Essential Documents for Aging Parents

Essential Document Locator Checklist

Important Documents

Last updated: April 30, 2015

Adult children of aging parents are often caught without the essential documents their parents need in an emergency situation.

Knowing where the official records are located as well as having copies of these important financial, legal and health documents can save you thousands of dollars and countless hours of time spent tracking down records. Download a printable copy of this checklist.

PHOTOCOPY ESSENTIAL DOCUMENTS

Here are the documents you’ll need to keep copies of:

  • Birth certificate
  • Driver’s license
  • Social Security card
  • Medicare / Medicaid / insurance coverage card
  • Organ donor card
  • Marriage certificate
  • Credit cards
  • Mortgage records
  • Military records
  • Legal Power of Attorney, Healthcare Proxy, Living Will, Advance Directives

CREATE A LIST OF WHERE TO FIND ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS

You’ll also need to know the location of the following documentation and other essentials:

  • Safe-deposit box and key, along with a list of the contents and names of anyone who has access to it
  • Any letter of instruction listing personal property not disposed of by will and wishes for distribution
  • Receipts and appraisals for valuables
  • Trust, banking and loan information
  • Tax returns
  • Insurance policies
  • Stocks, bonds, real estate and other investments
  • Living will, medical directives or Durable Power of Attorney
  • Birth certificate, Social Security card, marriage and divorce certificates, education and military records
  • Burial plots and desired funeral arrangements.

CREATE A LIST OF IMPORTANT CONTACTS & ACCOUNTS

You’ll need contact information for the following contacts, as appropriate:

  • Clergy members
  • Attorney, financial planner, tax advisor, broker and/or anyone else with knowledge of or control over trusts, wills and finances
  • Beneficiaries
  • Bank account, loan and credit card contacts
  • Insurance agents

reprinted from A Place for Mom

Online Coupons Fraud

Coupons via social media are another way scam artists are trying to get personal information to conduct identity thefts, according to AARP’s FraudWatch network.

Typically, scam artists invite users to click on a link and share it with their friends to receive a free coupon. Consumers are then asked to fill out a survey and enter personal information.  Once this done, they may have signed up for a fake rewards card that charges monthly fees for nothing but bogus offers.

Consumers should not enter any personal information and only get online coupons directly from a company’s website, AARP recommends.

AARP FraudWatch is working to educate the public to prevent scams, which are on the rise.

For more information, go to www.aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork or call 1-877-908-3360.

 

Tax Deductions for Assisted Living

With over a million Americans living in assisted living communities across the country, families need to be aware of tax deductions that can save them money in the expensive world of senior care.Tax Deductions for Assisted Living

Navigating the details of tax preparation can be daunting; especially when you add in the complexities of assisted living care and medical costs. Fortunately there are ways that seniors and caregivers can get tax deductions for assisted living.

How to Plan Ahead

With over a million seniors living in more than 28,000 assisted living facilities in the U.S., according to a recent CDC study about national long-term care providers, assisted living has become big business with today’s exponentially aging population. Many seniors and their families are paying with their own resources upwards of $3,600 a month for a one-bedroom apartment, depending on the location and needs of their loved ones.

It’s no secret that consumers are paying a lot of money out-of-pocket for assisted living and, luckily, if the assisted living costs can be characterized as medical or dental expenses, families can often get a tax break.

Andy Smith, CFP®, Executive VP of Investments at The Mutual Fund Store and A Place for Mom Advisory Board member, provides financial planning to families on a daily basis and was kind enough to offer his expert guidance on tax deductions for assisted living. Here are some of his initial thoughts:

“The average retirement healthcare costs for a 65-year-old couple is $241,000. Unfortunately most people don’t plan for this early, or they find out to late in the process that they need to drastically change their long-term plans. The tax deduction is a definite help. It’s important to meet with your advisor and CPA to learn about this deduction early in the process.”

Smith notes that taxes should be considered when discussing retirement and senior care, early in the process and initial discussions, if possible. “Consider this as part of a larger whole of everything you and your loved ones really should be doing with your long-term retirement — and retirement living — plan,” he notes. By keeping excellent records, asking questions and getting help from a professional, you’ll most likely save some money.

