Women less prepared for retirement than men

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From Women less prepared for retirement than men, clarionledger.com

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If you were to ask a person in their middle 20s about their plans for retirement, most would probably shrug their shoulders and tell you they’d given it little thought. Even many people in their 40s (while most would have thought about it) wouldn’t really have a good idea about how they planned to finance their dreams once they leave the workforce. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of us just aren’t very good at planning for the future.

But we should be. As lifespans increase and people stay in the workforce longer, people will need to have some way to finance their lifestyle in retirement. Most retirement planning experts agree that good planning can help you overcome rising prices, economic uncertainties, and taxes. Women are at special risk for several reasons, not the least of which is because, statistically, they can expect to live longer than the men in their lives.

study this month by Transamerica’s Center for Retirement Studies  points out a number of trends and highlights the need for women to get more involved and proactive about their retirement plans.

“Today’s women are better educated and enjoy career opportunities that our grandmothers’ generation could only dream about,” noted TCRS President Catherine Collinson. “Nevertheless, women continue to encounter challenges including lower pay, time out of the workforce for parenting or caregiving, and longer life expectancies that all contribute to unique challenges in adequately saving for retirement.”

Among the most alarming findings from the study: only about 10 percent of women are “very confident” in their ability to fully retire with a comfortable lifestyle, about half of the rate for men asked the same question. A poorly planned retirement can lead to an inability to deal with the unexpected circumstances — health conditions, sudden unemployment or unforeseen expenses — that could send you into a financial tailspin.

 While about seven in 10 working women say they are participating in some type of retirement savings plan (such as a 401(k) or an employee-sponsored IRA, they probably started saving later than their male counterparts. On average, women who are investing in an employee plan started doing so at 28, compared to 26 for their male coworkers. Two years might not seem like a lot, but it adds up over time, thanks to interest and compounding. Many financial experts with whom I’ve consulted over the years advise young people to start saving for retirement as soon as they enter the workforce.
Another issue: too little savings. On average, women in the survey reported a median household retirement savings of about $34,000, with two-thirds saying they don’t know what they’ll do if they’re forced into retirement sooner than expected. When asked what amount of savings would be adequate, the average respondent said she’d like to have at least $500,000 in the bank. And while many women say they’ll count on Social Security for a portion of their income in retirement, most worry that it won’t be available to them by the time they retire.

“The facts are startling and clear. Women must begin taking greater control and gain an understanding of their true retirement outlook,” Collinson said. “By confronting challenges head-on, women can acquire essential knowledge about how to achieve financial security and create plans that can help mitigate risks and steer them on a course for financial security and a more positive outlook for their retirement ambitions.”

Here are a few of the suggestions contained in the Transamerica report; more suggestions and a report summary may be found at http://bit.ly/2nX3ILo:

  • Start saving on a regular, consistent basis. Even a few dollars can add up over years, thanks to interest and compounding.
  • Participate in any retirement plan offered through your employer. Many offer matching contributions and other benefits, which can significantly increase your investment.
  • Get educated about retirement investing, including learning about how to make your retirement savings last longer, and learn about the best (and worst) times to start drawing Social Security.
  • Get help. Seek the assistance of a qualified financial planner to take a look at your goals and devise a strategy to make it happen. Agingcare.com has some great advice on how to find a good financial adviser at http://bit.ly/2nGYqrb.

Study: 6 in 10 adults lack a will

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Source: Study: 6 in 10 adults lack a will, clarionledger.com

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While it may not be pleasant to think about, having a will and other end-of-life documents is one of the most important gifts you can leave to your heirs. Nearly every family has nightmare stories about how someone died without making their final wishes known, leaving confusion and conflict in their wake, or having to struggle with painful decisions about when to end medical care.

While some families can get through this process amicably, others have been torn apart in the ensuing struggle for what’s left of the estate as things drag on through lengthy probate and costly settlement proceedings.

Many people don’t want to deal with the unpleasant prospect of their own deaths and remain blissfully unaware of the ramifications of dying intestate (without a will). But financial experts caution that even the youngest parents should be planning for what would happen if they were off the scene or unable to make their own decisions.

Caring.com released a study this week indicating nearly six in 10 adults (58 percent) don’t have any planning documents such as a will or living trust. And slightly more than a third of parents with kids younger than18 have these documents, which means there are a lot of young parents who might not be prepared for unexpected tragedies.

