Seniors in Crisis: Financial Scams

Seniors in Crisis: Financial Scams
Published: Aug. 1, 2012 at 9:43 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 1, 2012 at 10:40 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Elder abuse and senior scams are escalating, both nationwide, and here in our islands. Hawaii News Now, in conjunction with the Aloha United Way, presents "Seniors in Crisis."

Here, we're taking a closer look at financial scams, particularly Medicare cons, that could devastate seniors. Since 2008, the number of elder abuse cases in Honolulu has jumped 108 percent, according to the City and County's Elder Abuse Justice Unit, and much of those scams come down to dollars and sense.
79 year old Satoru H, understandably, doesn't want to be identified. Last year, mainland crooks tried to hustle him out of personal information.

"Oh yes, yes, yes, it really bothers me," says Mr. H. The caller asked him for his Medicare number - saying she wanted to "confirm" and "verify" it. He says, "She mentioned my name, my address, my telephone number, and my doctor's name, and she said, 'Oh, you're a diabetic?' and I said, 'Why? Why you want to know?'"

Mr. H. hung up, but the con artist called again … and again … a total of 28 times. "Ah, frustrating!" he recalls.

Someone had tried to defraud Mr. H. once before, so he knew the drill, wrote everything down, and called authorities.

"Out of the 10 top scams that target seniors, healthcare fraud is number one," says Adele Ching, the state's Senior Medicare Patrol coordinator. She's alarmed by the growing cases of Medicare identity theft.

"Sometimes, it's an inside job where a person working in a doctor's office will get a hold of names and Medicare numbers and sell it to organized crime. Organized crime has become heavily involved in healthcare scams, yes, because it's lucrative, it's easy to do, and the penalties are not as great as many illegal drugs."

Remember: your Medicare number is your Social Security number. If someone steals it, you could be left with huge bills, ruined credit, benefits that have maxed out, and someone else's conditions and treatments on "your" medical record.

Here are some ways to protect yourself: do not give out your social security, Medicare, or Medicaid numbers, your birthdate, bank account, or any personal information - unless you're sure the call is legitimate. If you're suspicious, get their number and call them back. Always check your Medicare summary notice, and keep a record of your healthcare services. Every time you go to the doctor, write it down. And remember: it's okay to hang up or walk away, if you're uncomfortable.

And caregivers, here are some warning signs if you feel your senior is involved in a financial scam. They include abrupt changes to legal papers, such as wills, deeds, and trusts; a change in banking patterns; unexplained disappearances of valuable possessions; secret loans to other family or friends; expensive gifts to others; and unpaid bills, despite having money.

Authorities advise seniors not to fill out any raffles or contests because, if you don't win, merchants and businesses don't necessarily discard your personal information. They can sell it.  And these days, it's very easy for scammers to find at least some personal information.

The Aloha United Way has a one-stop shop for seniors and caregivers to get help from and referrals to thousands of agencies, including ones that deal with elder abuse and financial scams.  Just dial 2-1-1.

Here's how everyone can get involved and help our seniors. To donate just $10, please text 2-7-7-2-2 and put AUW in the subject line. You're invited to text multiple times to give as much as you can.

Copyright 2012 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.