Category: Elder Abuse

IRS Phone Scams on the Rise in Houston

It is tax time again, which means IRS scams are once again on the rise here in Houston and throughout the United States.  Predictably, many of the victims of this scam are the elderly, since they are often the most vulnerable.

Victims are contacted in a variety of ways, but the most common method is to reach them by phone. In the latest IRS scams going around, the scammer will claim to be an IRS agent and either ask for personal information (to steal the senior’s identity) or demand immediate payment over the phone.

If the victim refuses to give the information or provide payment, the caller may become hostile and aggressive and threaten to have the senior arrested. This insidious method works more often than you think, so we encourage you to talk to your elderly loved ones. Here are a few of the red flags you can tell them to watch for:

  • A phony IRS agent will demand immediate However, the real IRS will not call you about taxes you owe without first sending a statement.
  • A scammer will not let you ask questions or request an appeal.
  • The scammer may demand a specific type of payment such as a wire transfer or prepaid debit card.
  • They may ask for personal information such as credit card numbers.
  • The phony IRS agent may threaten to send law enforcement for non-payment.

Please be aware that some of these scammers are very convincing and they may already know some personal information that is online or apart of the public record.  But, if you suspect that the person on the other end of the line is not who they say they are, just hang up and report the call to your local law enforcement authorities.

If you are worried about yourself or elderly loved ones falling victim to these types senior scams, call our Houston elder law attorneys at (281) 218-0880 so that we can help protect your finances.

Look out: Medicare Changes on the Way!

8-25-2016Can you believe that Social Security’s 60 million-plus beneficiaries are scheduled to get a miniscule 0.2% cost-of-living adjustment next year? In addition, some Medicare recipients could be in line for some steep premium increases, according to the annual trustees reports about the financial health of Social Security and Medicare as reported in AARP.org’s article, “Social Security COLA Projected for 2017.”

The long-term outlook for Social Security old-age and disability benefits is still good, with promised benefits payable until 2034. Without any changes to the law, 79 % of promised benefits will be payable through 2090. However, the trust fund that finances Medicare’s hospital coverage is fully funded until 2028—that’s two years less than projected a year ago.

Social Security annually weighs whether to give beneficiaries a cost-of-living adjustment based on inflation compared to the last year that a cost of living allowance (COLA) was awarded. Beneficiaries didn’t receive a COLA for 2016 because the inflation rate fell, which is the third time since 2010 they didn’t get an increase in payments. The 0.2% COLA that the trustees project for 2017 still could change with inflation. We’ll need to wait for the final word to come in October.

Medicare beneficiaries want to know what will happen to the Part B premium in 2017. With no COLA for 2016, about 70% of Medicare beneficiaries were “held harmless” from cost increases and are paying the same standard premium as they did in the previous three years at $104.90 a month. The remaining folks are required by law to share the load of increased costs; they must pay much more. But Congress came through with a solution that limited the impact of the increases for this year.

The small COLA now projected for 2017 would still have an effect on Part B premiums. Standard premiums for most of those in the 30% not currently held harmless would jump by about $27.00 to $149.00 a month next year. The other 70 % would pay $107.60 a month in 2017, which is $2.70 more than they pay now.

Among the 30% impacted next year are those who didn’t have their premiums deducted from Social Security checks in 2016, including those new to Medicare in 2017, and those who already pay higher premiums because they have higher incomes. The higher-income beneficiaries would see even higher jumps in premiums next year. Those look to increase from $166.30 to $204.40 a month for the lowest affected tax bracket and from $380.20 to $467.20 for those in the highest.

One other group, which includes low-income people whose states pay their Part B premiums, aren’t personally affected. However, their states will face some additional costs.

Part B premiums are to cover 25% of total costs. The federal government will contribute the remaining 75% out of general revenues. The increased income-related premiums are set to cover 35%, 50%, 60% or 80% of the costs, depending on income level. The increase in Medicare costs, which means increases in Part B premiums, is primarily due to the high prices of some recently developed prescription drugs.

“High cost drugs are a major driver of Medicare spending growth,” said Medicare’s acting administrator, Andy Slavitt. “For the second year in a row, the spending growth for prescription drugs dramatically outpaced cost growth for other Medicare services.”

Reference: AARP.org (June 22, 2016) “Social Security COLA Projected for 2017”

Legislation Introduced to Protect Financial Advisers from Calling in Potential Elder Abuse

The House of Representatives passed a bill recently seeking to protect elderly investors. Industry trade groups urged the Senate to "quickly follow suit," as reported by nasdaq.com in “Advisers May Get New Tools to Combat Elder Financial Abuse.” 8-24-2016

The Senior Safe Act would provide civil and administrative liability protection to advisers, broker-dealers and other financial professionals who report suspected abuse to an agency—such as Adult Protective Services, law enforcement authorities, and state and federal regulators.

The bill says that compliance officers and other firm supervisors would be immune from liability as long as they had received training on identifying elder abuse.

With millions of baby boomers retiring, additional efforts are needed to protect the nation's most vulnerable citizens.

There is companion legislation in the Senate authored by Susan Collins (R-Maine). That bill is awaiting consideration by the Senate Banking Committee.

Critics of the bill raise concerns that the shield from liability under privacy laws applies only to situations in which advisers report abuse to covered agencies. Frequently the best way to deter financial exploitation can be to alert the victim's family. Fraud happens from people outside the family, and getting the family involved may be all it takes to make it stop, they argue. They go on to say that reporting to these agencies can just cause more problems for the family.

Three states recently passed laws that are even more stringent and require financial advisers to report suspected abuse instead of just giving them legal protection if they chose to alert authorities. These states are Alabama, Indiana and Vermont.

Reference: nasdaq.com (July 8, 2016) “Advisers May Get New Tools to Combat Elder Financial Abuse”

Sacramento County Cracking Down on Elder Abuse

According to a recent article in the Sacramento Bee, titled “Reports of elder financial abuse surge in Sacramento County,” elder financial abuse reports jumped by 72% last year in Sacramento County, California, with greater public awareness of these crimes, more baby boomers retiring, and the ease of perpetrating scams via technology. 8-11-2016

Sacramento County says it’s better prepared to deal with the uptick in cases after reinstating a financial abuse unit within Adult Protective Services in January 2015. The financial unit was eliminated during the recession, but now has been reinstated due to concerns that the county couldn’t handle an increase in financial abuse claims.

Reports of elder abuse have been increasing for the past few years, and experts believe that demographic and technological trends mean that the crimes will continue. A Met Life report called financial scams against the elderly “the crime of the 21st century.”

One contributing factor is the aging of our population. Baby boomers are now in their senior years. Another is technological, with scam artists leveraging the internet to make phone calls that appear to have been made close to home. Finally, greater public awareness looks to have peaked last year at the same time reports went up in Sacramento County. In June 2015, the county paid for an advertising supplement in several publications that explained the types of issues dealt with by Adult Protective Services. APS received 403 reports the same month, which was a record.

In addition to these efforts, financial institutions have become more aware of scams against the elderly. This is due in part because a state law requires them to report suspected abuse to the county. But scams are now more sophisticated, and the elderly are often lonely and more apt to engage with people and become vulnerable.

Financial abuse is the most common type of report received by Adult Protective Services. The agency also handles complaints of sexual and physical abuse, in addition to other forms of mistreatment. In the event an investigation does not rise to the level of criminal activity, case workers help by closing bank accounts, finding financial managers, and providing other assistance.

Reference: Sacramento Bee (June 25, 2016) “Reports of elder financial abuse surge in Sacramento County”