The Princeton Research study, which asked 1,003 adults about their end-of-life planning, indicates that — perhaps unsurprisingly — older people are more likely to have a will or living trust. More than 80 percent of those 72 and older have filed these documents; but for adults at the other end of the age scale (ages 18-36), just one in five has composed a will or trust.

Among the reasons given for not having done end-of-life planning: “I just haven’t gotten around to it” was the answer given by nearly half of the respondents, and nearly a third said they didn’t have much in the way of assets anyway, so they didn’t think it was important. Others likely balk at this planning because they think they can’t afford it.

“I think many Americans avoid setting up a will because they simply don’t want to think about their death,” says Texas-based financial coach Craig Dacy. “However, setting up a will not only takes care of your loved ones financially, it can save them a lot of emotional stress after you’re gone.”

A will does a lot more than just tell your kids how to divide your possessions; it can also help you designate causes you want to support; make sure your pets are taken care of; dictate what happens to your social media accounts when you die; state your wishes for your funeral and burial, and much more.

In recent years, a lot more attention has been given to medical/health care powers of attorney, and the Caring.com study bore that out. These documents will make your wishes known in the event of a health crisis in which you can’t make your own decisions. In general, more than half of U.S. adults have granted someone legal authorization to make decisions on their medical care if they are unable to do so.

Caring.com Vice President Katie Roper points out it’s not just about telling your family when to end life support; health care privacy regulations are much stricter now than in the past.

“It’s not just a concern for older people — everyone who is 18 or older should have a health care power of attorney,” Roper said. “If your college-age son or daughter, God forbid, were seriously injured in a car accident, you as the parent could not even find out they were in the hospital, let alone discuss their condition with physicians, without this document in place.”

Some legal experts have even suggested that young people write these documents before they graduate high school or college, and update them frequently. While it may not be the most pleasant thing to think about for a young person just starting out (and many young adults don’t have much in the way of money or possessions, anyway), it’s just good planning that gets them started thinking about their long-term future, and ultimately, their legacy.

Senior Surprise: Student loans dragging down retirement

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via Senior Surprise: student loans dragging down retirement

Most people like to think of their senior years as when they’ll finally be able to take a break after decades of hard work, maybe do some of the things they’d always dreamed about, unfettered by the daily demands of the workplace. Many seniors have worked hard and sacrificed to build a nest egg so they can achieve these dreams.

But increasingly, older Americans are finding themselves worrying about something they might not have factored into the carefully laid plans they made decades ago: student loans. In a report released recently by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the agency announced some startling numbers regarding the number of seniors (defined as those 60 or older) who are trying to pay off student loans. In the decade from 2005 to 2015, the number of seniors carrying student loans more than quadrupled (from 700,000 to 2.8 million), with a combined debt load of $60 billion. On average, this works out to about $23,500 per senior carrying student loan debt. And it’s having a profound impact on their ability to handle their finances.

What’s going on here? The most obvious answer would be that it’s the result of people going back to college in middle age, or paying off their own old college loans. While both of those things are true, most of that debt is actually from parents shouldering the debt for their children and grandchildren. In some cases, those kids and grandkids have defaulted, placing the burden on the shoulders of the previous generation (who had co-signed). In other cases, parents or grandparents have offered or agreed to take on the responsibility of paying for their descendants’ college educations.

Most seniors live on fixed incomes and finance their lifestyles through a combination of Social Security, pension plans, annuities, cash they stashed away for the future and, in some cases, employment. But the added pressure of student loans is, in some cases, making seniors work longer, stress about handling the debt and facing an uncertain financial future.

“It is alarming that older Americans are the fastest-growing segment of student loan borrowers,” said Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “Many of these older Americans are helping to finance their children’s or grandchildren’s education while living on a fixed income. We are concerned that student loans are contributing to financial insecurity for many older Americans and that student loan servicing problems can add to their distress.”

