The holiday season brings the blessings of gift-giving, good cheer and time with family and friends. It also brings plenty of opportunities for cybercrooks to spoil your celebrations. A few scams are specific to the holidays, but most are variations on everyday frauds, ramped up to match seasonal spikes in spending and web traffic. With a little preparation and vigilance, you can lessen your chances of being victimized.
Not surprisingly, holiday scams often center on shopping, especially online. Sixty percent of consumers take to the internet to buy holiday gifts, according to a Deloitte survey. As real retailers roll out their seasonal deals, cybersecurity company ZeroFOX says, scammers seek to snare bargain-hunting shoppers with bogus websites and, increasingly, social media campaigns that impersonate major brands, especially in fashion, tech and sporting goods.
These “spoofing” sites and fake posts entice you to spend money for products you’ll never receive. Further, many are vehicles for harvesting credit card numbers and other personal data that fraudsters use to commit identity theft or sell on the dark web. Scammers may distribute malware-loaded links or attachments via supposed coupon offers or “order confirmation” emails asking you to verify an order you never placed. Frauds involving gift cards — the No. 1 item on holiday wish lists, according to National Retail Federation research — also shift into high gear during the holidays.
Other hallmarks of the season provide grist for grifters:
Charity scams: Thirty percent of giving to nonprofits is done from #GivingTuesday (the Tuesday after Thanksgiving) through New Year’s Eve, fundraising software company Network for Good reports. That means more sham charities exploiting Americans’ goodwill via fake websites and pushy telemarketers.
Delivery scams: As holiday packages crisscross the country, scammers send out phishing emails disguised as UPS, FedEx or U.S. Postal Service notifications of incoming or missed deliveries. Links lead to phony sign-in pages asking for personal information, or to sites infested with malware.
Travel scams: Going home for the holidays carries risks other than family feuding. Spoof booking sites and email offers proliferate, with travel deals that look too good to be true and probably are.
Letter from Santa scams: A custom letter from the jolly old elf makes a holiday treat for the little ones on your list, and many legitimate businesses offer them. But so do many scammers looking to scavenge personal information about you or, worse, your kids or grandkids, who may not learn until many years later that their identity was stolen and their credit compromised.
Huge discounts on hot gift items, especially when touted on social media posts or unfamiliar websites.
Spelling errors or shoddy grammar on a shopping website or in an email.
A shopping or travel site does not list a phone number or street address for the business and offers only an email address or a fill-in contact form.
An unsolicited email asks you to click on a link or download an app to access a deal or arrange a delivery.
Do mouse over links in emails and social media ads to display the true destination URL, and click through only if you’re certain it’s a legitimate site.
Do pay by credit card. That way you can dispute charges and limit the damage if it turns out you were scammed.
Do research unfamiliar retail, travel and charity sites online. Search for their names with terms like “scam,” “complaints” or “reviews,” and look them up on evaluation and information sites like those listed below under “More Resources.”
Do look for return and refund policies when shopping on an unfamiliar or suspicious site, and make sure they are clear.
Do carefully examine gift cards at the point of purchase. Signs of tampering could mean a thief has accessed the card’s PIN code and can drain its value as soon as someone buys and loads it.
Don’t conduct financial transactions on a site unless the URL begins with “https://” or there’s a padlock or unbroken key icon in the address bar or at the bottom of the browser window. These indicate a secure connection.
Gratitude is a greatly underused emotion. Sometime around mid-November, we take it out, dust it off, put it on display and admire it for a while. Then, come January, we promptly place it back on the shelf for another ten months.
Outside of those precious few weeks at the end of the year when holiday gestures and gatherings abound, we often don’t have the time or energy for giving thanks and fostering feelings of gratitude. But, research shows that there are a number of benefits associated with expressing gratitude for the people who help make our day-to-day lives easier and happier.
Studies have shown that people who keep gratitude journals to regularly record the things they are thankful for are physically, psychologically and socially better off than those who don’t attend to feelings of appreciation. Journal writers are more alert, get better sleep, have lower blood pressure (by as much as 10-15 percent), are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors (e.g. eating right, exercising regularly) and have stronger interpersonal relationships.
While the benefits of acknowledging your gratitude are personally significant, expressing these feelings to those around you can help spread the positive effects. Instead of extending a simple “thank you,” try these 20 timeless ways to express how much you appreciate the important people in your life.
With your love. Saying, “I love you,” is sometimes all the thanks a person needs.
With your ears. Listening is perhaps one of the most underappreciated gifts you can give. Lend an ear to friends, family and fellow caregivers and they will know how much you care about them and appreciate their love and support.
With a donation. Does a special person in your life have a cause that is dear to their heart? Instead of getting them a trinket or a gift card, consider making a donation in their name to their favorite charity. It doesn’t have to be a substantial donation to convey your understanding of how important the matter is to them.
With an image. Pictures can often convey feelings that words alone cannot. Find a photo that expresses your feelings of gratitude and send it with a simple thank you note. It could be a photograph of you two together, a quick sketch, a comic or an image you find online—whatever visually represents how you feel.
With a trophy. Who doesn’t love an award? To recognize someone who has gone out of their way to take good care of you or your loved one, make a personalized paper certificate or plaque with a clever title, like “World’s Greatest Dentist” or “Number One Nurse.” It may sound hokey, but it shows your appreciation and encourages the person to keep up the excellent work.
With a hug. Let’s face it, we could all use one. Human touch is important for good mental and physical health, but physical contact tends to fall by the wayside in our busy and increasingly digital culture. Take a moment to literally reach out and let someone know you care.
With sincerity. A cardinal rule of thanking someone is to say it like you mean it. Do it with a smile and gussy it up a little bit. Let the person know, “I couldn’t have done this without you,” or, “Your help means a great deal to me.” It’s underwhelming to receive a lukewarm, “Thanks,” so make a point of including why you’re appreciative and how much they mean to you.