The Assisted Living Tax Deduction

Diligent record keeping throughout the year, even for related expenses like mileage from doctor visits, can add up to a lot of write-offs come tax time. If you want to help ease the financial burden, you need to learn what you can and can’t deduct as well as keep excellent records and hold onto receipts. This diligent record-keeping you’ll be well prepared to qualify for write-offs.

It’s important to note that the taxpayer must be entitled to itemize deductions. However, other requirements differ depending on whether the taxpayer is the senior or the caregiver.

What Counts as a Write Off?

Generally, anything that is directly related to the individual’s medical care, including health or Medicare insurance, long-term care insurance, eyewear, hospitals, hearing aids and so forth, qualifies as a medical expense. You can find a complete list in IRS Publication 502. As far as the actual monthly cost of assisted living, there are stipulations.

For example, according to Smith, a facility like a nursing home is easy to take a deduction on, but it’s not so simple when it comes to assisted living:

“Nursing homes are primarily used for medical care, and medical care is always deductible. However, assisted living can sometimes be a function of a safety or companionship issue, rather than a medical issue. That’s why deductibility in those instances is not always a cut-and-dried matter.”

Married couples filing tax returns separately often have different requirements. This is when a financial advisor can help answer whether you qualify for assisted living write-offs.

Senior Tax Payer

If you’re preparing taxes on a senior’s behalf, you can deduct qualified medical expenses the taxpayer paid for during the tax year. Sometimes a doctor has to certify the senior’s medical condition to verify the medical expenses.

Caregiver Tax Payer

In order to qualify for deductions, you’ll need to do the following:

  1. Find out whether your loved one qualifies as a dependent.
  2. Make sure your loved one is a U.S. citizen or national, or a resident of the U.S., Canada or Mexico.
  •  You can deduct qualified medical and dental expenses on your tax return only if you provided more than half of your loved one’s support.
  •  You can deduct medical expenses if you are part of a collective group of individuals or family caregivers who provide more than half of your loved one’s support.
  • If you qualify for the caregiver tax deduction, you will also be allowed to take a dependency exemption for that individual.

Caregivers need to also be aware that, according to the IRS, Publication 502, expenses can only be deducted if the senior has been your dependent either at the time the medical services were provided, or at the time you paid the expenses.

There may also be different requirements for married couples filing separate returns, so make sure to check with a financial advisor if you’re not sure whether you qualify for assisted living write-offs.

How Much Can You Deduct for Assisted Living?

It’s important to be aware that there are limits to how much you can deduct for qualified medical expenses when using the assisted living tax deduction. Business Management Daily notes that, “Although the deduction floor for medical expenses has increased to 10% of adjusted gross income (AGI), beginning in 2013, it remains at 7.5% of AGI through 2016 for taxpayers who were age 65 or older as of Dec. 31, 2013.”

That means, if either you or your spouse was born before January 2, 1950, the threshold is lower, and you can start claiming tax deductions for any medical expenses in excess of 7.5% of AGI. For example, if you are over 65, your AGI is $40,000, 7.5% of which is $3,000, and you have $4,000 worth of qualifying medical expenses, you can deduct $1,000 worth of expenses.

Tax Preparation is Key

Smith urges to be prepared for for taxes as there are a few things to keep in mind when getting paperwork together. He notes to keep these things in mind to make organization and preparation easier; whether you’re preparing the taxes yourself, or having a professional preparing them for yourself or your senior family member:

“Be sure to track down all paperwork in advance. It’s important to be aware of medical and dental visits and have all the information handy. It’s helpful to have your loved one’s previous years’ tax returns available to see the type of expenses they had in the past. If needed, you can obtain a transcript of income received the the individual from the IRS, which can help when filling out the 1040.”

Also, find out whether the following apply to your unique situation:

  1. Whether you are eligible to deduct insurance premiums. Not every policy is tax-qualified, especially when it comes to long-term care insurance. Check with the policy holder to make sure the policy qualifies and, if it does, you can deduct premiums as medical expenses.
  2. Determine whether assisted living entrance fees apply. If the community charges an entrance or initiation fee directly related to medical care, those charges are deductible.