 Let’s face it: Most of us would do just about anything for our kids. We want to see them succeed, and many parents wouldn’t hesitate to co-sign or authorize a loan if it were the only option for getting a child or grandchild through college. But seniors with limited means may find this added burden comes at a time when their income has decreased, and when they may face challenging issues related to their declining health. What’s making the situation worse for some is they may also be carrying debt of their own, forcing them in some cases to curtail necessary expenses, such as medications.
In its report, the the bureau focused on the increasing problems caused by companies responsible for servicing those debts. The agency charged that some companies aren’t doing a good job of informing borrowers of their obligations, making critical mistakes in handling the accounts, and in some cases, even engaging in illegal practices.
It’s a big problem, and one that’s growing. Investopedia’s Mark Cussen reported this week that the student-loan default rates are more than 50 percent for borrowers age 75 and above. And, like many, he warns it’s imperiling a generation’s financial stability. “Student loan debt is turning into a runaway financial train in America,” Cussen noted. “… it is also seriously damaging the ability of many taxpayers to save for retirement.”
If you’re holding a student loan but are unable to make the payments, Investopedia’s Ashley Eneriz has some good advice at  http://bit.ly/2jvIRk9.

Financial abuse often unreported

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via Financial abuse often unreported

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Financial abuse is taking advantage of financial resources of individuals who are unable to handle their own financial affairs, or who may be isolated, unsupported or otherwise unable to protect themselves. Often, victims are elderly and may be a resident of a nursing home, personal care facility or other type of institution. Financial abuse of patients in a personal care home or nursing home is a crime of opportunity, in which someone who has been placed in a position of trust takes advantage of a person at the most vulnerable time in his or her life.

Financial abuse statistics show this crime probably is underreported and often undetected. But occasionally, there is news of an arrest. Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood announced recently that two Ridgeland residents had been arrested and charged with exploitation of a vulnerable adult.

According to a news release from Hood’s office, investigators with the attorney general’s Vulnerable Adult Unit and Hinds County Sheriff’s Department last week arrested Renee Hope Netherland, aka Renee Lester, 42, and Henry Thomas McAlister III, 47, both of Ridgeland. A Hinds County grand jury indicted Netherland and McAlister on one count each of exploitation of vulnerable adult.

According to the indictment, Netherland and McAlister are accused of “obtaining a debit card belonging to a patient in a Jackson care facility and using the card to make withdrawals and purchases totaling $250 or more without the consent of the victim, then converting the money to their own use.”

If convicted, each defendant faces up to 10 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. “As with all cases, a charge is merely an accusation, and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law,” the release noted.

The case will be prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Bob Anderson of the attorney general’s Public Integrity Division.

Hood noted that technology helps enable financial crimes such as credit card fraud, requiring greater vigilance to deter, detect and address. “I encourage all Mississippians to educate themselves on the signs of credit card fraud so they will recognize it and know what to do if they encounter it,” he said.

According to the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, there aresome red flags that might indicate financial abuse of a vulnerable person. Here are a few:

  • Withdrawals from bank accounts or transfers between accounts that the person cannot explain.
  • New “best friends.”
  • Legal documents, such as powers of attorney, which the person didn’t understand at the time he or she signed them.
  • Missing belongings or property.
  • Unusual activity in the person’s bank accounts including large, unexplained withdrawals, frequent transfers between accounts, or ATM withdrawals.

Hood added that all consumers should be on guard to protect their financial information. “Always remember to be protective of account information and to regularly monitor credit card or bank statements for unusual activity,” he advised. “Consumers should also make sure to shred account documents before throwing them away.”

In addition, if you think that you or a loved one has become a victim of credit card fraud, call the attorney general’s Consumer Protection Division at 1-800-281-4418, or visit http://www.agjimhood.com for more information and resources.

Loved one’s grave may need stranger’s care

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Sharp-eyed readers may remember that a few weeks ago I wrote about a perpetual care cemetery in Meridian that had been the subject of enforcement by the Mississippi secretary of state’s office after failing to keep up the maintenance on a cemetery housing some of Meridian’s oldest families (and the final resting place of the late U.S. Rep. G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery).

If you have a loved one interred in one of Mississippi’s hundreds of cemeteries, whether the gravesite is maintained can be sketchy. In many cases, graveyard owners and management companies do an exceptional job maintaining the cemetery and individual gravesites. For others, unfortunately, maintenance is a constant struggle. Especially in many older cemeteries and those without a standing custodial organization such as a church cemetery association, neglect is rampant.

