Senior Security: Fraud & Identity Theft

When you consider fraud & identity theft, the first culprits that come to mind are telemarketers, when actually, those closest to the targeted victim are most likely the offender. This includes financial advisors, home health workers and even family members.

dreamstime_xxl_91269790According to The National Adult Protective Services Association:

  • 1 in 9 seniors reported being abused, neglected or exploited in the past twelve months; the rate of financial exploitation is extremely high, with 1 in 20 older adults indicating some form of perceived financial mistreatment having occurred in the recent past
  • Elder abuse is vastly under-reported with only 1 in 44 cases of financial abuse is ever reported
  • Abused seniors are 3 times more likely to die, and elder abuse victims are 4 times more likely to go into a nursing home
  • 90% of abusers are family members or trusted others
  • Almost 1 in 10 financial abuse victims will eventually rely on Medicaid as a direct result of their own monies being stolen from them
  • Cognitive impairment and the need for help with activities of daily living make victims more vulnerable to financial abuse.

The methods that can be used to cheat you or your loved one out of life savings and future financial security can be truly insidious. Recently, I received a call from a family seeking help for their father after he had shared his Social Security number with his new neighbor on the premise that he would be part of a mythical real estate investment.

What is the best course of action to create a wall around finances and your personal security?

  1. Put a freeze on your credit. By contacting TransUnion or Experian credit bureaus, you can put your credit on lock down, so  potential perpetrators can’t open an account. This is one of the few preventative steps you can take. With PIN access, credit can be “re-activated” for use as appropriate.
  2. Enrolling in Life Lock is where the internet works for you. You can scour the net for any of your information to if a new account is opened in your name or if there have been changes to your credit.
  3. Careful vetting of your “guardians” – your trusted circle that help maintain home, health and lifestyle. This group includes your CPA, estate lawyer, financial advisor, physicians, daily money manager and even your insurance agent. Each of these individuals should come from personal recommendations from friends and family but also bear endorsements from local and national organizations that you can verify directly.
  4. Do you have help within the home? Employing housekeepers to handymen to home health aides, while necessary, unfortunately, also carry an inherent risk. Following is a laundry list of security steps that everyone should take prior to employing regular help within the home. This includes but is not limited to:
    • Removal of any/all account or statement information including bank information, estate plans, utility bills, and real estate documentationThe list is extensive. This critical information can be stored with a loved one or kept in a lock box.
    • Depending on health status and other factors, forwarding mail to a PO Box or a trusted individual may be wise. Likewise, if your senior is comfortable not having paper records, activating paperless billing & statements is a safe bet.
    • PIN numbers and passwords must be activated on cable/internet access. Employees who run up Pay Per View charges and spend working hours surfing the web qualify as abusive.
    • Install a personal safe or rent a safety deposit box for valuables.
    • Conduct or ask for background checks: how and when were they last completed?
  5. Passwords. Each account needs security and must be guarded. It is a fact of life today that the financial world is digital; and the trail of logins, passwords, payment information, and other sensitive personal information can lead to abuse. Use a digital password keeper like LastPass or DashLane to keep your information accessible while still secure. Further, you can designate a POA or another trusted individual with access, so that in the case of emergency, you can be assured that bills are continually paid and finances stay on track.

What’s still at stake despite all these measures? Your Social Security number can still be used for medical and tax fraud.

Medical identity theft is on the rise as it enables the perpetrator to obtain drugs or submit fake bills in your name. Your best course of action is to keep a record of all Explanation of Benefits (EOBs) and immediately flag any unfamiliar charges.

Tax identity theft occurs when an individual files a false report under your name to obtain a refund. Filing early and quickly is the safest way to avoid this, because any subsequent attempts to file will be rejected by the IRS. Be organized throughout the year, so when January rolls around, you can swiftly hand off your tax package to your vetted and trusted CPA.

In summary, securing your identity and your finances requires ongoing attention and support. Incoming mail, email, statements and billing require scrutiny and evaluation. Engaging your Guardians and family to assist is the first step to creating your own firewall of safety.

Deductions: A quick guide to healthcare write offs

Get the most out of your dependent medical expenses…… money back!

Track your out of pocket expenses! Once out-of-pocket expenditures exceed 10% of adjusted gross income, you will qualify for deductions!   Are you keeping a running account of all the monies you have been spending on you and your dependents? This accounting exercise is well worth adopting Below, find is a list of some deductibles, but also refer to the IRS’s Publication 502 for greater detail.