Assisted Living Tax Preparation Resources

The following resources can provide more detailed assisted living tax preparation information:

  • IRS Publication 502: Medical and Dental Expenses has a complete list of allowable expenses.
  • IRS Publication 501: Exemptions, Standard Deductions and Filing Information to learn more about claiming the person with dementia as a dependent.
  • Alzheimer’s Association: Detailed overview of tax deductions and credits that are available for out-of-pocket medical expenses paid by families caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s at home.
  • Assisted Living Federation of America: Detailed information about costs of assisted living.
  • IRS.gov: Detailed overview of tax information for unique family situations.

If you are looking for additional tax tips, don’t forget to read our article on Senior Tax Credit.

Do you have tax tips for families looking for additional credits and deductions? Share them with us in the comments below.

Related Articles:

reprinted from A Place for Mom.

Internet Dating and Romance Scams

U.S. citizens should be aware of individuals they meet on internet dating websites who feign friendship, profess romantic interest, and/or express marriage intentions over the internet. Scammers commonly claim to be U.S. citizens who are engaged in international business, requiring them to frequently travel overseas.  In fact, these individuals are not U.S. citizens.  Many scammers also claim some sort of connection to Europe.

In many scam scenarios, the correspondent suddenly falls into dire circumstances overseas (i.e. an arrest or a horrible car accident) about two to three months after a connection is made.  The correspondent will ask you to send money for hospital bills, visa fees, or legal expenses.  It is also common for scammers to tell U.S. citizens that a close family member, usually a teenager, is in desperate need of surgery and  to request monetary assistance.  You may even be contacted by a “doctor” requesting that money be sent to the hospital on behalf of the correspondent.  Note that any doctor, lawyer, or police officer who contacts you is likely a part of the scam. The amounts lost by U.S. citizens in these types of scams can range from relatively small amounts to more than $400,000.

Scammers Target the Vulnerable

As cruel as it sounds, scammers often target widows, widowers, and U.S. citizens with disabilities.  Scammers are aware that many widows/widowers inherit money upon the death of a spouse.  Consequently, some scammers set up profiles on dating websites claiming that they themselves are widow(er)s in order to gain the trust of the potential victim.  Scammers are also aware that some U.S. citizens with disabilities receive disability checks, making them a tempting target.

The anonymity of the Internet means that U.S. citizens cannot be sure of the real name, age, marital status, nationality, or even gender of the correspondent.  In almost every case, the correspondent turns out to be a fictitious persona created only to lure the U.S. citizen into sending money.

These scammers have created male as well as female characters and entice same sex correspondents as well as those of the opposite sex.  Correspondents who quickly move to expressions of romantic interest or discussions of intimate matters may in fact be scammers.  A request for funds almost always marks a fraudulent correspondent. U.S. citizens are cautioned against sending any money to persons they have not actually met face-to-face.

Romance scams involve one or more – sometimes all – of the key signs below:

  • You met online through a dating website, an e-mail chat room, Facebook, or another online website.
  • The scammer claims to be a native-born U.S. citizen, but has a thick accent and/or uses poor grammar indicative of a non-native English speaker.
  • Scammers have the worst luck imaginable — often getting into car crashes, arrested, mugged, beaten, or hospitalized — usually all within the course of a couple of months. They often claim that their key family members (parents and siblings) are dead. Sometimes, the scammer claims to have an accompanying child overseas who is very sick or has been in an accident.
  • The scammer’s “bad luck” occurred when they were on their way to the airport to come to the United States to meet you.  Scammers like to build the anticipation of their victims.  Once you are excited about the chance to finally meet them in person, that’s when something occurs to prevent them from making the trip.  They count on your excitement to finally meet them as an extra incentive to send money.  As soon as you send money, however, another situation occurs, which requires you to send more money.
  • The scammer asks you for money to get out of a bad situation.  Note: Since scammers prey on the good intentions of U.S. citizens, some of them will not actually ask you for money.  Rather, they will share their heart-breaking situation with you in hopes that you will willingly send money to help them.
  • The scammer claims that the U.S. Embassy would not help them.  Likely they have never tried to get help from the embassy, because they are not actually U.S. citizens.
  • The passport the scammer sent to convince you that (s)he is a U.S. citizen looks computerized and includes a very attractive photo that looks like it was taken by a professional modeling agency or at a photograph studio.  This is not a typical passport photo.