Many of my passed-on ancestors and relatives lie in a number of church and family cemeteries in Lincoln and Pike counties. Recently, upon visiting my late brother’s grave in an old church cemetery, I noticed a large oak branch had fallen across the grave after a storm, the stone was partially covered by a fire-ant mound, and many of the headstones were sinking unevenly into the ground. Looking around the old cemetery, it’s obvious someone had mowed fairly recently, but many of the graves were overgrown, with some low-lying stones covered by creeping grass. Some stones were broken and darkened to the point that their inscriptions were illegible. In stark contrast, other graves nearby had been lovingly maintained, probably by family members.

After I wrote the column about the Meridian cemetery, I got an interesting comment from a company called Heaven’s Maid. This innovative company will — for an annual fee ranging from $39 to $89 — ensure your loved one’s grave is maintained.

Heaven’s Maid was started by two Michigan friends, Sabah Ammouri and Michael Goliszek, who wanted to do something after Ammouri visited his grandparents’ graves, only to find the gravesite overgrown with weeds and moss, which made the inscription illegible. Ammouri contacted Goliszek, and the pair started the web-based Heaven’s Maid, one of several similar businesses that have risen to meet the increasing demand for individualized gravesite service.

Heaven’s Maid says it’ll scrub the headstone, edge around it and level it out. It also promises to remove weeds around the stone, fertilize the ground around it and remove debris. For another fee, it’ll place silk flowers on the grave. Once the work is done, it’ll send you a photo to confirm it, and you can use its site to post pictures and memories of your loved one.

This service is designed especially for those who live far from where their loved ones are buried.  “We believe every resting place should be treated with care and respect,” Goliszek told me. Currently, the company provides services in 10 states, including Mississippi, and is working on partnerships with 164 cemeteries. Visitors to the site can search for a local cemetery and request it be added.

Goliszek noted the company hires and trains freelancers to provide services, and works with cemeteries to ensure caretakers adhere to industry standard rules and practices. For example, it would be easy for an untrained person to damage a headstone by using the wrong cleaning materials or techniques, or to violate cemetery policies by failing to obtain permission to do the work.

The gravesite maintenance business is a relatively new niche market, but is growing fast, with several companies having arisen to meet the demand. In many cemeteries that provide excellent care, these services would be unnecessary. But this growing need could signal a profitable venture for entrepreneurs willing to work hard and provide excellent customer service.

Not taking your prescriptions as directed can be harmful, especially for seniors

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via Improperly taking prescription meds can be fatal, clarionledger.com

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Every year, thousands of people die or suffer complications because they misuse their prescription medications, or simply fail to follow their medical provider’s recommendations for taking them. A new study announced recently in a British medical journal suggests elderly people may be at particular risk of what physicians call “prescription noncompliance.”

Prescription noncompliance is a big problem and can result in a variety of issues. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than one in five prescriptions are never filled at the pharmacy, and medications are not taken as prescribed half the time. For many patients with chronic diseases (such as high blood pressure), the majority of people take less medication than prescribed or stop taking it altogether. Seniors are more likely to be affected by noncompliance for several reasons, including increased sensitivity to the effects of drugs, but also because they often have multiple prescriptions that could interact with each other, and may experience problems with concentration or memory.

Failing to adhere to your prescription schedule can lead to frightening statistics: The CDC estimates 125,000 people die in the U.S. each year because of prescription noncompliance, and up to half of people being treated with statins (medicines that control cholesterol) are up to a quarter more likely to die if the patients stop taking them.

“It is very important for people to take their medication as prescribed,” noted pharmacist Tommy Shields, owner of Service Drugs in Ridgeland. “Failure to take their medication properly will lead to unfavorable outcomes in their treatment plan. Physicians may then prescribe additional medications to help manage their health, further complicating the patient’s treatment.”

Recently, the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacologypublished a study based on 503 Belgian seniors age 80 and over, which found nearly seven in 10 of them weren’t taking the proper prescriptions for their conditions. Nearly six in 10 of them were taking five or more medications, and only 17 percent were considered free from prescription-related issues. Stunningly, the study found patients were 39 percent more likely to die if they underused their medications, and 26 times more likely to need hospitalization.

“Taking too many medications or unsafe medications are known to cause adverse health outcomes; however, we have shown that not taking essential, beneficial medications is more frequent and can be more strongly associated with negative outcomes,” said lead author Maarten Wauters of Belgium’s Ghent University. “Prescribing medications to older persons should be done after careful thought, balancing the benefits and risk of every medication at regular intervals.”

