Choosing a Long Term Facility

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!)
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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?
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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!
  13. 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

Online Pharmacy Scams

 Nearly a quarter of Americans who use the internet have purchased medications from online pharmacies, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). That’s a huge pool of potential targets for the illicit pharmacies that sprout like weeds online. Dominating Google searches for brand-name meds, and increasingly popping up in social media feeds, they tout fast delivery of painkillers, cancer drugs, antidepressants, sexual aids and more — at bargain prices, with no prescription necessary.

Cost and convenience make online pharmacies tempting, especially for the older Americans who account for 71 percent of outpatient prescriptions. But placing an order can be hazardous to both your physical and financial health.

There are tens of thousands of such sites, and the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) estimates that 95 percent don’t comply with U.S. pharmacy laws or professional standards. Rogue pharmacies often represent themselves as Canadian, exploiting our northern neighbor’s reputation as a haven of low-cost medications, but many are registered to Russian web domains. They may traffic in products that are misbranded, expired, ineffective (with the wrong active ingredients or none at all) or even toxic, laced with opioids and other dangerous substances.

These operators put more than your health at risk. Some are tied to organized crime, the nonprofit Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP) reports, and use the payment and personal information you provide for identity theft. In a new twist on prescription drug frauds, crooks posing as FDA or Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents contact people who purchased medications online or by phone and threaten them with arrest unless they pay immediate fines. 

Buying prescription drugs online is not in itself illegal, but consumers should take precautions to distinguish legitimate internet pharmacies from the fraudsters and black marketeers.

Warning Signs

  • You receive unsolicited emails or social media posts promising deep discounts on well-known drugs.
  • A pharmacy site allows you to buy medications without a prescription.
  • The site offers to ship internationally.
  • The supposed pharmacy is located outside the United States, or its website does not list a location.

Do’s

  • Do get your prescriptions from a licensed brick-and-mortar drugstore whenever possible.
  • Do make sure an online seller is licensed. The FDA, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy and the Center for Safe Internet Pharmaciesoffer tools for finding safe and legal online pharmacies. 
  • Do check that the site has a U.S. address and phone number.
  • Do look for sites with a “.pharmacy” domain or a VIPPS (Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites) logo. These reflect review and accreditation by the NABP.
  • Do know your meds. If you notice anything different or unusual in the packaging, appearance, smell, taste or texture of drugs you bought online, consult your pharmacist.  

Don’ts

  • Don’t judge a pharmacy website as credible just because it looks slick and professional. Pharmaceutical scammers are adept at creating convincing online storefronts.
  • Don’t buy unless the pharmacy requires a prescription from your own doctor and has a licensed pharmacist you can consult.
  • Don’t give credit card or other payment information unless you’re sure the pharmacy site is secure. 
  • Don’t give money or financial information in response to a letter or phone call purportedly from the FDA or DEA — it’s almost certainly an extortion scam. Those agencies do not send warnings to or demand money from individual consumers.

Reprinted from AARP Fraud Network

Medical Equipment Scams

Medical Equipment Scams

Medicare spends more than $6 billion a year on durable medical equipment (DME) — wheelchairs, walkers, braces and other devices prescribed by doctors to help patients deal with an injury or chronic illness at home. That’s a boon to beneficiaries but also a big draw for fraudsters, who exploit older Americans’ health care concerns to enrich themselves.

In a medical equipment scam, someone reaches out to you with an offer of a “free” (as in, “Medicare will pay for it”) brace, wheelchair or other device. You might get an unsolicited phone call, see an advertisement or be approached at a health fair or similar event. Sometimes, it’s a garden-variety government impostor scam: Someone claiming to be from Medicare calls to say you’re eligible for a free knee or back brace, and they need your Medicare or Social Security number to process the benefit. You may or may not get a brace, but the crooks get what they need to steal your identity.

Those cons victimize individual consumers. The big business in DME fraud involves unscrupulous equipment suppliers ripping off Medicare on a grand scale. Using telemarketing and hard-sell tactics, unscrupulous equipment suppliers lure you into ordering their wares, get your health care information, obtain bogus prescriptions (by paying kickbacks and bribes to doctors or by forging their signatures) and file false claims. They stick Medicare with the bill for costly devices that are not medically necessary, not properly prescribed or not delivered to patients at all. (DME fraud might also target Medicaid or private insurance companies.)