  • Copays & deductibles
  • Accepted therapies that may not be covered by your insurer
  • Glasses
  • Ambulance charges
  • Acupuncture
  • Physical therapy
  • Memory care
  • Bandages / care supplies
  • Hearing aids
  • Activities for older people (dual eligibles)
  • Some required home and vehicle modifications for safety
  • Professional health assistance for respite care
  • Transportation for medical appts or services
  • Adult day care or in-home health assistance (if you are working)

How can one capture this information? It can be as simple as putting pen to paper with an envelope of receipts attached or setting up a digital spreadsheet. it’s critically important to keep all your receipts and charge details accounted for at the end of the year. Receipts must include the following information:

  • Patient Name
  • Date of Service
  • Diagnosis / Reason for Service
  •  Amount Paid Out of Pocket
    • This is important. Make sure the receipt reflects that the account has been paid or have the corresponding cancelled check or credit card receipt. to back the expenditure up.

The importance of a Certified Senior Advisor®️

The senior community is growing at an incredibly rapid pace, and the technology that runs our everyday life is growing just as quickly; however, the understanding of today’s paperless accounting and online management has created a vast divide between technology and user.

 

“Research has also shown that even cognitively normal people may reach a point where financial decision-making becomes more challenging.” (NYT, Bernard)  Making daily decisions about bills to be paid, marketing offers that pop up in snail mail and e-mail, the landmine of Medicare options and home management create stress and chip away at self-confidence. The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College did a study that had startling results, regarding one’s ability to understand credit card balance transfer offers for new cardholders. Essentially, this study tracked how long it would take the subject to uncover the hidden loophole on how the lower APR(what is this acronym?) would be applied. They called this the “Eureka Moment”.

 

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http://crr.bc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/IB_10-12-508.pdf

The startling results are that the “Eureka Moment” comes at the same time for the 18-24 year old group as the 65+ group.

Retirement years should be filled with the rewards of relaxation and earned leisure. Instead, many seniors find themselves spending significant time managing their cash flow, researching healthcare options and analyzing mountains of mail and paperwork that accumulate on their dining room table. hesitant to trouble family or friends and most importantly, not jeopardize their autonomy, most seek advice.

This is where a Certified Senior Advisor® comes in. A Certified Senior Advisor® is a professional who is trained and accredited in understanding and navigating the daily life of a senior. A Certified Senior Advisor® helps clients traverse the I byzantine path surrounding their financial security, personal independence, the fluid healthcare landscape while, maintaining respect for the individual. A Certified Senior Advisor® works alongside their client to insure that their wishes are precisely followed.

Money Management – Monitoring the household budget and cash flow is running efficiently

Healthcare claims & enrollments – Insuring that your benefits are being maximized to fit your healthcare needs

Taxes & Portfolio – Creating ease around the functions of tax prep, end of year distributions and charitable giving

Household – Assisting or managing projects to make your house work better for your needs

At Senior Checks & Balances, our goal is to create a individually tailored approach that create safety around the household and finances, and consequently, nurtures independence and individual empowerment.

Client Study:  “Anne”

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Age:  94 years old

Support:  Widow, no children or local family.  No POA

Health Status:  Legally blind, significant hearing loss & two other chronic conditions requiring pain management and a walker.  Aging in place & homebound.

Financial Resources:  SS & Teacher’s Pension

May 2018, After her most recent hospital discharge Anne requested assistance from a home health agency. As her taxes had not been filed and her previous CPA was no longer in business, part of her service request was tax preparation assistance. The home health agency referred her to Senior Checks & Balances (SCB) for guidance.

After an introductory phone call with a Senior Checks & Balances advisor and an initial in-home assessment, a work plan and calendar were established that Anne was comfortable with. The work plan included:

  •      Two sessions per week @ two hours each for two weeks
  •      Daily activity logs for Anne to review
  •      Filing system to organize documentation based on the following headers:

o   Tax documents

o   Income documentation (including SS)

o   Healthcare spending/expenses

o   Gifting/Charitable receipts

o   Real estate/tax info

o   Banking Info

Over the course of the sessions, Anne & her SCB advisor were able to capture and organize her 2017 tax documents, relevant receipts and other documentation. For those items not available or misplaced, SCB worked as Anne’s agent to obtain copies in a timely manner. Once the tax package was complete, SCB introduced Anne to a trusted CPA who worked directly with the IRS, on her behalf, to have penalties reduced, based on medical exemption and file her return.