The results of the study appear to be consistent with others, including some in the U.S. which indicate that failure to follow prescription instructions is a major problem. “Clinical pharmacologists can help prescribers to clearly assess misuse and underuse of medications in full knowledge of the patient, their comorbidities, and their medications,” Wauters said. “They can help to build electronic systems for constant monitoring of the quality of prescribing, using evidence-based criteria of potentially inappropriate prescribing.”

To help avoid the risks of not taking medications properly, it’s important to follow your health care professional’s instructions exactly. When you get a new prescription, be sure you understand all the instructions, and ask your doctor or pharmacist to help you if anything is unclear.

To help you stick to your medication plan, the FDA has some additional recommendations:

  • Take your medication at the same time every day. It may help to tie the habit to routines like brushing your teeth or getting ready for bed. Before choosing mealtime for your routine, check if your medication should be taken on a full or empty stomach.
  • Keep a “medicine calendar” with your pill bottles and note each time you take a dose.
  • Use a pill container. Some types have sections for multiple doses at different times, such as morning, lunch, evening and night. Be sure to refill it at the same time each week.
  • Use technology. Time caps are available, and there also several mobile apps, for example Medisafe, MedCoach and Pill Reminder, which can help you manage your medication schedule.

How to avoid pitfalls of co-signing loans

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via Bill Moak: How to avoid pitfalls of co-signing loans

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Being asked to co-sign a loan is not as common as it once was, but is still an option in many cases as people with poor (or unestablished) credit seek to borrow money. It may be a nice thing to do, but a new survey has found that co-signing is loaded with potential pitfalls, and you should give careful consideration to the possible implications before you sign on the dotted line. Often, co-signers get burned and if things don’t work out as planned, can be on the hook to pay back the debt, see damage to their credit scores or maybe even suffer from a damaged relationship.

Co-signing allows a third party to agree to take on some of the responsibility for the loan for someone who can’t get enough credit by themselves. According to a recent survey by Creditcards.com, about one in six adults have co-signed a loan or credit card application for somebody else. Most commonly, the co-signer is over 50, helping a child or stepchild obtain a car loan. Co-signing can help your friend or family member get through a tough time, or establish a credit record for the first time. But, a new survey points out, there are many potential hazards that should be investigated before signing.

“Once you co-sign, you are legally responsible for the debt,” said Michelle Dosher, consumer engagement program manager for the Credit Union National Association. “It can be hard on you, and it can be hard on family and friends if that situation doesn’t work out as it was intended.”

Creditcards.com surveyed 2,003 U.S. adults about their experiences with co-signing, illustrating the potential pitfalls. Here are a few of the results:

  • Nearly four in 10 co-signers had to step up to pay some or all of the credit bill because the borrower didn’t follow through on his or her obligations.
  • Twenty-eight percent reported their credit scores dropped because of late payments or nonpayments.
  • About a quarter of respondents said their relationship was damaged because of the arrangement.

“If you co-sign and the person you are co-signing for missed a payment, that amount of debt and any missed payments can become part of your credit history, lowering your score,” Dosher said.

Dosher adds that a default can make your credit score plummet without you even knowing unless you have arranged with the borrower beforehand to keep you apprised on the loan.

“It’s your name on the line,” Dosher added. “You might have excellent credit now, and someone else’s default could ruin your credit score and affect what you are able to do on your own in the future, like refinance a home or buy a car.”

Rebecca Schreiber, a certified financial planner and co-founder of Pure Financial Education, notes that co-signing has declined over the past few decades, probably because people are becoming aware of the potential problems, but some may still decide to take the risk because they want to help out a loved one. “Co-signing is a sign of faith in another person. Sometimes we just see a financial transaction and we forget about the message behind that transaction. But co-signing is making a statement that you believe the other person will behave in a responsible way and you have faith in them.”

According to the CreditCards.com poll, co-signers tend to be:

  • Older than 50. Twenty-four percent of 50- to 64-year-olds have co-signed a loan or card for someone else, followed by 22 percent of those older than 65. Only 14 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds have been co-signers.
  • Wealthy. Of those who earn more than $75,000 annually, 24 percent have co-signed for someone else, compared to only 11 percent of those who earn less than $30,000.
  • Helping a child or stepchild. Nearly half (45 percent) of co-signers have done so on behalf of a child or stepchild. Co-signing for a friend was a distant second at 21 percent.
  • Signing for an auto loan. Auto loans accounted for 51 percent of all co-signings, followed by personal loans (24 percent), student loans (19 percent) and credit cards (16 percent).