And a big business it is. In April 2019, federal authorities charged 24 people with operating a complex scheme to market back, knee, wrist and shoulder braces to hundreds of thousands of elderly and disabled Medicare recipients. This scam alone cost the government more than $1.2 billion. These and other losses related to DME fraud are borne by the taxpayers who fund Medicare and by beneficiaries shouldering higher premiums and out-of-pocket costs.  

Don’t let your health concerns make you an unwitting accomplice to fraud. Take these steps to avoid medical equipment scams.

Warning Signs

  • You receive an unsolicited call or other communication offering a free or low-cost medical device as a Medicare “benefit.”
  • Someone claiming to be from Medicare asks for your Medicare or Social Security number. Medicare representatives almost never make unsolicited calls to consumers and do not ask for personal information by phone.
  • Your quarterly Medicare Summary Notice (MSN) or an explanation of benefits (EOB) from your health plan lists medical equipment you did not order or receive.

Do’s

  • Do hang up on unsolicited calls offering you a medical device that will be billed to Medicare.
  • Do carefully review MSNs and EOBs. Call Medicare (800-633-4227) or your insurance company if you see claims for supplies or services you don’t recognize.
  • Do be aware that if you accept an offer of medical equipment, you could be responsible for up to 20 percent of the Medicare-approved cost of the item.

Don’ts

  • Don’t give your Medicare or insurance number to strangers. Share it only with trusted health care providers.
  • Don’t order durable medical equipment over the phone unless advised to do so by your physician.
  • Don’t accept delivery of medical equipment unless it was ordered by your doctor.
  • Don’t be swayed by scare tactics, such as claims by an equipment provider that you should get a device now because Medicare is running out of money. Charging Medicare for equipment for future use, before your doctor certifies it as medically necessary, is illegal.

Reprinted from AARP Fraud Network.

Is it a real charity calling? Or is it a scam?

The phone rings, and an automated voice makes the pitch. Perhaps it’s a message asking you to donate to a veterans’ charity, or maybe it’s one asking for you to make a critical donation to breast cancer research. And while our charitable instincts may urge us to act, it’s important that we cast a critical eye on these unsolicited charity robocalls before donating to make sure they are legitimate.
 
How It Works• Scammers use the same techniques as trusted charities to reach you — and this includes robocalls.•The name of the fake charity may closely resemble the name of a real charity.•The fake charity might ask you to wire money or send cash — see this as a red flag.
What You Should Know• Real charities need your support, and they, like your own bottom line, lose out when a scammer intervenes.•Scammers will put pressure on you to act quickly, before you have a chance to think through your decision or do any
research.
What You Should Do• Research charities before making a donation. It’s easy to do — check out charities at www.give.org or www.charitynavigator.org before donating. You can also reach out to your state government (find out which office at www.nasconet.org) to see if the charity is registered to solicit in your state.•Consider making an annual giving plan at the start of the year for all of the charities you will support. You can simply explain to any organization not on your list that you have made your commitments
for the year.
 

Reprinted from AARP Fraud Watch Network

Genetic Scam

A genetic scam is sweeping the nation.

WHAT IS THE SCAM?

Older adults at senior centers, housing complexes, and community events are targeted by companies promoting “free” genetic testing, cancer screening, or DNA testing. During the event, older adults are asked to swab their cheek to collect a DNA sample which will be sent to the lab for analysis. They are told that the test will be covered completely by Medicare, and all that is needed to process it is their Medicare number.

NOW WE KNOW:

  • Medicare only pays for DNA or genetic testing in rare circumstances where it is medically necessary for treatment or diagnosis of a medical condition.
  • These tests must be ordered by the patient’s own physician.
  • There must be documentation in medical records to substantiate the need for the testing.
  • The company involved told substantial lies in order to get people to have their cheek swabbed and fill out the information forms, which included their Medicare number.

WHAT WE FEAR:

  • We’re concerned that the genetic tests will be run, but Medicare will deny the claim, which may open people to large lab and testing bills.
  • We’re concerned that people’s Medicare and personal information will be sold or shared without permission, opening people to other fraudulent Medicare claims or ID theft.

Genetic testing fraud is simply another trend in a long line of fraud, waste, and abuse examples within the arena of laboratory services. The Office of the Inspector General has a webpage on genetic scams.