Tips to protect yourself from scammers:

  • Never send money to someone you have not met in person without verifying their identity.
  • Do not disclose personal details over the phone or online — even in your profile on social networking sites.  For example, if you are a widow, you may not want to make this known on a dating web site — scammers thrive on information like this.
  • Refer all individuals who claim to be in distress overseas to the local U.S. embassy or consulate.  Assisting U.S. citizens overseas is the U.S. Department of State’s top priority.  All U.S. citizens will be assisted, and no one is turned away.  Consular officers are available 24/7 for emergencies.  You can find contact information for all U.S. embassies and consulates at http://www.usembassy.gov/.
  • Contact the State Department’s Office of Overseas Citizens Services at 1-888-407-4747.  We can offer suggestions for verifying whether the situation is legitimate or a scam.
  • A U.S. citizen with legitimate emergency financial needs overseas should contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for assistance.  The U.S. embassy or consulate will contact family and friends on the citizen’s behalf and under certain conditions will provide a loan.  Be cautious of sending money to persons you do not know, who call you from abroad, asking for money.  For information on financial scams, please contact the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at 1-888-407-4747.

If you feel you have been a victim of an Internet scam, please send all reports of Internet fraud directly to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) – a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C). IC3 was established to receive internet related criminal complaints and to research, develop, and refer complaints to federal, state, local, or international law enforcement if appropriate.

Winter tips: stay warm this winter

 Being prepared is the best way to ensure that you can enjoy (or at least tolerate) the quiet that comes from being at home without electricity, which is often what creates a cold emergency.

Especially this time of year, when snowfalls are wet (and heavy) it’s good to plan for a few days without electricity. Here are some steps you can take now to prepare your home:winter tips

  • Decide on an alternate way to heat your living space in case of a power failure. Bring in some extra wood for the woodstove or fireplace, or make sure you have kerosene for the heater. Some people get small generators that can keep the refrigerator going, power an electric heater or keep the hopper moving on the pellet stove.  Having a plan in place, and all the pieces accounted for, will lead to peace of mind.
  • Remember that elders have a more difficult time regulating body temperature. Wear a hat, keep several layers on, make sure your feet are warm, and don’t hesitate to cover up when you’re sitting still and reading or listening to the radio.
  • Make sure you have a flashlight with WORKING BATTERIES. And crank-type rechargable flashlights are also good.  With the advent of “lantern” type flashlights that work for hours, I don’t advocate candles. It’s just too easy to forget and leave one burning, and much too easy for folks to catch a bulky sweater or fleece on fire.
  • Get a battery powered or crank radio.
  • Make sure the kitchen has a non-electric can opener for items like tuna, that taste good cold. Other foods that need no cooking or preparation include peanut butter, crackers, cereal and dried fruits. Explore the grocery aisles now for chicken, salmon and other meats in packages that don’t require refrigeration.
  • Remember any medications.
  • Store some bottled water. At my house, we use gallon milk containers, clean and refill them and put them in the cellar. Since our pump doesn’t work without electricity, it’s handy to have water for washing and flushing . You should count on 5 gallons per person per day. (I also buy and store the water we need for drinking and cooking.)
  • If your house can’t be prepared for a winter emergency, make sure you have a back-up plan in place. Make plans now with a family member, neighbor or friend, or know where your local winter storm shelter is, what you’ll need to take, and how you’ll get there.

reprinted from Maine Senior Guide

18 Signs Your Aging Parent Needs Help

Sometimes age sneaks up on everyone. Mom and dad may have seemed themselves last time you visited, whether a month—or even year—has passed. Physical and mental health decline often surprises family members, especially if aging parents seemed fine on the last visit. The key is to be aware of the small signs or problems that something may be wrong, so that your family has an inkling of health decline and can properly prepare for the future.

A Place for Mom expert and geriatric psychologist Dr. Melissa Henston provides some guidance on how to not only spot common problems, but tips on how to deal with any issues to get your elderly loved one the help they need.

How to Notice There’s A Problem With Your Aging Parents

Aging parents and their children are often in denial that there is a problem. “It’s often hard for parents to admit that they need help, and no one wants to lose their independence,” notes Henston. “But daily living tasks sometimes get to be too much as we age, and it’s important for family members and loved ones to step up and address the problem when this happens—even if it is painful. The problems will not go away and usually need to be addressed in a timely manner.”

