By MATT NORMAN
Most seniors today live active, vibrant lives. Still, there are many factors that make them vulnerable to all sorts of abuse, neglect, and especially scams and fraud. Due to its moderate winters and frequent sunny days, Florida is a popular retirement or winter location for over five million seniors from all over the country. These valued members of our society deserve protection. Florida’s Attorney General has recently formed the Senior Protection Team to do just that.
This team combines attorneys and investigators that specialize in fighting fraud. This fraud may be civil, criminal, or healthcare in nature. This team is focusing on the problem of fraud and abuse that harms Florida seniors and has already begun to meet with experts and advocates throughout the state to identify, investigate and eliminate these problems wherever they may find them.
More than just fighting scams, this team is consulting with experts in senior protection from law enforcement, private advocacy groups, other Florida agencies, and even agencies in other states to fight all forms of fraud, long-term care issues, guardianship, abuse, neglect, and service-related issues facing seniors in Florida. Among other things, the team is working to identify new scams as they come out, to spot trends, and to stay on the front side of technologies being used to prey on seniors.
Many of us have loved ones over the age of 60 living in Florida. While this new team started by Florida’s Attorney General is exciting, many Floridians may want to take a more active role in protecting these loved ones. Fortunately, there are some things you can do, without completely removing your loved one’s freedom and autonomy. After all, most seniors in Florida are living out their golden years and are still very independent. So, what can you do to help protect your loved ones?
Unpaid bills can be a sign that a senior adult is in need of some assistance. This may indicate a need for some actual financial assistance or may simply mean they could use some help in the actual task of paying the bills. With many bill payments being made online, some seniors may not be comfortable doing this. Insufficient medical or home care may be another sign of a problem. Visit your loved ones often and make sure that all the things that need to get done are getting done. If not, look for ways you can help, without insulting or embarrassing them.
Sudden changes to legal documents such as a will or power of attorney can also indicate a problem. Maintain open communication with your loved one so that such changes are more likely to be communicated. Remember that you are all in this together. Unusual purchases or withdrawals could be another warning sign. Selling of prized possessions, family heirlooms, or other valuables could also indicate a problem. Again, the key is to maintain regular, open communication with your loved one. Extreme examples may even include the opening of new, joint bank accounts between your loved one and another person, or a person trying to keep the senior isolated, especially from loved ones.
As with many other things, a proactive approach is best. Review bank and credit card statements as they come in. Look for large, unexpected withdrawals, purchases, or transfers. If something doesn’t seem right, talk with your loved one and the bank about it. If there are accounts that are seldom used, consider consolidating them. This brings all the assets together so that they are easier to monitor regularly. Keep important documents in a safe deposit box at your bank or credit union. Keep all financial items and documents, such as checkbooks, debit and credit cards, or even statements, out of site and secure. This is especially prudent when guests or workers are present. People looking to victimize seniors often pose as workers in order to gain access to your home and personal information.
If you are a senior adult and want to keep yourself safe, consider all the above. Work with your loved ones. They only want to protect you. In addition, here are some more things to consider. Be suspicious of workers that show up to do work you didn’t call for. If you didn’t call them, ask who did. If they say a family member or neighbor called, check with that person. When in doubt, ask for the person’s information and tell them you will have to reschedule. If they are legitimate, the should have no problem giving you a business card or other form of identification. If not, then they may have been looking to make you their next victim. Ultimately, remember this, there are people out there looking to take advantage of those who might not know any better. Be smart, be safe, and be careful.