With personality. When communicating your appreciation with a gift, make sure it’s tailored to the recipient’s individual preferences and interests. For example, if you want to express your gratitude to a music lover, make them a thoughtful and personalized playlist or give them a subscription to an online music streaming service like Pandora or Spotify. Small gestures that take some thought and effort are far more meaningful than pricey, generic gifts.
With a party. Throwing a shindig in a person’s honor is one way to show the social butterfly in your life how much you appreciate them. Perhaps it’s for a friend who occasionally comes to your home to watch your dad while you run errands or the ladies from church who take Mom out for lunch one day each week. Putting together a small gathering lets the honorary guest(s) know how important they are to you and the rest of the care team. You get bonus points for giving a brief speech or toast about their contributions in front of family and friends.
With a referral. Did your loved one’s hair dresser give them a great new do? Ask him or her for extra business cards to hand out to family and friends. Many people who provide professional services thrive on good word of mouth to expand their businesses and gain new customers.
With a note. Unlike a quick email or phone call, a hand-written card shows the recipient that their actions are deserving of a proper thank you. Even if you already expressed your gratitude in person, sending a follow-up note in the mail is a pleasant surprise that lets them know your appreciation is not fleeting. But, don’t worry about buying a special greeting card or writing a long letter inside. A few heartfelt sentences on a blank card go a very long way.
With culinary treats. Food is one of the few things all human beings share a common love of. Expressing your thanks in the form of a homemade dish is nourishing for a person’s body and soul. For example, give your in-home caregivers little loaves of banana bread or chocolate chip muffins that they can take home to their families. Sweets are go-to gifts, but a savory side or entrée can do double duty by reducing the recipient’s workload and freeing up some time that they would have otherwise spent making a meal.
With your deeds. Actions are well known for carrying more clout than words. After thanking someone who has done you a service, honor their efforts by paying forward their good deed. Share the love by doing something for someone else who needs help.
With your time. Spending quality time with a friend or family member indicates that you value your relationship with them. It doesn’t have to be anything big. An impromptu movie night or cup of coffee with someone you care about can help keep your connection strong and show that you are willing to invest time and effort to help it grow.
With an endorsement. Publicly praising someone who performs a service for you is a great way to say “thank you” and boost their confidence. Give the skilled and attentive surgeon who just handled your loved one’s hip replacement a shining review on the Internet. Write a note to the manager of your local grocery store about the friendly check-out clerk who helped you juggle a load of groceries while trying to transfer Dad from his wheelchair into the car. Give a personal shout out on Facebook to your sister for watching Mom for a few days so you could have a weekend off from caregiving. Everyone deserves praise for a job well done.
With a smile. Sometimes a genuine smile is all you need to say thanks.
With your patience. Everyone has their good and bad days. Keeping your cool when a friend or family member is being frustrating demonstrates your love and commitment to preserving the relationship.
With the unexpected. Don’t be afraid to get creative when expressing your gratitude. Writing a short poem, running a quick errand or giving a flower you found in your garden can all brighten a person’s day and make them feel appreciated. Think outside the box.
With your help. Reciprocity is very important in relationships. The best way to show your appreciation is to return the favor. Does your sister need someone to watch her kids for a few hours while she runs errands? Could your neighbor who keeps an eye on Mom from time to time use some assistance with the yardwork? Ensuring give and take will help to create a strong, supportive and mutually beneficial relationship for everyone involved.
With inclusivity. Take care to never overlook the “little guy” when showing your gratitude. For example, the nurses and CNAs who help your loved one with daily tasks in the nursing home probably don’t get enough thanks. After all, many of the seniors they care for aren’t exactly keen on their assistance or are unable (or unwilling) to express their appreciation. A short note or $5 gift card to Starbucks can let the staff members know how much you and your loved one value their hard work.
While veterans and nonveterans alike are targeted by scammers, an AARP study found that veterans are twice as likely as nonveterans to lose money to fraud schemes. And nearly 80% of veterans reported being targeted by scams related to their service, such as fundraising appeals from fake military charities or being told of “little known” government programs that could mean cash for veterans. As we honor those who have served our country this Veterans Day, know that scammers go to great lengths to target their money, their benefits and their commitment to current and former soldiers.
How It WorksTargeting veterans can take many forms. These include:•The Cash-for-Benefits Scheme: Predatory lenders target veterans in need of money by offering cash in exchange for future disability or pension payments. These buyouts are typically a fraction of the value of the benefit.•The Update-Your-Military-File Scam: A caller claims to be from the Department of Veterans Affairs and asks to “update” their information, but really is hoping to get personal information to steal your credit.•Charity Scams: A caller claims to be raising money for disabled veterans or veterans with cancer. But often, the so-called charity is not registered with the government or uses most of the money to raise more funds and pay their own salaries.•Employment Scams: Con artists post bogus job offers to recruit veterans on various online job boards. The scammer may use or sell the personal information provided in the job application. It’s likely a scam if you have to pay to get the job, you need to supply credit card or banking information, or the ad is for “previously undisclosed” federal government jobs.
What You Should Know•If you are a veteran, be mindful that scammers see you as a hot prospect. You have the power to protect yourself by knowing this and engaging your inner skeptic when considering special offers or requests for personally identifiable or otherwise sensitive information.•The Veterans Affairs will never call you, e-mail or text you to request money.
What You Should Do •If you get an unexpected call from the VA, hang up and call the VA back at a verified phone number, and ask if the VA is trying to reach you.•Check out charities at www.give.org or www.charitynavigator.org before giving any money. Make donations directly to the veterans organizations you know.•Only work with VA-accredited representatives when dealing with VA benefits; you can search for them online at the VA Office of General Counsel website.