The burden often falls on the family to recognize the signs that an aging parent might need help with daily living tasks. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your loved one has to go to assisted living or a nursing home, but they may need some extra help in their home environment. And if they’re not willing to admit it, there are signs that your elderly parent needs help.

According to Henston, you can spot problems the minute you drive up to your loved one’s house:

“There are a whole bunch of warning signs that are easy to spot. For example, the exterior of the house has peeling paint, or the driveway isn’t shoveled or the walkway isn’t treated. Once you enter the home, newspapers are still in plastic wrap and mail is piled up. Maybe the house isn’t as clean as normal or has an odor. You can usually tell when something is ‘off’.”

Since a health crisis in the elderly can escalate quickly and catch everyone involved off guard, it’s important to not ignore signs that something may be wrong. Ideally, families will have conversations with their children or loved ones about getting their affairs in order and end of life care well in advance of having any issues, but here are some signs to be cognizant of when visiting aging loved ones .

  1. House and yard need care / maintenance
  2. Disheveled clothing
  3. Broken appliances
  4. Changes in mood or extreme mood swings
  5. Spoiled / expired groceries that don’t get thrown away
  6. Poor personal hygiene
  7. Cluttered, dirty and/or disorganized house
  8. Depressed or low energy temperament
  9. Unexplained bruising
  10. Trouble getting up from a seated position
  11. Missing important appointments
  12. Uncertainty and confusion when performing once-familiar tasks
  13. Forgetfulness
  14. Poor diet or weight loss
  15. Late payment notices, bounced checks and calls from collections
  16. Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
  17. Forgetting to take medications
  18. Unexplained dents or scratches on car

If health or happiness seems to be compromised, it’s time to have a conversation and address problems, whether it’s finding in-home care, a retirement community or a senior living community. It’s important to find the right care options for each unique family situation.

Henston emphasizes the importance of noting anything out of character or outside of normal behavior as there are ways to improve quality of life if independent living in the family home is no longer working.

Reprinted from A Place for Mom.

Free Senior Living Planning Guide

When faced with a decision about senior living, many seniors and their families find themselves in a whirlwind of information-gathering that is more daunting than at any other time in their lives. We suddenly find ourselves needing to be experts on complex issues in a very short period of time.Free Senior Planning & Guide

Fortunately, there is help. A Place for Mom, North America’s largest senior referral service, pooled its years of expertise to create this e-book called the Senior Living Planning Guide. The guide walks you through the major steps of choosing assisted living based on your specific needs and priorities. Download the Senior Living Planning Guide and keep it with you at every stage of the process – from touring communities, to managing finances, to moving in. Here is what you’ll find in the Senior Living Planning Guide.

Senior Living Types Explained

The first part of the e-book guides you through the different types of senior living. It explains the differences between senior apartments, independent living, assisted living, memory care, and the entire continuum of care one may need. It also includes a glossary of common terms for your reference as you move through the transition into senior living. With this quick reference by your side, you can confidently discuss various living arrangements and take notes about which one suits you best.

  • For Active, Healthy Seniors – you’ll know the differences between 55 and over apartments vs independent living facilities.
  • For Seniors Who Need Daily Support – we compare assisted living, residential care homes, memory care and nursing homes.
  • For Seniors Who Live at Home – there are options for home care, respite care and adult day care

Understanding the fundamental differences between each senior living type will help you focus on more important issues, like location, amenities and services at any given community.

Paying for Senior Living

Paying for senior care is often the primary deterrent in making a decision – and with good reason. There are many things to consider, and often these issues are not discussed with other family members. The Senior Planning Guide helps you have those conversations.

What does senior living actually cost? Many people are surprised at how affordable senior care really is, particularly when comparing the cost of living at home.

How does one pay for senior care? Despite common understanding, there are many ways to pay for senior living. Here are some popular methods:

  • Income and savings
  • Support from family members
  • Long-term care insurance
  • Veteran’s benefits
  • Reverse mortgage and home equity
  • Life insurance policies
  • Medicaid

Keep your e-book handy and prepare your questions before calling your Senior Living Advisor. You can also use the online Senior Care Cost Calculator to compare costs.

