IMAGINE YOURSELF leaving a rehab or long-term care facility to recuperate at home. Once there, the driver helps you inside, and that afternoon there’s a knock on the door.
A friendly person says he has been sent by the facility to help at home. You invite him in. How convenient! You need assistance, and here it is.
Payment is discussed. Maybe you write a check. And one of the newest variations of elder fraud is under way.
“It’s my biggest peeve,” said Melissa McKowan, deputy district attorney for San Mateo County, referring to the relatively recent practice of scammers tracking people coming out of long-term care facilities.
“These people wait outside the hospital and follow the transportation vehicle to the home,” said McKowan, a member of her department’s Elder Fraud Unit. “Then they ring the bell and claim to be sent by the hospital or facility to provide in-home care. They quote an inflated price … and get into the house. And they go on from there.”
What happens next varies, but the client rarely benefits.
“People knock on the door and in time weave themselves into the lives of the senior,” she said. “They may steal a checkbook or take cash from a forgetful client who can’t remember if (she) has paid them or not. They may eventually get into the will. Once in the house, they are like termites — they can clean you out from the inside.”
This latest twist reflects increasingly brazen patterns of local elder abuse. Meanwhile, at the international level, McKowan noted increasingly complex telephone pyramid schemes and solicitations from all over the world using sophisticated methods to block identification.
McKowan advises the elderly at home to keep visitors outside unless they know or expect them. “Keep them at the door and tell them you will get back to them and check,” she said. “If you’re leaving a hospital and the hospital says it will send a caregiver, you should still check. Normally, the patient calls the caregiver.”
Wariness should extend to protecting personal information, including Social Security number, address and phone numbers. She advises shredding all financial information, including statements and bills: “Just tearing things up is not enough.” Detective Glenn Teixeira, of the San Mateo Police Department’s Fraud Division, delivered a similar message at a recent presentation on elder fraud at Borel Bank.
Among his tips: Never leave mail in an unsecured mailbox — send mail through the post office or an official mailbox. Don’t leave personal information, including driver’s license, Medicare insurance card, AARP card or credit cards, in your car.
Don’t provide personal information to unsolicited requests by e-mail or over the telephone. If a nonprofit contacts you for a donation, ask them to send you a request by mail. Only verify personal information when you initiate the call.
Seniors are targeted for specific reasons, McKowan said:
“They often live alone, they may have a nest egg, and, having grown up in different times, they are polite.”
And as the population ages and the economy remains in the doldrums, McKowan said elder abuse will continue to increase. To protect themselves, seniors need to apply words used in a different context but appropriate here:
“Just say no.” Sometimes, McKowan said, “Politeness can get you.”
“Elder Fraud Taking Older New Forms” by Joan Aragone was originally published on InsideBayArea.com for the Contra Costa Times