Identity Fraud Targeting the Elderly

The largest coordinated sweep of identity fraud involving US seniors has recently been conducted. The US Department of Justice has reported that more than one million elderly people have collectively lost hundreds of millions of dollars because of this targeted financial abuse. The Department has criminally charged 200 out of 250 defendants identified in the sweep. These third party scam artists account for 27% of seniors who are financially exploited.

Digital FraudsterCon artists and scammers employ many different schemes to defraud seniors of their identity information and money. A large number of them are conducted over the telephone, for instance posing as an Internal Revenue Service agent claiming back taxes are owed, or frightening a grandparent to think that their grandchild has been arrested and needs bail money wired to them. Other schemes include the promise of a prize or lottery cash if they just send a large fee in order to collect their “winnings.” Seniors become easy victims when targeted by these social engineering schemes and it is likely to get worse because of the proliferation of smart phones and other devices that get seniors to explore the online world.

USA Today reports that while phone scams target one senior at a time the online environment is opening doors to thousands or even millions of seniors falling prey to a single scam. Email and other online channels can reach a vast number of potential victims and more elderly people have an online presence than ever before.

Romance scams that used to be conducted in person can now be achieved in the online dating environment and even in social media. The attacker can befriend multiple seniors online and then ask for money to cover “travel expenses” to visit them. This is particularly successful as many seniors are dealing with isolation and loneliness.

The online shopping world is another vehicle employed by scam artists to defraud seniors of money. All that is needed is a picture of an object that seems to be owned by the scammer and you have the potential to sell that item over and over again to thousands of seniors. All the scam artist has to do is set up a mirror web site that appears to be a legitimate online auction house such as E-bay to drain seniors of their money as well as obtain credit card and other identity information. These mirror sites masquerading as official websites are often in the email accounts of seniors and a mere click on a link can download malicious software to their device that is designed to steal critical identity information.

Of the 27% of seniors who do become financially exploited by a third party, 67% do not exhibit symptoms of cognitive decline. That is a huge number of mentally fit seniors being financially exploited. This is a pervasive problem in the elderly community. According to the Federal Trade Commission’s “Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2017” identity fraud is second only to debt collection with regard to consumer complaints. Identity fraud accounted for 14% of all consumer complaints last year. The Commission also reported that seniors who are financially exploited suffer higher median losses than other age groups.

Many seniors who have been targeted are embarrassed, ashamed, or scared as a result. Many never saw themselves as being at risk, they fear retribution from the perpetrator, and they fear that government agencies or family members will label them unfit to care for themselves.

Systems can be put in place to monitor senior accounts and make their money less easy to access by scammers. In addition, there are legal documents that can protect the accounts of seniors during their lifetime, and eliminate the chance of fraud or abuse.

This blog post was written and submitted by the St. Charles Illinois Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, Fitzgerald Law Office LLC

Please contact them for more information on how they can help you or your loved ones reduce the chance of financial fraud or abuse.

Ask Yourself These Proactive Caregiving Questions Today to Prepare for the “What ifs?” in Life

“I wish I had met you a few months ago.” I hear some variation of this phrase weekly from people I meet through both networking and personal events.  The comment comes from people who have experienced family caregiving in some form and had no idea what resources were available to assist them or the person they were caring for.

At some point in our lives we have either been, will be or know someone who is the caregiver of an elderly relative. Depending on our life expectancy, we will also become the elderly person in need of resources.  What happens when caregivers have to make decisions with no per-conceived notion of the available resources or when they have to make decisions in reaction to a crisis?

All decisions made from the point of the “incident”, the “fall”, “hospitalization”…you fill in the blank, are done in reaction to the situation.  These very important, potentially life altering decisions are based primarily on an emotional response to the event or the direction given by a medical professional.  Regrettably, reactionary caregiving decisions may not be the best option and may contradict the person’s wishes.

Now I realize that in our busy world, if something isn’t happening immediately, we don’t really have the need to know about resources available for the “what if’s” in life. Unfortunately, neglected “what if” planning can lead to reactionary caregiving decision-making when a crisis strikes.

The good news is it doesn’t have to be that way.  There are caregiving preparations that can be made TODAY for the “what ifs” in life.

Ask yourself and those you love these proactive “what if” questions and begin preparing for potential crisis:

  • What if I cannot make decisions for myself?
  • What if I needed long-term nursing care?
    • Would I want that in home or in a facility?
    • What would be my personal guidelines to determine where the care was given?
  • What if I need short-term rehabilitation?
    • Where would I want to go for that care?
  • What if I could no longer manage my finances?
    • Who would I trust to manage them for me?
  • What do I need to have in place to make sure that if one of my “what if’s” happened, my family would know what I wanted done?
  • What if (Fill in the Blank)

I know that asking these questions can be awkward; however, if and when the crisis strikes, you’ll be glad you did.