“If you could help an adult child go from a rental situation into homeownership and they just don’t have the credit score built up yet, (co-signing) can be great way to get them started,” said Karen Lee, an author and financial planner. When it comes to helping out a child or stepchild, 58 percent of 50- to 64-year-old co-signers have done this as well as 53 percent of co-signers older than 65.

Having to pay a loan for which one co-signs can put a serious strain even on the strongest relationships. To avoid the pitfalls, here are a few red flags that might make you think twice:

  1. The person has a pattern of not meeting financial obligations. “We all know people who are financial train wrecks,” Lee said. “If one of your financial train-wreck friends comes to you for help, but they’ve ‘turned over a new leaf,’ I would still avoid that situation.”
  2. You’re not financially stable yourself. In addition to evaluating the person you may co-sign for, you need to evaluate your own financial well-being. Do not sign on the dotted line if you are feeling financial strain. “If you don’t have (the funds) to literally give away right now, don’t do it,” Lee advises.

For the complete survey results, visit www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/co-signing-survey.php.

Who are these imposters?

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via Moak: Who are these imposters?, clarionledger.com

Every day, Mississippians get calls from people who claim to be something they’re not. In past columns, I’ve written many times about various ways scammers dupe victims into sending money, turning over key pieces of their identity, or participating in international schemes. Nearly every time, the person getting the call ends up holding the bag, losing their life savings, or unwittingly helping someone commit a crime.

Fraudulent calls are rampant. Just last week, my own elderly parents called to tell me they’d gotten a call from someone claiming to be with the IRS, saying they owed back taxes, and threatening them with prosecution if they didn’t pay up immediately. The only problem: These are all lies (my folks knew better, and didn’t take the bait.) The IRS is not going to call anybody to demand immediate payment, and in fact, if they have a beef with you, you’re going to get a lot of “snail mail” first.

This type of scam has become so prevalent it’s risen to become the top source of complaints to the Federal Trade Commission, with volume rising sharply in the past two years. Many of these schemes originate overseas, making it that much more difficult to stop and prosecute.

Other “imposter” schemes include:

The Grandparent Scam. This is where a crook calls an elderly person, pretending to be their grandchild (or claiming to be their lawyer, or a police officer). The criminal tries to get the grandparent to wire money or even purchase things like iTunes gift cards, to help their grandchild out of trouble.

Tech Support Scams. The potential victim gets a call from someone claiming their computer is infected with a virus, and that if they pay up, it can be fixed over the phone.

Government Agencies Scams. It may be the IRS, or Social Security, Medicare or any number of other agencies, but they’re all the same; the scammer indicates there is some problem, which will go away if you send cash.

Online Dating Scams. You might think the beauty (or hunk) you’re corresponding with online is all he or she claims to be. They say all the right things, and you think you’ve met your soulmate. But often, it’s just a ruse. In the worst cases, they are actually grooming you so they can steal your money or identity.

Last week, the Federal Trade Commission released a new series of videos and informational pieces called “Imposter Scams.” For the first time, they’ve taken a wide-lens approach to helping bring these schemes to light and empower people with the means to recognize them.

It would be a good idea to spend a few minutes perusing the videos. They’re short (less than a minute), concise and easily understood.

But regardless, if you get a call from anyone claiming you have a problem that can be fixed with an immediate payment over the phone, don’t take the bait. Remember that such calls are usually from imposters who want you to panic and make decisions you wouldn’t normally make. If you think there might be some truth to the caller’s claims, ask for their contact information, then hang up and try to verify the information yourself. If you do need to make an emergency payment, get some advice, and never wire money to an unknown account, or give anyone the information they need to access your bank or credit card accounts. And, if someone threatens you, report the threat immediately to local law enforcement.

Ultimately, it’s up to all of us to educate ourselves, keep an eye on those who might be vulnerable, and not make it easier for crooks to find victims. Visithttp://1.usa.gov/25EGrBE to view the “Imposter Scams” materials.