Guarding your identity and credit doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, one of the most effective ways you can help protect yourself is with a free credit freeze. A credit freeze safeguards your credit and is the most effective way to protect against identity fraud. With a credit freeze, an identity thief is unable to obtain credit in your name, thereby greatly minimizing the potential damage that identity theft can cause.
How It Works • Fraudsters can use information gathered from data breaches to establish credit in another person’s name, posing significant financial liability on the unsuspecting consumer and negatively affecting the consumer’s credit rating. With a freeze in place, no one can open a line of credit in your name. • A credit freeze restricts access to your credit file, so you will need to lift the freeze before applying for new credit, and then refreeze it. (These steps are free.) • You can freeze your credit by phone, online or by mail with all three credit bureaus: Experian, Transunion and Equifax.
What You Should Know• In most states, credit freezes remain in place indefinitely, and are only lifted when you ask for it to be. But in a few states, they expire after seven years.•A credit freeze does NOT affect your credit score.
What You Should Do• If you are not planning to request a credit line anytime soon (say for a car purchase, mortgage or credit card), set up credit freezes today to protect against identity fraud.•Parents should also consider freezing their children’s credit. With a Social Security number and a clean credit history, identity thieves can apply for credit cards, loans, utility service or even government benefits in your child’s name — or attach any name and date of birth to create a false identity under that Social Security number.•If you believe you may have fallen victim to fraud, call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 1‑877‑908‑3360 for guidance and support.
Crossing the street at a busy intersection might be scary, but if you look both ways and follow traffic signals, chances are you’ll get to the opposite side of the street safely. To accomplish this, you follow basic rules to avoid oncoming traffic. Not a big deal, right? Well, you should apply the same caution when using the internet.
Here are 9 tips from AARP on how to help you navigate our ever-changing connected world.
Safely surf the internet
One key way websites and online services collect and use information about you, the web surfer, is by using cookies. A cookie is a tiny file that’s transferred to your computer from a website you visit. To quickly determine whether the web browser you’re using is set up to allow cookies, visit this website. Each web browser has a different process for turning on/off or adjusting its cookie-related features.
Protect your security when working with emails
If your computer is connected to the internet via Wi-Fi, a vulnerability exists when your computer wirelessly sends information through your home internet router or modem, or through a public Wi-Fi hotspot. To prevent this, consider installing a virtual private network (VPN) that’ll work in conjunction with your web browser to encrypt all information as it leaves your computer or mobile device.
Remember online security basics
Some of the most commonly used passwords should never be used. These include the word “password,” your name, your child’s name, your spouse’s name, your pet’s name, your birthdate, your anniversary date, your phone number, the letters “abcdefgh,” the number sequence “12345678,” the number sequence “87654321,” the number sequence “11111111,” the phrase “letmein,” the word “football,” the phrase “iloveyou,” or anything along these lines. (For example, using the password “22222222” is just as bad as using “11111111.”) Using any of these passwords can compromise your online security.
Protect your privacy and security when shopping online
Whenever you visit an online merchant, check the website address (URL) that’s displayed in the web browser’s Search/Website Address field. If your intent is to shop on Target’s website, and the first portion of the website URL does not say, “https://www.target.com,” you have likely somehow been redirected to a spoof (fake) website that’s designed to look like the Target.com website. If you suspect this to be the case, close the browser window and manually type in the website address you want to visit in a new browser window.
Handle online banking securely
It’s safer to use a credit card than a debit card when shopping online. If you use a major credit card and there’s a problem with your purchase or the merchant, you can call the credit card issuer, which will intercede on your behalf. You don’t pay the money while a dispute is being investigated and you aren’t immediately out of the money. Your liability is limited, usually to $50, and most credit card companies waive that amount.
Use social media wisely
When choosing which photo of yourself to use as your profile picture with your social media account, some online security experts recommend you avoid using a headshot where you’re looking directly into the camera — in other words, a photo that’s similar to the type of photo found within your passport or on your driver’s license. A cybercriminal could potentially use this type of profile photo to create fake identification should they attempt to steal your identity.
Safeguard privacy when sharing photos online
Social media sites — such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat — and many of the online-based photography-related services — including Flickr.com — allow you to publish one or more photos at a time and share them with the public.
If you’re on a trip and taking amazing photos of landmarks and tourist attractions, you may not want to share these types of photos with the public — just certain people. You don’t want to let the public know you are out of town.
Store data, documents and files in the cloud
There are two different kinds of storage: local and remote. Local storage refers to your computer’s internal hard drive or your mobile device’s internal storage, as well as any external hard drives or flash drives that are physically connected to your computer or linked via a Bluetooth wireless connection. Your content is stored locally and does not require the internet to access it. When something is stored remotely in the cloud, it’s stored online, on a server potentially located away from your computer. Accessing remotely stored content requires an internet connection.
Customize the security settings on your smartphone or tablet
Newer iPhone and iPad models that do not have a Home button have a camera located on the front of the device that is able to scan your face and identify you when you simply look at the screen.
If you want your iPhone or iPad to be able to identify additional people, from the Face ID & Passcode submenu in Settings, tap the Set Up An Alternate Appearance option. Follow the onscreen prompts to scan and store the additional faces. Alternatively, you can share your device’s passcode with other people to give them access to your mobile device, but do this only if you completely trust that other person.
Approximately 38.4% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetimes. A major risk factor for cancer is advanced age. People > 65 years account for about 60% of newly diagnosed malignancies and 70% of all cancer deaths.
With over one-third of Americans developing cancer, prevention strategies are critical to reducing risk. Around 30-50% of cancers are preventable and small changes in the diet can help. Professionals working with older adults play a key role in educating on cancer prevention. The World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research have developed 8 key recommendations to help adults reduce the risk of developing cancer.