While there are no concrete numbers on how often taxes are not filed due to illness or lack of support, the greater concern is that there are no current safety nets in the system to insure all filings and enrollments for seniors are done in a timely manner. Often, failure to file is not caught until the individual has passed away, or finances have reached a critical failure. At this juncture, the individual’s estate will be further compromised through audit and probate.

In 2019, the IRS will introduce the 1040SR which is available to any taxpayer 65 or older without significant income restrictions.  Similar to the 1040EZ, this new filing tool was developed for those seniors, like Anne, with relatively simple or uncomplicated finances, however, therein lies the issue. Senior finances are complicated. First, this does not further insure that a chronically ill senior with diminished competency will file. Also, tax code and deductions around senior living and healthcare are extremely complicated and require professional assistance to insure all deductions are captured appropriately. Only the standard deductions can be taken when using the 1040SR.

Despite popular beliefs, dementia is not always involved. With aging, the ability to perform or recall the steps necessary for tasks that were once routine, can diminish with any cognitive decline. Having the conversation early and often is the key to staving off financial errors or incidents. In the case where family is available to help once their loved one is no longer capable of managing their day to day functions, the focus remains on the physical health of the individual while the financial health of their estate usually remains a secondary concern. Installing safeguards and systems well before a critical life event, whether it be health or financial is key.

While Anne’s case is unfortunate, as she has no local family nor a designated POA, anyone can easily fall into the same situation, even with an extensive support structure around them. Any individual with declining health is best served by engaging a professional to oversee the “workflow” of daily finance, healthcare spending and financial management. A Certified Senior Advisor can establish baseline efficiencies and protections for the day to day finances and the overall estate as well.Further a CSA, serves as a valuable member of the individual’s support structure for continued autonomy as well as neutral point of contact for all family members.

 

Financial Caregiving

When it comes to engaging assistance as we age, the focus weighs heavily on the physical end of the spectrum. Creating safe environments that allow us to age in place while managing new and changing health status dominates the conversation. Home health aides, caregivers and companions offer a host of solutions and assistance that create a seamless transition into our senior years.

 

Yet, very rarely is any emphasis placed on the finance of the household during this period of transition. Many believe that if they have engaged a wealth manager or financial planner to oversee savings, IRAs or investments that all is secure and sound.   Overlooking the day to day finances of health and home can create even greater implications on the individual as they age.

There are five areas where we seek professional guidance to protect our lifestyle and future –

Investment/Savings – CPAs, CFPs, Wealth Managers, etc.

Healthcare – From doctors to in-home assistance

Insurance – Agents supplying policies that cover health, property and life.

Estate – Lawyers and professionals who create “firewalls” to protectholdings and interests.

Home & Lifestyle – Who is protecting and advising on household budgets, household spending, tax documentation preparation, Medicare enrollments and the host of other details that clog our inboxes and mail slots? Who is insuring that the other four stakeholders, listed above, are working in concert?

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The stakes of household and healthcare finance advance as we age. Keeping accounts current, meeting bill deadlines, assessing the validity of charges, navigating online billings, recurring charges can all create significant damage to our lifestyle if not managed correctly. Additionally, without outside assistance, understanding and navigating the health insurance can have detrimental effects, both financially and physically.

In the same way we engage home health aides to insure physical safety at home, the need for daily money management to protect our cash flow and access to healthcare is vital.

  • Establishing a reasonable budget that anticipates expenditures and can clearly track changes as they occur.
  • A living record of healthcare spending that follows the life of each claim and captures out of pocket spending.
  • Clear communication with all other custodians, e.g.doctors, CFPs, CPAs, lawyers, etc. so enrollments, taxes and distributions are completed with minimum stress and uncertainty.

Engaging a professional to assist with the business of household and healthcare insures peace of mind that daily cash flow and access to care are secure and protected.

Contact us today to discuss how we may assist you and your loved ones.

What We Leave Behind

 

Senior Checks and Balances means different things to different people, including relief from an overwhelming situation, assistance in maintaining independence, financial security or simply the freedom to enjoy retirement. Working with one particular client has been especially rewarding. She is a 50 year old woman whose chronic illnesses had overcome her ability to manage her household, her three dependent children, her husband, who works away from home during the week and an invalid mother.   We had been working on Medicare/Medicaid re-enrollments, bill consolidation and building a working household budget.

