we find out way too late, and there’s just not a lot we can do,” he said. “This is the future we’ve all been talking about, when baby boomers start aging and retiring.”

The bill, if it’s approved, would provide some funding that would allow a judge in a case of elderly fraud to impose a fine of up to $50,000. The fine itself would be earmarked for adult protective services, which already is strapped.

Source: http://bit.ly/2rU7afh

Our experienced and trusted estate planning attorneys have been serving Treasure Coast families for decades, and Michael Fowler is one of only nine attorneys in the state of Florida who is double board-certified in wills trusts and estates and in elder law.  Contact us for your initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.

Top ten scams against seniors, according to federal ranking

The United States Senate earlier this year announced the top ten scams targeting Americans age 65 and older. At the top of the list? An impersonation scam that federal investigators have dubbed the most widespread fraud attempt in the history of the Internal Revenue Service.

The cases involved people both with the U.S. and in India, who called nearly two million elderly taxpayers and threatened arrests if supposed tax debts weren’t paid immediately over the phone. According to the IRS, as well as media reports, as many as 200 per week were swindled at the height of the scam.

Other scams that made the list, according to USA Today:

  • “Sweepstakes scams, run by perpetrators who contact victims by phone, tell them they’ve won a financial prize, and then require advance payment of a fee to collect the purported winnings.
  • Robocalls, using advanced electronic technology that enable would-be scammers to maximize the number of potential victims reached.
  • Computer scams a fraud in which callers impersonate representatives of well-known technology companies and convince victims to allow remote access to their home computers to check for problems. The scammers then charge fees to remove purported electronic viruses.
  • Elder financial abuse, in some cases involving relatives or friends who gain access to victims’ identification data, bank accounts or other records.
  • Grandparent scams, a con game in which fraudsters phone with phony claims that a grandchild is in trouble and needs help paying a hospital bill, returning home from overseas or gaining release from jail.”

More than 5 million fraud and other complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission last year and the year before found that many older said they were victims of imposter scams, telemarketing practices and tech support scams. Seniors accounted for nearly a third of consumers who reported their age in complaints to the FTC. Financial exploitation cost elderly men and women nearly $3 billion last year. There are efforts underway to increase federal penalties for those who prey on seniors whether over the phone or in person. In 2014, Florida lawmakers revised a state law to made it easier for prosecutors to try cases of financial exploitation of seniors.

Our experienced and trusted estate planning attorneys have been serving Treasure Coast families for decades, and Michael Fowler is one of only nine attorneys in the state of Florida who is double board-certified in wills trusts and estates and in elder law.  Contact us for your initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.

Elder abuse is everywhere

Financial advisers often see or suspect that an elderly client is being swindled or taken advantage of financially — but few do anything about it.

According to a study published in Investment News,  62 percent of financial advisors came across financial abuse of the elderly, but more than half of those people admitted they failed to report it, usually because they didn’t have evidence to back it up.

The publication surveyed nearly 600 financial advisors. They said the other reason they didn’t report it is over privacy concerns or because they didn’t know who to call.

About five million older adults in the U.S. are victims of financial elder abuse annually. According to the National Committee for the prosecution of Elder Abuse, financial abuse can happen in a number of forms, including:

 

  • Taking money or property
  • Forging signatures
  • Tricking an elder into signing a deed, will or power of attorney
  • Using property and possessions, such as a car, without permission
  • Falsely promising caregiving to obtain money or property
  • Scamming and committing fraud, which can include deception, false pretense and other dishonest acts for financial gain
  • Telemarketing scams that use scare tactics – like telling an elder his or her grandchild is in jail in a foreign country and needs money to get home – and other scams to get credit card info.

The Investment News report had more said news: in 65 percent of the cases, the suspect was a family member. A caregiver was responsible a third of the time.

Nearly half of those polled felt that financial advisers had a duty to report their suspicions or findings to local authorities, even though they didn’t.  

The problem has gotten so widespread that the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority is stepping in. Starting in 2018, securities firms will be required to try to take steps to do their part in preventing elder financial abuse, including obtaining contact information of a person who is trusted by the elderly client.