Maintain a healthy weight.
Eat more plant-based foods.
Limit fast food and other processed foods high in fat, starches, and sugar.
Limit consumption of red meats, such as beef and pork, and avoid processed meats.
Limit sugary drinks.
Don’t rely on supplements for cancer prevention.
Two major recommendations to focus on are eating more plant-based foods and limiting the consumption of red and processed meats.
Eat more plant-based foods
Many diet trends today focus on limiting carbohydrates, but it’s important to remember that plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, contain carbohydrates. It’s recommended by MyPlate that adults eat at least 1 ½ – 2 cups of fruit and 2-3 cups of vegetables per day as part of a healthy eating pattern. However, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), just 1/10 adults meet the fruit or vegetable recommendations.
Fruits and vegetables are full of vitamins and minerals—but did you know they are also packed with phytonutrients? Phytonutrients are substances found in plants that are beneficial to our health, and they may help prevent various diseases.
With a little planning, eating enough fruits and vegetables can be easy. Here are some ideas:
Add a serving of fruit to breakfast such as ½ cup berries, ½ cup fruit juice, or a banana.
At lunch include a cup of crisp raw carrots or celery and a small fresh peach or plum.
For dinner eat 1 small baked potato along with ½ cup of green beans or broccoli.
Limit the consumption of red and processed meats
Animal protein is promoted as part of a healthy diet, and it provides important nutrients such as iron, vitamin B-12, and zinc. However, the World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research recommends limiting the consumption of red meats and avoiding processed meats.
In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) moved red meats (i.e. beef, pork, lamb, and goat) to a Class 2A carcinogen, which indicated that red meat is a probable cause of cancer. The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends to limit red meats to 3 portions per week, or about 12-18 ounces.
That same year, the IARC labeled processed meats as a Class 1 carcinogen, which equates it with tobacco as an item that promotes cancer. Processed meats are meats that have been preserved by smoking, curing or salting, and/or have the addition of chemical preservatives. Processed meats are typically high in calories, contain large amounts of salt, and some methods used to create processed meats generate carcinogens. Since it is unknown how much processed meat is safe, it is best to eat none to very little.
If you think your checkbook and paper statements keep you safe, think again
You log into your banking site and immediately notice something’s wrong, horribly wrong.
Somehow, your account has been compromised and money is missing. At the risk of fearmongering, this isn’t as uncommon as you might think.
Like many Americans, you might have become a victim of bank fraud. And it’s usually tied to a password that has been stolen, guessed or tricked into sharing with cybercriminals.
“Unfortunately, most people use the same credentials for their online bank accounts as they do for social media and online shopping sites,” says Georgia Weidman, author of the book Penetration Testing: A Hands-On Introduction to Hacking. “If one of those vendors is compromised and attackers gain access to the stored credentials, they may be able to reuse them on the online banking site.”
Skepticism is your friend
“Another common attack is phishing, or basically asking the user to attack themselves,” says Weidman, who also founded Bulb Security.
The cybersecurity company is devoted to device vulnerability assessment, training and penetration testing — essentially ethical hackers for hire.
“An attacker might send you an email or text message pretending to be your bank and asking that you validate a recent purchase,” she says. “When you click on the link in the text message, it takes you to what looks exactly like your online bank account, except it is actually a clone controlled by the attacker.”
You might think you’re at capitalone.com, for example, but if you look closely, it’s captial0ne.com.
Some scammers will even call you — yes, by telephone — and pretend they’re from Microsoft, the IRS, your bank, and so on to try to persuade you to give out your personal information to (ironically) protect you.
Don’t fall for it.
“Besides, your bank or other financial institution won’t ask you to confirm these credentials in an email or by an unsolicited phone call,” says global security evangelist Tony Anscombe at ESET, also a technology security company. “When in doubt, contact your bank to see if it was really them. Chances are it wasn’t.”
Don’t bank online? You’re still at risk
And here’s a discomforting fact: Even if you don’t opt for online banking through a website or app, identity theft could lead to a crook opening an online account in your name.
What to do?
Reduce the odds of becoming a victim of bank fraud with these five tips.
1. Use strong and unique passwords
Never use the same password for all of your online activity. As Weidman cautions, if a service is hacked and your password is exposed — if your bank suffers a data breach, for instance — cybercriminals may try it on another account.
“Even if the password is similar between online accounts, hackers use software tools to try to guess the stolen credentials,” Anscombe says.
A recent study revealed the most common password was 123456, followed by 123456789 and QWERTY.
Also, don’t use your kids’ or pets’ names, phone number, date of birth, or mother’s maiden name. All of this info could be easily attainable, especially in this era of social media.
Not only should you use different passwords for all accounts — and password manager apps are a handy way to remember them all — you also can use a passphrase instead of a password, a sequence of words and other characters including numbers and symbols.
Anscombe says a passphrase can be super easy to create, such as the phrase “my red Ford Mustang is No. 1” becoming the passphrase “myr3dFoMu#1!”
2. Enable two-factor authentication
Make it harder for the bad guys to access your data by adding a second layer of defense.
CRISTIAN DINA / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO
Two-factor authentication for Apple iCloud from a desktop and mobile device
Two-factor authentication means you not only need a password, passcode or biometrics logon such as a fingerprint or facial scan to confirm only you can access your accounts, but you also receive a one-time code to your mobile phone to type in.
In other words, two-factor authentication combines something you know, your password, with something you have, your smartphone.
“Like password managers, two-factor authentication isn’t 100 percent perfect, but it puts you many steps ahead of other users who have weak or the same passwords on all their accounts,” Weidman says.
3. Install good antimalware
Just as you wouldn’t leave the front door to your home unlocked, you shouldn’t let your tech be vulnerable to attacks, whether it’s a virus or other malicious software, called malware, that sneaks onto your device or happens because you were tricked into giving out sensitive information.