Touring Senior Communities Checklist

Download the Senior Living Planning Guide
Once you’ve identified what your needs are and settled into your financial decision, your Senior Living Advisor will suggest several choices in your desired location that meet your requirements. It’s time to start touring. With the helpful Senior Living Planning Guide you’ll know which questions to ask. We provide a working checklist as your tour facilities so you can observe and compare important features. For example:

  • Safety features – How do they handle medical emergencies? Is there a visiting physician, or a doctor on staff?
  • Legal and financial questions – Will you need renters insurance? Are there move-in incentives?
  • General observations – Do staff call residents by name? Do residents appear engaged and happy?

Moving Into Senior Living

Making the decision is now much easier thanks to your Senior Living Advisor’s help, and the notes in yourSenior Living Planning Guide. Still, there is a transition period that your e-book can assist with, such as having a family conversation, supporting your aging loved one emotionally through this new journey, and what important documentation and keepsakes should be taken to your new home.

Don’t allow the emotional and logistical challenges of finding senior living overwhelm you. Use the Senior Living Planning Guide as your ultimate resource as you walk through the process of discovering your next home. The best decision you can make is a confident one once you’ve thoroughly researched all of your options. A Place for Mom is here to help you every step of the way. Download the e-book today and keep it with you as you work with your Senior Living Advisor to fine tune your search and find the perfect home.

Reprinted from A Place for Mom

Fake IRS scammers get more aggressive

In the past 2 weeks , the Maine Attorney general and Bureau of Consumer Protection, have issued warnings about these scams.

Callers pretend to represent the IRS.  They claim they’re calling because taxes are past due: unless payment is made immediately, the caller threatens to file a lawsuit, seize property, even do them physical harm.

The fake IRS scams usually hit high gear around tax season but this year,however, crooks have been hitting the phone lines pretending to be IRS agents, police officers, court officials and others who might be in the business of collecting delinquent taxes.

Except they are criminals trying to get you to wire them money you can never get back.

As with most scams, the crooks demand that money be sent by wire transfer or prepaid cash cards.  Both methods are untraceable and crooks count on that fact in addition to their scare tactics to make their scams work.

Aiding their schemes are electronic tactics, such as spoofing, which makes a phony number appear on caller ID devices.  The criminals can make it appear they are calling from an IRS office, when they may be halfway around the world.

The callers can make their threats sound real, but they are as phony as the call itself.  The real IRS never cold calls : they always send a letter first on real IRS stationary. They NEVER ask for credit or debit card information or that money be sent by wire transfer.

If you are in doubt, locate the phone number of the real tax office and call to find out if you have taxes that are overdue.  Don’t disclose personal information–date of birth, Social Security numbers, credit or bank account numbers to unknown callers: you could become a victim of identity theft.

Report suspicious activity to the BCCP ( 800-332-8529), to an IRS office or to a federal law enforcement officer in Maine or Boston. The anti-scam guide Gone Phishing is available free to Maine residents who call the BCCP at the above phone number or online at CreditMaine.gov

 

Seniors and Physical Fitness

Physical fitness is one of the pillars of a healthy life, but that doesn’t mean you have to tie yourself to a regimented routine. Most experts recommend a half hour of walking as a good standard for daily exercise, plus other strengthening.

If you’re walking outside, make sure you’re wearing appropriate clothing and footwear, and you’re dressing in layers for the weather. Even more fun: walking with friends on a circuit inside the mall or even the local gym or  school.

Don’t forget the many fitness programs available on TV, or from the library via tape. Many senior centers now have Wii consols and Wii fit, which is a fun way to track your progress.

There’s nothing that says you can’t put on a little bit of Chubby Checker and twist the night away, too! Dancing is a great form of exercise, and every bit of movement counts, from bowling to raking the lawn.

And don’t forget the usual advice: Check with your doctor before you begin a fitness program.

Reprinted from Maine Senior Guide.

 

Fraud Hotline

Sound the Alarm: Fraud Hotline Shines Light on Scams Targeting Seniors

 

 

Our parents and grandparents worked hard their entire lives and saved for retirement. Unfortunately, there are criminals who are targeting them and who want to rob them of their hard-earned savings. Far too many older Americans are being financially exploited by strangers over the telephone and in the mail.  Worse yet, they also may be targeted by family members or by people they trust.  Many of these crimes, however, go unreported because the victim is too afraid or embarrassed to do so.