“FINRA views the protection of senior investors, as well as baby boomers who are retired or approaching retirement, as a top priority,” the nonprofit said in a statement on its website. “Because a large number of American investors are approaching retirement and control a substantial portion of investment assets, FINRA encourages firms to review and, where warranted, enhance their policies, procedures and practices, in light of the special issues common to many senior investors.”

Our experienced and trusted estate planning attorneys have been serving Treasure Coast families for decades, and Michael Fowler is one of only nine attorneys in the state of Florida who is double board-certified in wills trusts and estates and in elder law.  Contact us for your initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.

 

Financial scams and the elderly: Red flags to watch for

Financial fraud continues to rise in the U.S., and many of its victims are the elderly. Look for these red flags that could signal a potential financial scam:

If you are asked for any personal information by unsolicited emails, letters or phone calls.

If you receive an email, phone call or letter with a limited-time offer that pressures you to act immediately.

If you receive an offer that comes with a required upfront fee.

If you receive an offer for free merchandise or travel that requires the purchase of something else.

Debt settlement offers promising to clear all your debts.

Solicitors who tell you not to discuss the offer with friends or family.

Product offers that are overly complicated.

Solicitation from someone claiming to be a financial planner specializing in senior or retirement planning who is NOT a certified financial planner, attorney or chartered financial analyst.

Family members – especially those who live a long distance from an elderly loved one – need to be aware of both the symptoms of financial abuse and the remedies available.

Here are some signs to watch for:

Large withdrawals from bank accounts

Cash or other valuables missing from the home

Changes made to property titles or wills

Forging of an elderly person’s signature

Purchasing unnecessary goods or services

Suspicious financial activity – i.e., sudden ATM withdrawals from a senior’s account when you know they have never used an ATM card

Recommendations to help avoid elder financial abuse include:

Get oversight of financial accounts via a power of attorney co-agent designation 

If necessary, have a guardian or conservator appointed

Avoid having a child or other relative as a joint owner of financial accounts

Establish a trust to hold assets with a trustee who has fiduciary responsibility to the elderly relative

Financial abuse of the elderly is an epidemic, but it is something that can be prevented if family members know the necessary steps to provide effective protection. If you have an elderly loved one without an estate plan, consider helping them to get one in place before it’s too late.

The Estate, Trust & Elder Law Firm, P.L., provides attorney services to a range of clients from young families to advanced and crisis long-term care for seniors. Contact us for your initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.

6 Tips for Seniors on Protecting Yourself From Financial Abuse

6 Tips for Seniors on Protecting Yourself From Financial AbuseThe incidence of seniors who are victims of financial exploitation is rising; here are six tips on how seniors can protect themselves:

  1. Create a Florida estate plan with the help of a professional, trustworthy Florida estate planning attorney while you are still healthy and mentally fit. This is perhaps the most meaningful way to protect your assets, but choose your agents and trustees wisely.
  2. Choose an agent or power of attorney with great care, and do not let yourself be pressured into changing agents against your better judgment. For example, a trusted friend is probably a better choice than an adult child with out-of-control debt or a substance abuse problem.
  3. Open a “convenience account” at your local bank rather than adding an adult child to the account as an owner. A convenience account will allow somebody else to write checks and pay bills, but will not make them an “owner” of the account. That could be especially important for asset protection if the child has debts they cannot pay. If they are an owner on the account, your assets are fair game for debt collectors.
  4. Keep control of your assets. Do not start signing over assets you need to meet expenses simply so your heirs can avoid probate. Florida probate can be an expensive hassle, but setting up a Trust can help avoid probate and protect your assets.
  5. Do not add an adult child to the title of your house. Your house could be in jeopardy if the child ends up in financial trouble. Your child’s creditor can go after your house to settle debts if the child’s name is on the title.
  6. Tell somebody you trust if a relative or friend is financially pressuring you to do something you do not want to do. The trusted person can intervene on your behalf.

At The Estate, Trust and Elder Law Firm, P.L. we help our Treasure Coast clients develop and implement comprehensive estate planning strategies personally tailored to their unique situation, needs, and goals.   Contact us for your initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.