WHAT TO DO NOW:

  • Make sure your senior center, senior community, church group or other group focused on older Mainers does not allow “visits and free testing” from these companies. If you question what is covered under Medicare, call Medicare or your plan advisor.
  • If you think you might be involved in a scam, call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227). TTY users can call 1-877-486-2048. Medicare is open 24 hours a day 365 days/year so a beneficiary can file a complaint or express a concern any time of day. You can also file a report on-line.
  • Call your primary care physician and alert the office. Scammers need permission from your PCP to get the test covered under Medicare.
  • Check your Medicare summary of services carefully. If there is a Medicare claim rejection for this genetic screening, keep the information. Contact Gloria Rhode, Senior Medicare Patrol Project Statewide Coordinator at Legal Services for the Elderly  (207) 621-0087 if you receive any correspondence from the genetic testing lab.
  • Kerry Faria at SeniorsPlus in Lewiston is also aware of this issue and can offer advice if necessary.
  • If you haven’t already, because of previous identity theft scares, freeze your credit. This article tells you how.
  • Ask your bank and credit card company to be on the watch for any suspicious activity.

Reprinted from Maine Senior Guide

Watch out for work-from-home scams

   
You receive a robocall about an amazing business opportunity. You can work from home and make hundreds, maybe even thousands, of dollars doing something simple, right from home. Sounds like a winning deal, right? Well, it’s not.
 
How It WorksThe work-from-home call may float the names of major companies (“You can make hundreds as an authorized Amazon affiliate,” for example). Or the offer may be for you to work stuffing envelopes, doing data entry, or assembling crafts, among other things. Training isn’t required, but, of course, you’ll have to pay something upfront for supplies, certification, coaching, website design, client leads, etc. In return you may get a load of useless information, or nothing at all, or a demand that you place more ads to recruit more people into the scheme.
 
What You Should Know•The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) receives roughly 10,000 complaints a year about work-at-home scams.•Don’t assume work-from-home offers are real just because they have a website, appear in the newspaper, or even on a legitimate job site.•Website testimonials for these businesses are often fake, typically revolving around a struggling individual suddenly making lots of money after taking advantage of this amazing opportunity.•If your earnings are tied primarily on recruiting other people to join the operation, this is a pyramid scheme, not a job opportunity.
 
What You Should Do•Before you sign up or send any money, check out the company offering the job with your state consumer protection agency and with the Better Business Bureau.•Ask detailed questions. The FTC recommends you ask how you will be paid (such as by salary or commission), who will pay you and when, and exactly what you will get for any money you provide.•Learn about the FTC’s Business Opportunity Rule, which requires companies to disclose key information about business opportunities they are selling.•If you have been targeted by this scam or have fallen victim, call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 1-877-908-3360 for guidance and support.

Reprinted from AARP Fraud Watch Network

Important Paperwork: What To Keep and How Long


S

If you’re like most people, you probably have a box or two of old files cluttering your closet or a desk drawer that is stuffed to the brim with papers. It’d be nice to sort through all these documents and purge what you don’t need anymore, but knowing what to keep and for how long can be difficult. As a certified professional daily money manager, a national certified guardian and a California licensed professional fiduciary, I often get questions from clients about how to be more organized without making costly mistakes.

Managing all the important paperwork for one household is confusing enough, but things can become even more complicated for family caregivers who also have financial and medical power of attorney (POA) and help oversee their aging loved ones’ files, too. To help caregivers pare down their paperwork and create a straightforward filing system, I’ve provided general rules for most common documents below. However, be careful about getting rid of original paperwork. Don’t throw anything away unless you are sure you can obtain another physical or electronic copy of a record from the bank, insurance company, doctor, your employer, etc.

How Long to Keep Tax Returns and Supporting Documents

Anything to do with taxes should be kept for at least seven years. The IRS has a three-year window from your due date to audit your tax return if it suspects good faith errors. You also have the same amount of time to file an amended return if you find you made a mistake. However, the IRS has six years to challenge your return if it thinks you underreported your gross income by 25 percent or more. If you fail to file a return or filed a fraudulent return, there is no limit on when the IRS can come after you.

Specific items you should keep in addition to your tax returns themselves include documentation of income, alimony, charitable contributions, mortgage interest, retirement plan contributions and any other tax deductions taken.

Organizing Medical Bills and Health Records

Keep all medical bills and supporting documentation, such as cancelled checks or credit card statements, until you are sure that the bill has been confirmed as paid in full by you and/or your insurance company. If you are deducting unreimbursed medical expenses on your tax return, keep all supporting documentation as discussed above. Remember to keep all health-related bills, including dental, vision, hearing aids and over-the-counter medications, to name a few.