Crack down on elder abuse

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via Moak: Crack down on elder abuse, clarionledger.com

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A disgusting trend has been taking place across the globe in the past few years; elderly people are increasingly becoming targets of abuse of all types. Frequently, seniors are vulnerable in every way — physically, emotionally and financially. It’s a sad state of affairs when we have to report elderly abuse on a regular basis in the pages of this newspaper, reflecting a sad reality that as our population gets older, they can increasingly fall victim.

Just last week, Sharon Sallie of Booneville was sentenced to 10 years in prison after a Tippah County jury found her guilty of false pretense and conspiracy after she and two compatriots convinced an elderly resident to “loan” her $15,000, which would be paid upon settlement of a medical lawsuit. However, an investigation found the settlement and lawsuit didn’t exist. Previously, two others, Ahmad Fryar of Ripley and Jessica Plaxico of Booneville had been found guilty on similar charges associated with the case. Sallie will also have to pay $15,518.25 in restitution and court costs.

My own understanding of this problem is largely the result of the efforts of one man. For years, Don Sullivan served as a tireless advocate for stopping abuse of the elderly. This tough-as-nails former FBI special agent and state agency head practiced what he preached, putting his personal time and resources into defending the rights of the elderly. Sadly, Don died in 2007, but not before founding the Elder Justice Center, which helped elderly crime victims, and helping educate many people — including me — about this pernicious and often-hidden crime. He was also heavily involved in the Mississippi Leadership Council on Aging, which equips law enforcement personnel with the tools to help elderly citizens, and brings citizens together with local law enforcement to keep watch over vulnerable adults in their communities.

Don’s legacy is secure, but the fight goes on.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Elder abuse affects about one in 10 people over 60 who live at home. The CDC is quick to point out that’s likely to be a very conservative estimate, because elder abuse often goes unreported. Many elderly victims lack the mobility or knowledge to report abuse, and may shy away from reporting it because of shame, embarrassment, or even fear of their abusers. The National Center on Elder Abuse claims that between one and two million adults 65 or over “have been injured, exploited, or otherwise mistreated by someone on whom they depended for care or protection.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Administration on Aging, elder abuse takes many forms, including the following:

  • Physical Abuse — inflicting physical pain or injury on a senior, e.g. slapping, bruising or restraining by physical or chemical means.
  • Sexual Abuse — non-consensual sexual contact of any kind.
  • Neglect — the failure by those responsible to provide food, shelter, health care or protection for a vulnerable elder.
  • Exploitation — the illegal taking, misuse, or concealment of funds, property or assets of a senior for someone else’s benefit.
  • Emotional Abuse — inflicting mental pain, anguish or distress on an elder person through verbal or nonverbal acts, e.g. humiliating, intimidating, or threatening.
  • Abandonment — desertion of a vulnerable elder by anyone who has assumed the responsibility for care or custody of that person.
  • Self-neglect — characterized as the failure of a person to perform essential, self-care tasks and that such failure threatens his/her own health or safety.

The Administration on Agring notes there are a few telltale signs of abuse:

  • Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions and burns. They may indicate physical abuse, neglect or mistreatment.
  • Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness and unusual depression may signify emotional abuse.
  • Bruises around the breasts or genital area can occur from sexual abuse.
  • Sudden changes in financial situations may be the result of exploitation.
  • Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene and unusual weight loss are indicators of possible neglect.
  • Behavior such as belittling, threats and other uses of power and control by spouses are indicators of verbal or emotional abuse.
  • Strained or tense relationships, frequent arguments between the caregiver and elderly person can also be signs of abuse.

Mississippi’s seniors are protected by a section of state law called the Vulnerable Adults Act of 1986. This law requires “any person, care facility or professional employee who has knowledge of or reasonable cause to believe that a ‘vulnerable adult’ has been the victim of abuse, neglect, or exploitation” must report it to either the Mississippi Department of Human Services (for home health agency reports) or the Mississippi State Department of Health (for other care facility reports or reports by private persons). The law creates special criminal penalties for elderly abuse, with extended prison sentences and heavy fines. The law also gives immunity from prosecution to those (other than the perpetrators) who report elderly abuse.