For more resources visit –

Written by Author and Keynote Speaker Sue Salach-Cutler. Sue has a Master’s degree in Gerontology and has worked in the healthcare field for over 25 years.  She is the Author of “Along Comes Grandpa”, a caregiving resource guide, and the novel “If I Walked in Her Shoes”. Her programs and books provide the vital resources needed to help family caregivers as they maneuver through the caregiving journey. Find out more about her books and programs here:  Adapted from:

Geriatric Care Management for Adults with Schizophrenia

Drawing on our firsthand experience with the effects of mental health issues on a family, we focus our efforts on maximizing every support resource available.

Our first step toward achieving and Living Life With Dignity is recognizing what role mental health plays in a client’s life.

During an initial assessment with a client, the family and doctors, we learn which issues have been resolved and where struggles continue to occur. Following that meeting, an assessment is developed based on the results of that collaboration. We provide an assessment document highlighting recommendations for a life/care plan, as well as an affordable fee structure.

A life/care plan is then developed through additional, very specific client interviews and outreach to our network of community resources. Our associates work hand-in-hand with clients, their families and/or caregivers to make sure the plan works in everyday situations.

Case Study

Supporting adults with schizophreniaThis case study involves a 62-year-old female diagnosed with Schizophrenia. At the time, Alice* was living in a nursing home with outside advocacy. Alice’s father was appointed as her guardian after her mother’s death; however, health issues prevented him from assisting in her care.

Alice believes that her mother is still alive and that her family has faked her mother’s death. She was oppositional at first but is now compliant, although still delusional after a year of treatment. She suffers from mild paranoia and does not maintain activities of daily living unless prompted.

She was in a secure environment; however, her Attorney was concerned that she was not getting proper care. She needed clothes, toiletries and reading materials, and her father needed to be removed as guardian due to his competency issues.

  • Living Life with Dignity stepped in and provided the following services:
  • We were appointed as Alice’s Guardian;
  • We attended to all of her care plans;
  • We advocated for her legal rights;
  • We accessed her current mental health status to acquire a more appropriate living environment and facilitated her change in residence;
  • We secured outside professionals for additional evaluations; and
  • We visited regularly to ensure proper care and to provide companionship.

*Not her real name.

Do you have any questions about support and advocacy for adults suffering from schizophrenia? Post a comment below!

The Impact of Being a Geriatric Care Giver

Family StressIf you think you are saving by caring for your loved one…think again. Below are some statistics that show the huge impacts to the individual care giver, not just in health but financially as well. There is also stress put on the family that can divide even the strongest of families. In turn, most people don’t want to have to be taken care of by a loved one. Feelings of guilt and regret, regardless of fault, can make one feel like a burden.

Navigating the system is also becoming increasingly difficult. An Advocate can help save your family from personal and financial ruin and reduce the stress that this process creates, providing you the time to spend with your loved ones, worry free…

As professionally certified guardians, we care for personal and financial matters, protecting individual rights and safety. We ensure that the life/care plan we build is consistent with the individual’s strengths, needs and choices.

Six reasons why being the care giver is not always the best option

  1. 23% of family caregivers caring for loved ones for 5 years or more report their health is fair or poor.
    Caregiving in the United States; National Alliance for Caregiving in collaboration with AARP; November 2009
  2. Stress of family caregiving for persons with dementia has been shown to impact a person’s immune system for up to three years after their caregiving ends thus increasing their chances of developing a chronic illness themselves.
    Drs. Janice-Kiecolt Glaser and Ronald Glaser, “Chronic stress and age-related increases in the proinflammatory cytokine IL-6. “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, June 30, 2003.
  3. Nearly three quarters (72%) of family caregivers report not going to the doctor as often as they should and 55% say they skip doctor appointments for themselves. 63% of caregivers report having poor eating habits than non-caregivers and 58% indicate worse exercise habits than before caregiving responsibilities.
    Evercare Study of Caregivers in Decline: A Close-Up Look at Health Risks of Caring for a Loved One. National Alliance for Caregiving and Evercare. 2006.
  4. American businesses can lose as much as $34 billion each year due to employees’ need to care for loved ones 50 years of age and older.
    MetLife Caregiving Cost Study: Productivity Losses to U.S. MetLife Mature Market Institute and National Alliance for Caregiving Business. July 2006
  5. Women who are family caregivers are 2.5 times more likely than non-caregivers to live in poverty and five times more likely to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
    Study conducted by researchers at Rice University and data compiled from the Health and Retirement Study funded by the National Institute of Aging and conducted by the University of Michigan, 1992-2004
  6. Caregiving families (families in which one member has a disability) have median incomes that are more than 15% lower than non-caregiving families. In every state and DC the poverty rate is higher among families with members with a disability than among families without.
    Disability and American Families: 2000, Census 2000 Special Reports, July 2005.