Reputable antimalware that’s updated often can identify, quarantine, delete and report any suspicious activity coming into your computer or flag sensitive information going out.
“Most people don’t think of protecting their smartphone, too, which is a big problem,” Anscombe says. “Make sure you have good cybersecurity protection. And don’t fall for phony texts.”
4. Opt for fraud detection; review your statements
Some, but not all, credit-card companies and banks can push notifications to your mobile device if something looks suspicious during a purchase — such as a large amount charged or a location in a different state than your usual address.
You may be asked to confirm it was really you who made a purchase with a simple Y or N.
On a related note, be sure to review your bank statements every so often to see if anything looks odd. If so, contact your bank or credit-card company immediately.
5. Watch out for Wi-Fi hotspots
Do not conduct any financial transactions such as online banking, trading or shopping when you’re using a public computer in an airport lounge, hotel or library or when you’re using a public Wi-Fi network, say, at your favorite coffee shop.
You never know if your information is being tracked and logged — so wait until you’re on a secured internet connection at home. Or use your smartphone as a personal hotspot, which is safer than free Wi-Fi.
“And make sure no one is looking over your shoulder at a coffee shop or on an airline,” Anscombe says.
A few more suggestions to mitigate the risk of bank fraud:
Update your software. Cybercrooks look for vulnerabilities in operating systems or programs/apps. Set your software to automatically update, so you don’t have to remember to do so.
Back up regularly. It doesn’t really matter how you want to do it — a free cloud service, external hard drive or USB thumb drive. As long as you’re proactive about backing up your important files regularly, you’ll minimize any damage if attacked.
Lock your devices. Be sure your laptop, tablet and smartphone require a PIN or password to unlock. Otherwise you’re exposing your files to strangers if your device becomes lost or stolen. Use your fingerprint or face to authenticate you, called biometrics identification, because it’s fast, convenient and secure.
You don’t need a degree in computer engineering to protect yourself from bank fraud.
Use these tips, remain alert and rely on some smart software. You can greatly reduce the odds of becoming a victim.
| Reconnecting with an old friend on Facebook who turned her on to a government grant promising thousands of dollars led Linda Lee on a wild-goose chase that resulted in the loss of her emergency savings fund.
“If you pay $500 you get 30,000. If you pay 950, which is what I did, you get 50,000,” says Lee, 65, of San Luis Obispo, California. “This girlfriend said she got 80,000 and sent me a picture of the cash, not with her in it, of course.”
The friend urgently encouraged Lee to apply to a program called the International Financial Corporation Grant. She was then assigned to agent “Richard Harrison,” and promptly received an application from the Office of the Attorney General. “Later on that night, after I knew I’d been rooked, I went back through Facebook, found her page and messaged her,” says Lee.
Turns out her friend’s profile had been cloned by a scammer duplicating her name, pictures and information. When Lee went to message her friend, she saw two threads, which indicated there were two profiles. One was fake.
Scams originating on Facebook appear to be growing
Scams through Facebook’s Messenger platform are being reported to AARP’s fraud help line at higher rates than ever before, says Amy Nofziger, director of AARP’s Fraud Victim Support Network.
The government is also seeing an increase in such behavior. In 2018, impostor scams were the most common complaint reported to the Federal Trade Commission by consumers. The agency said government impostor scams reached a record high, based on data from January through May of this year.
How to Stay Safe on Facebook
Do not “friend” strangers.
Do not click on unsolicited links, and report suspicious requests.
Review this video about detecting and reporting scams.
“The federal government does not offer grants or ‘free money’ to individuals to start a business or cover personal expenses,” it said in a statement. “The government does offer federal benefit programs designed to help individuals and families in need become self-sufficient or lower their expenses.”
Nofziger says the scammers create fake profiles using photos of another person to develop friendships or relationships. “The one thing about the clones is that if you get a friend request from someone that you already thought was your friend, do your due diligence and find out why,” she says.
Lee communicated with her friend’s fake profile throughout the time she was being victimized. “It’s almost like they were sitting side by side,” she says. “One’s playing me on Messenger and the other is texting me.”
Lee’s first $950 loss was for a “tax clearance fee” that was to be “refunded immediately” once the money was delivered. She was warned to keep her grant news a secret until she got the money. “Don’t tell anyone at the store nor a friend so as not the alert the IRS.”
The currency the scammers wanted was not U.S. dollars, but iTunes gift cards. They told her that her friend had already paid with one.
Then the scammers asked her for a second fee, this time $350. That’s when Lee became suspicious. The scammers said that the van that was to deliver her grant money had been stopped by IRS officers and that the $350 would pay for an IRS certificate to ensure delivery to the “lawful owner.”
“This does not happen very often ma’am. I’m so sorry the UPS department does not add the IRS fee to their money because they turned it unnecessary. I know what may be going through your mind right now. But I assure you, after this payment to the IRS, your money will surely get to you,” they texted.
“I’m sorry, tapped out. No more money. You’re pulling my leg,” Lee replied.
“Trust me ma’am, we can’t cancel the delivery. You will be refunded,” the scammers messaged.
“No more money for you,” Lee answered. “It’s a scam. You duped me. Your driver got stopped, not true. No driver. No cash at 8pm. You’re not real.”
In total Lee lost $1,450, all of her emergency savings, which was a lot of money for a small-business owner out of work on disability leave.
Lee got in touch with the Los Angeles FBI office, which sent her to an online fraud form. Then she called AARP.