Since much of the enforcement of the law comes from the Mississippi attorney general’s office, I asked Attorney General Jim Hood to tell me what his office does to stop elder abuse. “Scams against seniors will not be tolerated, and those who violate our senior citizens in any way will be prosecuted,” he replied. “Whether it is physical abuse by a caregiver or fraud by a stranger over the Internet, our office pursues investigations and prosecutions of all forms of elder abuse. Often, the targeted seniors lose a lifetime of savings in one scam, or they are abused by a loved one or caregiver over a long period of time.”

Since 2004, the AG’s office’s Division of Medicaid Fraud Control and Vulnerable Adults Units have together convicted more than 525 people of abuse, neglect and exploitation of care facility patients or residents, with many of those targeting seniors. And Hood has strong words for would-be offenders: “Those who harm our elderly should take note that we will come after you with the full force of our office to protect those who often cannot protect themselves.”

Don’t fall for ‘grandparent scam’

AdobeStock_61544302.jpegvia Moak: Don’t fall for ‘grandparent scam’, clarionledger.com

“Hi, Grandma. I’m in trouble.”

It’s one of the most resilient scams out there, and crooks know it. If you’re a grandparent, you might be the target of the “grandparent scam.”

It starts with a phone call, often in the middle of the night. The caller says he or she is your grandchild (or a friend of theirs), and your grandchild’s in trouble. They might report being in jail somewhere, stranded, or victim of a crime. And they need money.

Because most grandparents have tender hearts when it comes to their beloved grandchildren, they’ll want to help. Every year, thousands of seniors fall victim to this scam, to the tune of more than $42 million. Before you say you’d never fall for such trickery, many others have said the same thing and still been victimized. What makes the story plausible is the scammers have often done their homework. A little Internet sleuthing can reveal your grandkids’ name, gender, age, where they live, and even what they sound like. In a world in which everything is posted on social media, it’s easier than ever to find ways to make the story believable.

In Chicago earlier this year, 79-year-old Pauline Hunt told a local TV station that she’d gotten a call from someone claiming to be her grandson, and he had been in a car accident because he had been texting. “Jason” was calling to ask for $4,000 to get him out of jail. He even put his “lawyer” on the phone, who instructed Hunt to go to two local stores and buy $4,000 worth of iTunes gift cards. Then, once the cards were in hand, the “lawyer” instructed her to read the cards’ redemption numbers.

But it wasn’t over yet. Hunt got another call from “Jason,” who said he needed another $6,000 worth of cards. She complied, but finally balked at a third request. Calling her grandson at home, he informed her that he wasn’t the one who had called, and that she had been scammed for $10,000.

Sadly, Hunt’s story isn’t unique. According to the Federal Trade Commission, between 2012 and 2014, consumers reported more than $42 million in losses from scams involving the impersonation of family members and friends. What makes it more heartbreaking is the scammers’ targets are often widows or widowers, who may be living on fixed incomes.

Arrests happen, but they’re few and far between. In January, New York officials arrested four Canadian women for preying on seniors in the Albany, New York, area by calling seniors, then putting a “police officer” on the line to instruct them where to send bail money for their “grandchildren.”  In December, police in Missouri City, Texas, arrested five people for allegedly conning a 92-year-old grandmother out of more than $308,000.

“Fraudsters have no problem preying on your goodwill to get inside your wallet,” said Corey Carlisle, executive director of the American Bankers’ Association’s ABA Foundation. “They’re using social media and internet searches to fabricate convincing stories, so be careful, trust your gut and do your best to confirm who you’re dealing with before sending any money.”

Since May is Older Americans Month, the ABA Foundation is offering these tips to combat these persistent scams. If you get a call purporting to be from your grandchild or someone representing them:

Confirm the caller. Hang up, and call your grandchild back on a number you know.

Ask questions. Crooks don’t like questions, and are counting on you to not be clearheaded. “Fraudsters want to execute their crimes quickly,” notes that ABA Foundation. “In this type of scam, they count on fear and your concern for your loved one to make you act before you think. The more questions you ask the more inclined they will be to ditch the scam if they suspect you’re on to them.”

Don’t volunteer information. Unless you know beyond a shadow of doubt the identity of the person on the other end of the line, don’t give up any information. It’s OK to be skeptical.

Never rush into a financial decision. Don’t be fooled — if something doesn’t feel right, it may not be right. Call other relatives or local police and ask for advice before sending money or cooperating with any requests to send money.

The ABA Foundation has some great tips to combat elder financial abuse athttp://aba.com/seniors.