Retirement Plan Statements

Keep your quarterly statements until you receive your annual summary document. If everything matches up, you can then shred the quarterly statements. Hold onto your annual summaries until you close the associated account(s).

IRA Contribution Paperwork

If you made an after-tax contribution to an individual retirement account (IRA), you will need to keep your statements regarding these contributions indefinitely. Otherwise, you won’t be able to prove that you already paid tax on this money when it is time to make a withdrawal. Without careful record-keeping, you may risk paying unnecessary taxes on distributions that should be tax-free.

Brokerage Statements

You must keep these until you sell the securities covered by them to prove whether you incur capital gains or losses for your tax return. If you hold stocks or bonds for many years, you will need to keep the statements. The exception is if the cost basis and date of acquisition are listed on the statements. In this case, you only need to keep the year-end statements to support your tax return each year.


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Bank Records

Keep any checks or statements related to your taxes, such as business expenses, home improvements or mortgage payments for at least seven years.

Bills

Keep bills until you receive the cancelled check or credit card statement showing that your payment was received. Be sure to hold onto receipts for big purchases like jewelry, furniture, art, appliances, automobiles and electronics so that you can prove the value of these items to your insurance company in the event they are lost, stolen or destroyed in a covered disaster such as a fire.

Homeownership Documents

Keep all records documenting the purchase price of any property, the cost of all improvements, as well as records of expenses incurred in selling and buying property for seven years after the sale or purchase.

Reconciling Credit Card Receipts and Statements

Keep original receipts until your credit card statements arrive and then go through the charges one at a time to ensure they match. You can then discard the receipts. If your statements document any tax-related expenses, retain them for seven years.

Paycheck Stubs

Keep your paycheck stubs until you receive your annual W-2 form from your employer(s) and make sure the information matches. If they don’t match, request a corrected W-2 from your employer(s).

Using the above guide, you should be able to clear out the bulk of your saved paperwork and then establish a system for keeping up with things moving forward. Remember, you can obtain many of these documents in a digital format, or you can scan the hard copies and archive them electronically. If the task seems overwhelming, you might want to consider enlisting the help of a daily money manager, accountant or professional organizer. The most important part is finding a system or solution that simplifies managing your own health and finances and that of your aging loved one.

Reprinted from AgingCare

Facebook Security Compromises

Facebook security compromises are in the news in recent weeks, and scammers are taking advantage of this in a variation of the “tech support scam” we have previously written about. And because Facebook’s security issues are top of mind for many, calls from these scammers can sound more credible.
How It WorksYou will receive an auto-dialed call (or robocall) claiming to be from Facebook, warning that your account has a security issue. The caller directs you to press 1 if you pick up the call or they will leave a phone number for you to call back, under threat that they will suspend your account. When you talk to a “representative,” they will ask you for your login credentials or other personal information. They may go on to claim that you have a computer virus that they will fix for a fee, if you let them take control of your computer remotely.
What You Should Know•Facebook is not going to call to tell you of an account problem.•Anytime someone contacts you and requests remote access to your computer, it is a scam. The goal is to convince you of a problem you don’t have to get you to pay for a repair you don’t need, or to install software that gives the scammer access to social or financial accounts.
What You Should Do•If you get an unsolicited call claiming to be from Facebook, do not press 1 to speak to a representative, and do not return the call.•Don’t rely on results of an online search for “Facebook customer service,” as many authentic-looking pages are phony.•If you have concerns about your Facebook account, log on and click “Settings” to review your privacy settings. If you think your account has been compromised, set a new password immediately.•If you have been targeted by this scam or have fallen victim, call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 1-877-908-3360 for guidance and support.

7 Behaviors That Can Make You Vulnerable to Fraud

What makes you prone to getting scammed? It may be the personality traits that make you a good person. Based on our research at the AARP Fraud Watch Network, here are some characteristics that make people vulnerable to fraud:

1. You respect authority. Many common scams are perpetrated by crooks impersonating a police officer, an IRS or Social Security agent, or a court representative. Always remember this: Government offices rarely call citizens to conduct business — and they never demand quick payment. If that’s what the caller wants, put aside your inclination to defer to authority figures. Just hang up.

2. You like to please people. One scam we’ve been seeing hits people at work and plays on your good nature. An email from a boss or coworker asks you to buy some expensive gift cards and take photos of the front and back of the card to get reimbursed. The email is actually from a scammer mimicking the real thing. Once he has the numbers from the gift cards, he uses them before the fraud is caught.