“If I had read my AARP a little quicker I might have not fallen for it. And I should know better,” she says. “I got over it pretty quick because I knew I was scammed. I just kept my mouth shut and only told three people because I’m too embarrassed. And I know they’d be going, ‘Linda, come on, really? You’re an idiot.’ “
Lee says some of the responsibility should be placed on retailers to warn people at the store of the potential costs of putting such high dollar amounts on these cards. Scammers warn their victims not to tell anyone, including cashiers, why they are buying the cards.
Gift cards are the “currency of fraud,” says Nofziger. “Anybody that asks you to pay in a gift card for any of these things is a scam.”
In response to Lee’s experience, a Facebook spokesperson told AARP, “We’ve invested heavily in strengthening our technology to keep scammers off Facebook and remove these accounts when we discover them.…We encourage people to not accept suspicious requests and to report suspicious messages to us right away so we can take action.”
The platform says that it “works with law enforcement, including the FBI, to help find and prosecute the scammers who conduct these activities.”
Since Lee’s experience ended, she has received numerous calls and voicemails from unfamiliar numbers. “The person she sent the iTunes gift cards to, in their mind, they feel like they could victimize her again,” Nofziger says. “We do know that selling lead lists is big business in the scam world.”
Adults in the U.S. age 50 and older use Facebook more than any other social media platform. The share of older Americans who use it has more than doubled since August 2012, according to the Pew Research Center.
As of June 2019, Facebook had 2.41 billion monthly active users, 5 percent of those being fake accounts, according to the social media site.
When you cycle, your body moves in smooth motions that don’t put any undue stress on your body. Some commonly recommended exercises for seniors, like jogging, for example, are high impact and over time they damage different parts of the body. As you jog you put a lot of strain on your knees and your ankles as well as your feet. When you cycle, the circular movements that propel you forward don’t strain the body in any way. Translation? You can cycle for years to come without harming your body.
2. Cycling for seniors and weight loss
Weight gain is a big problem among seniors; they are no longer as active as they used to be, and they go on to gain weight which can lead to health problems like diabetes and heart disease.
Cycling is one good way to stay active and keep the weight off. Each time you get on a bicycle and cycle you burn calories. As you get more familiar with cycling and are able to cover longer distances you lose even more weight.
Combining cycling with another low impact exercise like swimming is a perfect way to stay in shape for anyone in their senior years.
3. Cycling is great for your heart
Stroke, heart disease and heart attacks are the most common cause of death for seniors. Cycling is a great way to keep these chronic ailments at bay. Riding a bicycle is a great way to increase your heart’s capacity. Your body needs more oxygen to keep you going, forcing your heart to pump harder in order to keep cells properly oxygenated so that they can release the energy needed to help you keep going. As you become a better cyclist your heart becomes even stronger and reduces the odds that you will suffer a heart-related aliment.
4. It is also great for memory
Bikes for seniors are great for those worried about memory loss, or more chronic conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia. When you cycle, your body works at maximum capacity, ensuring that the brain is fully oxygenated which stimulates the part of your brain that’s responsible for memory, the hippocampus.
Cycling is recommended for people who want to stave off memory-related illnesses as well as those in the early stages. It is also a healthy exercise for those recovering from stroke or heart attack.
5. Good way to reduce the risk of cancer
One of the leading causes of cancer is obesity. According to a recent survey by the World Health Organization, obesity has now overtaken smoking as a leading cause of common cancers.
When you cycle you lose weight, which means that your risk of developing cancer is reduced.
6. Riding is a great way to exercise with fellow seniors
Research has proved that seniors who have an active social life are healthier, happier and they live longer. Cycling is a great way to get together with your friends a few times a week and have some fun. It can be as simple as riding your cycles for a beer at the bar, enjoying the landscape or you can all come together and practice for an upcoming cycling event.
7. Cycling is good for your sex life
As we age we become less sexually active, not because we want to but because our bodies no longer produce the hormones that are required to keep us going sexually.
Bicycles for seniors can go a long way in helping you stay sexually active. According to experts, elderly men who cycle have about 25% more sex than those who don’t, and women are able to delay menopause by up to 5 years.
8. Great for body strength
A common problem that seniors face is loss of muscle tone which leads to loss of muscular strength. Muscular health is directly influenced by mitochondrial health which is directly influenced by regular exercise such as cycling. The more you cycle, the healthier your mitochondria, the healthier your cells, and the stronger your muscles.
If you want to remain strong in your elder years you should invest in a bicycle for elderly people.
9. Cycling will help you live longer
This again goes back to mitochondria. Death occurs when there is so much mitochondrial damage in the cells that they can no longer sustain life. It can happen as a result of disease or because of old age. The different cellular components in the mitochondria cease to function as they get older and production of new ones ceases.
Cycling helps keep mitochondria healthy for longer which translates to a longer lifespan.
10. Cycling is fun
Are you bored since your retirement? Do you feel like you don’t have nearly enough to do, and that you don’t meet enough people? You can change that by buying a bike and using it frequently.
Boredom is a common complaint among seniors. They often feel like the world is moving along without them. There is no better way to get out there and be part of the action than on a bike. You will get to drink in the surrounding environment, meet new people and get an excellent workout every time you do it.
Bikes for Seniors: Do the Health Benefits outweigh potential risks?
Falls are a leading cause of health problems among seniors, hence the article written for the Huffington Post by Dr. Yaremchuk.
According to this article, there is an increasing number of elderly showing up at his practice for maxillofacial surgery for injuries received while out riding bicycles.
How much should you worry?
Think of this analogy: fruits are very healthy for the young and old alike. If more people start to show up at an ER as a result of choking on fruit, does that mean that fruit is a problem? Not really; the problem lies elsewhere. It could be with the way people are eating the fruit, where they are sourcing it from, how they are preparing it and so on.
The same logic applies to bikes for seniors. The danger is not the bike itself. Millions of seniors around the world cycle every day without falling and injuring themselves.