This morning her husband called. She passed away suddenly two days ago.

All I can do now is relieve her grieving husband and children from managing all that is outstanding.   Their grief shouldn’t be compounded by the stress of the mounds of mail and paperwork on the dining room table. Over the next month, I will spend a each week shepherding their accounts through adjudication and restoring some normalcy into their financial situation.

She left behind no will, no power of attorney (healthcare or durable), no instructions, no living will….. no estate plan of any kind. Rather than launch into all of the scenarios that can result from not having any of these simple documents – like debates over life sustaining measures or ending up in probate court, I will close by saying these situations inevitably cause emotional pain which leads to greater stress and heartache.

Instead, I implore you to take a couple of hours and get your house in order. A couple of hours.

Employ an estate planner (I know some outstanding and upstanding professionals!) or simply log on to legalzoom – just get the proverbial pen to paper.  Costs are lower than you think and can save you from losing upwards of 70% of your estate to legal fees and estate taxes.  Yes, 70%!  Also, the average length of time an estate will stay in probate is anywhere from 6 months to 2 years.

  1. We live in a digital age rife with paperless statements and usernames/passwords. Utilize a username/password tool such as LastPass or Keeper.  These tools allow for a designated person to have access after an emergency or unexpected death.  They will also assist with a digital will.
  2.  Don’t ignore the day to day stuff.  The comcast bill, the landscaper……..  Each service provider you pay on a regular basis needs to be notated.  Googledocs or OneDrive is the simplest way to give life to your household budget.
  3. The three wise (wo)men – your insurance agent (health &/or life), your lawyer and your accountant/CFA. If you employ any of these professionals, in an event of a crisis or passing, your estate will work in conjunction with them. Share their contact info with your loved ones.

Share the whereabouts or existence with this information with whoever you designate as your “person”. No personal or account information needs to be shared,just who to contact and how to proceed. Humorous as it sounds, each year I get an email from my mother entitled “Dead”. It contains an update on who to call, where a specific item may be or the revised directive for her final wishes. Morbid or not, it gives her a greater sense of security that if anything should happen, and I know that I will be able to follow all of her final wishes exactly as she would have wanted.

Contact me to discuss any question or detail.

 

 

The Snowball Effect – Finances & Aging

Yesterday afternoon, we received a call from a lovely woman asking for assistance with “her hallway of paper”.  An introductory visit was set for the very next day.

Not long after walking into her home, it was clear what the priority was for “Anne”.  TAXES.  Two days post tax deadline, a week post hospital discharge and a year since her tax preparer retired.   “Anne” was at a loss for how to get started.  Tax documentation, statements, receipts and handwritten notes for the past year in separate stacks lined her hallway floor.  There sat a woman, a PhD not to mention, who was struggling with mobility & recuperation which was clearly being exacerbated by the stress of taxes and money.  “Anne” was clearly one smart cookie that was trying to cope in a debilitating situation that had reached beyond a critical point.

In any search on “finances and aging”, there are volumes of information in terms of elder abuse/fraud or warnings/indicators of significant impairment or disease.  Yet, there is limited to no information on the individual’s ability to shoulder the general finances of household, Medicare and taxes over time that did not include the impact of the aforementioned factors.   Alarmingly, any type of economic behavioral data amongst older adults is poorly understood.  What is well established is that as we age, our cognitive ability to manage regular tasks, such as IRA distributions, tax preparation and account reconciliation diminish.

In “Anne’s” case, as with so many others, this is an uncomfortable topic that is easier put to the side.  Moreover, focus of physical health, not financial, is the primary litmus for assessing a loved one status – “Mom feels great so all is well!”  In any case, regular check ins on the comings and goings of budget, insurance and investments are paramount.

Once an individual begins to skip a payment, not file a receipt or overlook an account notification The Snowball Effect begins.   One utility doesn’t get paid, an insurance claim isn’t filed correctly, a mortgage/HOA/housing payment is missed….. tax day comes and goes.  Now, the health of their financial affairs are critical and will also have an adverse affect on their emotional, physical and psychological health.

Having the “bills & finance” conversation regularly with loved ones will surely create an air of openness and honesty.  Additionally, the use of outside help, such as a Daily Money Manager, Certified Financial Planner or Financial Concierge, can enable an individual to maintain control and dignity of “owning” their finances with the added assurance of professional review.

 

Senior Checks & Balances specializes in consultative financial assistance with the highest level of security and privacy.