In early 2013, as Ranking Member of the Senate Aging Committee, I, along with then-Chairman Bill Nelson of Florida, made consumer protection and fraud prevention a primary focus of our Committee’s work.  From the beginning, we held hearings examining telephone scams, tax-related identity theft, Social Security fraud, and the impact of “payday loans” on seniors, among other issues.  In November of 2013, recognizing the epidemic of fraud perpetrated against seniors and the extent to which victims are often unsure of where they should turn for help, our Committee launched a toll-free Fraud Hotline at 1-855-303-9470.  

Today, as Committee Chairman, I oversee the Fraud Hotline and remain committed to protecting older Americans against fraud and to bringing greater awareness to this growing problem.  The Hotline has been successful in meeting both of those goals, responding to thousands of individuals over the telephone or through the online form on the Committee Website.

The Hotline allows the Committee to keep a detailed and current record of common fraud schemes impacting seniors.  This record informs the efforts of the Committee, and ultimately the work of the U.S. Congress.

Just as important, the Hotline offers real help to victims and potential victims.  The Hotline is consistently staffed during business hours with investigators who have experience with investment scams, identity theft, bogus sweepstakes and lottery schemes, Medicare and Social Security fraud and a variety of other scams of which seniors are often the victims.  The Hotline seeks to assist individuals by providing callers with important information regarding steps that can be taken when a senior is the target of a scam, including where to report the fraud and ways to reduce the likelihood that the senior becomes a victim or repeat victim.

Seniors are typically referred by investigators to the local, state and/or federal law enforcement entities with jurisdiction over the particular scam. In addition to law enforcement, Committee staff may also direct seniors to other resources, such as consumer protection groups, legal aid clinics, Congressional caseworkers or local nonprofits that provide aid to seniors.

The range and frequency of scams reported to the Hotline demonstrate the extent of this epidemic.  The highest number of complaints this year are about criminals posing as IRS agents who falsely accuse seniors of owing back taxes and penalties. Due to this extremely high call volume, I called for an Aging Committee Hearing in April to investigate and raise awareness about these scams. Last Congress, the Committee held a hearing to investigate a Jamaican Lottery Scam as a result of increased calls to the Fraud Hotline.

Another common scam is identity theft, in which thieves access personal information through numerous means, including stealing a wallet, purse, or mail; posing as a legitimate company and requesting information in a phone or email scam; sifting through the trash; gaining information provided to an unsecured Internet site; and obtaining credit reports by posing as a landlord or employer.  The Federal Trade Commission reports that identity theft is the number one consumer complaint, with 20 percent of the complaints coming from victims age 60 and older.

 

Among the other top complaint generators are computer scams, in which fraudsters posing as “tech support” from a well-known technology company, gain control of the victim’s computer and the sensitive personal information it contains.  Lottery and sweepstake scams, in which the victim is told he or she must make substantial advance payments of taxes or fees in order to claim winnings that do not exist, are also common.

 

A particularly alarming type of fraud is the grandparent scam.  In these cases, scammers call a senior pretending to be a family member, often a grandchild, claiming to be in urgent need of money to cover medical care or a legal problem, such as for bail or legal services following a supposed arrest.  This is a particularly cruel scam, as it combines financial loss with unwarranted worry over a loved one.

Two issues that have arisen repeatedly during the Committee’s investigations are the frequency with which victims do not report fraud and the difficulty they encounter in determining where they should turn for help.  Fortunately, the Committee’s focus on increasing awareness of senior fraud is paying dividends.

Thanks to the cooperation of police departments and senior-oriented agencies in Maine in getting the word out, our state is leading the nation this year in Hotline usage.  Our small state, with the nation’s oldest median age, is at the forefront in bringing attention to the serious problem of fraud against our seniors.  

My monthly SeniorSource newsletter, which provides regular updates on a range of aging issues, includes an insert with anti-fraud tips and the Hotline’s toll-free number (1-855-303-9470) than can be clipped out and placed near the telephone or on the refrigerator.  To sign up for this informative newsletter, please email Senior_Source@collins.senate.gov.  There will always be ruthless individuals who will try to defraud seniors of their hard-earned life savings.  Working together, we can stop them.