What is important is that you learn how to stay safe. Safe bicycle riding for elderly people is possible.
Tips for Safe Senior Bicycle Riding
Take your time to make sure that you are ready for the road
This is probably the most important senior cycling safety tip that there is out there. You may invest in a great bike and top quality safety equipment, but of you don’t take the time to prepare for your cycling time there are higher odds of an accident.
Make sure that your bike is ready and the brakes are working properly. Check your chain and your gears too.
Check your route before you head out
You may want to look at how much traffic there is on your planned route. If there are too many cars it may be wise to choose a quieter route, even if it’s a bit longer.
Keep in mind that your reflexes are slower now that you are older
You were once an expert cyclist who could avoid obstacles that suddenly appeared in front of you. Not anymore. While your mind and body may both be quite agile, they aren’t as fresh as they used to be, and your reaction times have slowed down somewhat.
You should ride at a speed that allows you to swerve and avoid obstacles in time.
Make sure you have the proper equipment
The most important piece of equipment for cycling is your helmet. Never try to ride without it. Knee and elbow pads are also important to reduce body damage in case of a fall. If you cycle in poor weather or after dark your bike should have reflective strips and you should have a reflective jacket.
Don’t try to keep up if you can’t
When riding with a younger crowd you may be tempted to go faster than you should to keep up with them. It may be good for your ego but bad for your health. The faster you ride, especially along busy roads, the higher the chances of an accident. Go at a pace that you’re comfortable with.
Have a practice run on your bike before you take it out for the first time
Certain bicycles for seniors, such as electric bikes, are recommended, but that doesn’t mean that they are the best fit.
When you buy a new bike take some time and get a few practice runs in before you take it out on busy roads. The better you know your bike, the easier it is to control.
Choose your course wisely
You’ve been riding your new bike around town, and now you feel confident enough to take it out for a weekend trail hike.
A ride around town and one in the trails near your home may be completely different. The trail may have very steep gradients or may be so rough that falling is easy.
While trail cycling is fun, you should know the terrain before you go in. If it’s not suited to elderly riding it isn’t worth it.
Never cycle with earphones on
This is all the vogue these days and it has led to accidents that were entirely avoidable if only the cyclist were more aware of their surroundings.
Catching up on the news or listening to a podcast while riding your bike isn’t wise whether one is young or old. You cannot hear the traffic and other signals around you, and you will be distracted to some degree by what you are listening to.
Learn the proper hand signals for cyclists
These can save your life, so make sure you know them by heart. Also, before you turn into any road make sure that you stop, look left, look right and look left again to ensure there is no oncoming traffic.
If you have to stop get far off the road
If you need to stop you should make sure you get off the road completely where oncoming traffic can’t reach you (distracted drivers have been known to run over cyclists who stop too close to the road).
If you can, ride with another person
Remember we said that one of the benefits of riding for seniors is that they get to socialize? If you can, try to ride with someone else. Not only is it more fun, but you are also safer on the road.
Senior bike riding is perfectly safe and has many health benefits. It will help you lose weight, stay strong, avoid chronic illness, stay mentally alert and live longer.
Choosing a Long-Term Care Facility: Tips from a Certified Nursing Assistant
When you take a tour of a prospective assisted living facility, memory care unit or nursing home, your guide is likely to direct your attention to superficialities or things that are no longer relevant to your family member. This is especially true for a loved one who has declined physically or cognitively. (Smart TVs, anyone?)
On your first tour, they’ll want to show you their renovated patient bedrooms and their glitzy activities calendars. They will want you to see the art room and hear about the visiting music therapist. They’ll make sure you notice the flower bedecked reception area and the nicely appointed dining room. They might even cite the amount of training their aides receive. Of course, all these things are positives, but administrators of senior living communities may not encourage you to examine the nuts and bolts.
To make a true assessment of the standard of care a facility provides and the residents’ “joy” levels (yes, that’s what I said: JOY), you need to take some time to put in the work to investigate. You also need to use a more evidence-based method of assessing the quality of board and care your loved one will receive in a home that may cost anywhere from $4,000 to $12,000 each month.
So, what do you look for specifically to judge the quality of the facility? Below is a list of features that are essential for your family member’s happiness and physical wellbeing. Look for them. These are the minimum, no-frills tests that a prospective long-term care home should be able to pass.
Deal Breakers for Assessing Senior Living Care Quality
The Wheelchair Test: Even if your loved one is still ambulatory, when you visit a home, take a good look at the footrests and frames of all the wheelchairs you see. Are they clean? If not, other unseen areas may be neglected and unsanitary. Are there footrests attached to the wheelchairs? Sometimes a resident can benefit from “paddling” along with their feet as they move because it helps strengthen ankle and leg muscles. But, if you see residents being wheeled around uncomfortably without footrests, this may signal minimal attention to detail from aides and inadequate monitoring by nursing supervisors.
The Bathroom Linen Test: Are there clean washcloths and towels in the bathrooms? Towel shortages are a perennial problem in care homes. If you ask your guide or the management about this, they will probably tell you that they have plenty on the premises, but the residents hide them. This is sometimes the case, especially in settings for patients with cognitive issues. But sometimes the real problem is that there aren’t enough towels to go around, or that there are not enough laundry workers to ensure clean towels are always available. Every medical authority tells us that proper hand-washing with warm water is the best barrier to the spread of infection in care homes and hospitals. How can patients, staff and visitors comply with this mandate if clean bathroom linens aren’t available? Ask to visit a few residents’ rooms to see if they have adequate linens. If the tour guide discourages you from seeing occupied rooms due to “privacy rights,” strike up a friendly conversation with a resident and ask if you can take a peek in his/her room. This will nearly always gain you access.