What is a Plenary Guardian?

Plenary Guardianship for aging adult with dementia.Jim was becoming increasingly confused and estranged, and his actions were unpredictable. One day his wife asked him to put the kettle on for a cup of tea; he replied ‘yes’. When his wife came back into the kitchen a short while later, he was just standing there staring at the kettle as if it were a foreign object. It seemed he had lost interest in life, his financial affairs were in disarray, and he could no longer find the words to communicate it. He had forgotten how to drive, read, or perform any normal daily tasks, to the point where he was unable to dress himself in the morning. His aging and unwell wife was finding it impossible to manage his dementia and their estate any longer, and he clearly could not care for himself. Jim’s wife took him to the doctor and her worst fears were realized – the doctor declared him incapable of making decisions for himself. It was time to consider plenary guardianship, as Jim was not competent to enter into a Power of Attorney, the document in which a competent person grants authority to another individual to act on his/her behalf. See Dementia and Guardianship

Plenary guardianship is when the court finds an individual incapable of caring for themselves, and therefore gives a legal guardian rights over and responsibilities towards that individual or “ward”. Plenary guardianship must be appointed by the court. This kind of petition would include the name of the person in need of guardianship, their date of birth and address, and a report by a doctor stating the physical and mental incapability of the person. See What is the Difference between Guardianship and Power of Attorney?

Types of Guardianship

Other less restrictive types of guardianship do exist and the court will decide which is suitable for the individual in question. Illinois law permits several different types of adult guardianship:

Limited Guardianship

A limited guardianship permits the guardian to make some, but not all, decisions for the person under the guardianship.

Guardian of the Person and Guardian of the Estate

There are different types of plenary guardianship – it may be as to the person (personal care, education, and medical services) or as to the estate (financial affairs and property) or as to both.

Temporary Guardianship

In emergencies, the court may appoint a temporary guardian for up to 60 days to protect a person with special needs’ interests.

Successor Guardianship

A successor guardian takes over the guardianship when the initially appointed guardian no longer can serve.

Testamentary Guardianship

Parents of children with special needs use testamentary guardianships to protect their children who are living under guardianships in case of the parent’s death.

Duties of the Plenary Guardian

A Plenary Guardian has legal rights by the court to make all decisions for the person that is found to be incompetent. It is important to note that this is a legal appointment, not a medical appointment. The medical report presented to the court is only part of what a judge will consider in making a decision for a potential ward. Once someone is under guardianship they will not be able to engage in certain activities. This is including, but not limited to, their estate. While someone is under the care of a guardian they may not:

  • Determine residence
  • Consent to medical treatment
  • Make end-of-life decisions
  • Possess a driver’s license
  • Manage, buy, or sell property
  • Own or possess a firearm or weapon
  • Contract or file lawsuits
  • Marry
  • Vote

The plenary guardian is responsible for managing the needs of that person. If proper housing needs to be secured, it is the responsibility of the guardian. If medical needs have to be addressed, it is the responsibility of the guardian. The guardian is also to manage the client’s financial and insurance needs, including applying for Medicare or Medicaid or Social Security if necessary. Some additional things a plenary guardian can be responsible for include the following:

  • Determine and monitor residence
  • Consent to and monitor medical treatment
  • Consent and monitor non-medical services such as education and counseling
  • Consent and release of confidential information
  • Make end-of-life decisions
  • Act as representative payee
  • Maximize independence in least restrictive manner
  • Report to the court about the guardianship status at least annually
  • Marshall and protect assets
  • Obtain appraisals of property
  • Protect property and assets from loss
  • Receive income for the estate
  • Make appropriate disbursements
  • Obtain court approval prior to selling any asset
  • Report to the court or estate status

Plenary Guardian Requirements

It is required by Illinois law that a plenary guardian be 18 years or older without a felony and capable of the responsibility. It also states that you cannot be in service to the ward other than to provide guardianship services and that there may not be any debt owed to you by the ward. These simple requirements come with much responsibility. Often a well-intended family member is willing to take on this role without fully understanding the magnitude of what they are getting into. Knowing all there is to know to help someone in need of a guardian is challenging. The impact of being the caregiver can be tremendous. See Recognizing the Signs of Caregiver Burnout

If you find yourself in this situation, we suggest you sit down with a good estate and probate attorney experienced in these matters to learn what is involved before you decide to take it on. If you have already accepted an appointment then your attorney might be able to help you manage and understand the requirements.

As advocates and professional guardians we can help you put a plan in place that is easy to follow and maintain. You don’t have be in this alone. With professional expertise you will have the support you need to be the best guardian for your loved one and know you are making the right decisions.

If you have any questions regarding guardianship, please post them below so we can raise awareness and help others who might be facing similar issues.