3. You are cocky. We often hear from victims, “I’ve never been defrauded. I thought I was too smart.” If you believe you are immune to being cheated, think again. Scammers are professionals — and endlessly creative. 

4. You slipped up once. Sadly, if you have already been scammed, chances are good the fraud calls will increase. Thieves put your information on a “victim list” that gets sold to other scammers or criminal rings.

5. You’re friendly. Many victims who call us met their scammer on social media via a friend request. Try to limit social media contact to real friends and family, and turn down requests from people you don’t know. 

6. You are under stress. We also get lots of calls from people who were tricked into giving away personal info while dealing with an illness or another stressful event. People who have recently lost a loved one are also vulnerable, especially if the obituary reveals details that a crook can use as bait. Be especially vigilant during times of crisis.

7. You’re lonely. The Fraud Watch Network has found that many scam victims report feeling lonely and isolated from family and friends. That makes them susceptible to the fake friendliness of professional thieves. If you feel lonely or isolated, AARP and AARP Foundation have programs to help you connect with people in your community. Go to connect2affect.org.

5 Ways to Stop Spam Calls


Woman on phone


  Unwanted phone calls and text messages continue to surge, no matter what efforts lawmakers and regulators take to curb them. In the first four months of this year, call-blocking service YouMail reports, more than 12 billion robocalls were made to American homes. That’s about 4 million every hour, and a steady increase from last year. Live calls from telemarketers have also continued to increase.

Why? Sadly, the answer is that they work. It costs scammers and spammers only a few dollars per day to simultaneously blast tens of millions of calls with autodialers. Senders — many of them con artists — spend about $438 million per year on robocalls. Those calls generate more than 20 times that amount in income, almost $10 billion a year.

The crooks generating the calls easily hide their tracks. Calls may travel through a maze of networks. They often display on caller ID screens with phony “spoofed” numbers that may appear to be local or from trusted businesses and government agencies. And they are changed frequently on purpose.

It’s nothing personal. Spammers often don’t know who owns targeted numbers, or even if the numbers are active. But no doubt you’ve been targeted, and you will continue to be. So how do you defend yourself?

You can try not picking up. But the calls that reach your voicemail greeting could flag that yours is a working number — and ripe for future calls.


Here’s a list of do-it-yourself defenses that have dropped the automated and live spam calls received by more than 90 percent.

  • Answer with silence. When you say hello or anything else, automated voice-activated calls launch the robocall recording or transfer you to a call center, where a live operator angles for personal and financial information. But saying nothing usually disconnects these calls within seconds, with no robo-message or callbacks from that phony number. If it is an unsolicited “live” caller, wait for that person to speak to break the silence. If you don’t recognize the voice, hang up.
  • Try a “not in service” recording. Using a portable tape recorder and a microphone attached to a handset, I copied a “this number is not in service” message during a callback to a scammer’s spoofed number. Since it’s cued, I sometimes play that recording — again, saying nothing — when answering calls before they go into voicemail in hopes my number will be removed from spammer calling lists. So far, I have not gotten a single callback from those incoming numbers.
  • Trap ’em with an app. Smartphone users have plenty of options that flag and block some fraudulent calls and text messages. Some services are free; others cost a few bucks per month.

Customers of AT&T can use Call Protect, Verizon Wireless provides Caller Name ID, Sprint offers Premium Caller ID, and T-Mobile has Scam ID and Scam Block. You can also buy apps like YouMail and RoboKiller that will filter calls for a few bucks a month — or for free in the case of Youmail.

Another freebie for virtually every landline user: Press *77 to block “anonymous” and “private” numbers, then deactivate it anytime with *87.

To block individual numbers that get through on an iPhone, open the phone app, tap the circled “i” icon to the right of the spam number that called, scroll down and tap Block This Caller. For Android smartphones, open the phone app and tap the calling number, select Details, then Block Number.

  • Know which calls to avoid. The most common calling cons are pitches that promise to reduce debt and credit card rates or to get you preapproved loans; offer free or low-cost vacations, time-shares, home security systems and medical supplies; or come from government and utility company impostors.
  • A dropped or “one-ring” call is a common ruse to prompt a callback. Beware of area codes 268, 284, 809 and 876, which originate from Caribbean countries with high per-minute phone charges. 

Robocalls tend to be highest on Friday and Tuesday.

Reprinted from AARP Fraud Network