The Warm Water Test: As mentioned, medical authorities mandate hand-washing with warm water for infection control. Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) like myself are expected to wash their hands with soap and warm water frequently throughout the day. We are also expected to wash residents’ hands whenever necessary. When you visit a patient’s private bathroom, check out the sinks. Do the warm-water controls actually function? How long does it take to get hot water? If you are unable to enter a resident’s room, try the same tests on bathrooms in the common areas or wherever you can find a sink that should have hot running water. The water may warm up after a few minutes, but when an aide has only five or 10 minutes to get a resident washed and dressed in the morning, they might not have an extra two minutes to spare. Your family member might get a cold face cloth first thing in the morning. Not only is it unpleasant, but it also means that a basic infection control measure, warm water, is MIA.
The Bathroom Temperature Test: Visit the bathrooms and/or shower room. Is it warm enough? Older residents get cold easily and usually are more comfortable in warmer rooms when bathing. When they leave the bath or shower, they shouldn’t shiver and shudder.
The Call-Button Test: On your tour, do you hear annoying call bells or even verbal requests that go unanswered? How long does it take an aide to attend to the person calling for assistance? If these things distract from the tour or annoy you, imagine how they affect someone who feels anxious and may be confused.
The Chair-Alarm Test: Look carefully at the residents’ beds, wheelchairs and other seating to see if there are chair alarms on them. Virtually every group with an interest in improving the lives of residents in long-term care settings, including the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), recommend eliminating the use of bed and chair alarms. Supervisors will likely tell you that these measures keep residents safe, but evidence suggests that they actually lead to less attentive care from staff and more falls. (Google it!)
The Noise Test: Alarms aren’t the only things that can distress residents. If aides routinely shout down the hall to each other, or music or televisions are allowed at higher volumes, this can be upsetting and contribute to anxiety and confusion.
The Dining Room Test: The best way to get a feel for the meals that your loved one will be enjoying in their new home is to eat a few there yourself. How is the noise level in the dining area? Is hot food served deliciously warm as intended? Are residents offered condiments (salt, pepper, sugar, mustard, ketchup, etc.) that they would have used at home? Are the aides attentive to residents, or do they converse mostly amongst themselves during mealtimes as if they are extra breaks? For those who can no longer use a knife, is the food served in bite-sized portions or as finger foods that the person can comfortably chew? Are residents offered refills of drinks? Getting an aging loved one to eat enough and stay hydrated can be a struggle both at home and in a senior living environment. You want to see staff encouraging and enabling residents to eat and drink.
The Calendar Test: From independent living to high-level nursing home care, every senior living setting creates a monthly calendar of activities and social events that is then posted prominently throughout the facility. Pay attention to the type of activities offered, how often the calendar matches what is happening in real time, and whether residents seem engaged while attending these sessions. Pay special attention to activities that you know your loved one would enjoy. How frequently are these sessions held each month? Are these classes appropriate for your loved one’s physical and/or mental capabilities, or can they be adapted?
The Family Council Test: In elder care homes, a family council is one of the best ways we have of monitoring the care provided and advocating for changes or improvements for our loved ones. Many facilities do have resident councils, but frail elderly residents, especially those with dementia, can have trouble remembering their rights and expressing their needs, preferences and criticisms. They often rely on us, their family and friends, to be their eyes, ears and mouths. Once they needed you as a hands-on caregiver, and you did that lovingly. Now they need you to be their advocate. So, ask whether the home has a family council. It will make ensuring your loved one is well cared for much easier.
The Staff-to-Resident Ratio Test: You want your family member to get the level of attention and care they need. That is why a family makes the difficult decision to place a loved one in the first place. If you ask the supervisor about staffing levels, you’ll probably hear something like, “We meet all the state’s requirements for the number of staff on each shift.” And they probably do. The issue isn’t that the home isn’t staffed according to state standards. It’s that the current standards do not meet today’s needs. Our expectations for care are higher today and residents’ needs are also greater. Many have cognitive as well as physical disabilities. In some homes, there is one aide assigned for every eight or 10 residents (sometimes more, depending on the state). If an aide calls out sick or has a family emergency at the last minute, the ratio could be instantly much worse and therefore the quality of care residents receive suffers. Although you may not find an ideal staff-to-resident ratio anywhere, at least ask whether census (the number of residents) or acuity (the level of care these residents require) determines the staffing levels. Ask how the facility assesses resident acuity, and, if applicable, whether dementia symptoms are factored into these assessments.
The Supervisor Test: Who is responsible for monitoring care standards of the unit your family member will live in? Where is that person’s office located? It is within the unit or in some distant corner of the home? An effective manager will go out of their way to interact with their employees, residents and visitors. They will spend time close to the “action” so that they are knowledgeable about their employees’ duties and performance, the residents’ wellbeing and how their area of the home functions. This allows them to be proactive and informed when it comes to making changes and handling complaints. Ask to see the supervisor’s job description to get an idea of what their responsibilities are. After all, you’re paying their salary!
The Aide-Engagement Test: Last, but certainly not least, do the aides smile and make eye contact when they engage with residents? Do they seem to know and respect the residents’ schedules, needs and preferences? When a resident calls out for something, like a snack, an answer to a question or a simple greeting, how do the aides respond? This may be the most important quality marker to look for on a visit. To get a truer picture of aide engagement, you’ll need to visit several times to observe different staff members on each shift. This includes visits on weekends and at different times of the day or evening, such as midmorning, during mealtimes and even after supper. Try to visit during a change of shift, too. Are the aides still available to pay attention to residents during shift changes?
When you’re evaluating long-term care providers, don’t be overly swayed by the charm and marketing initiatives of the administrative staff. Instead, use this checklist to observe the conditions your family member may live with day in and day out. There is more work and attention to detail involved in assessing and achieving excellence of care, but these concrete items can clue you in to the subtler indicators of a quality community