Women and Social Security
By Kirk Larson,
Social Security Western Washington Public Affairs Specialist
Social Security plays a vital role in the lives of women. With longer life expectancies than men, women tend to live more years in retirement and have a greater chance of exhausting other sources of income.
With the national average life expectancy for women in the United States rising, many women will have decades to enjoy retirement.
Women represent 57 percent of all Social Security beneficiaries age 62 and older and approximately 68 percent of beneficiaries age 85 and older.
Today the average life expectancy of a 65 year old woman is age 85. As a result, experts generally agree that if women want to ensure that their retirement years are comfortable, they need to plan early and wisely.
In 2010, for unmarried women - including widows - age 65 and older, Social Security comprises 49 percent of their total income. In contrast, Social Security benefits comprise only 37 percent of unmarried elderly men´s income and only 32 percent of elderly couples´ income.
What you can do:
The best place to begin is by knowing what you can expect to receive from Social Security and how much more you are likely to need.
You can start with a visit to Social Security´s Retirement Estimator. There, in just a few minutes, you can get a personalized, instant estimate of your retirement benefits. You can find it at www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator.
You should also visit Social Security´s financial planning website at www.socialsecurity.gov/planners. It provides detailed information about how marriage, widowhood, divorce, self-employment, government service, and other life or career events can affect your Social Security.
If you want more information about the role of Social Security in women´s lives today, Social Security also has a booklet that you may find useful. It is called Social Security: What Every Woman Should Know. You can find it on-line at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10127.html.
The Three Digit Scam
by John Deagen, Advocate
Reprinted from the June 2011 Senior Services' I&A PASSPORT with permission.
Scam artists are clever. Most people are well aware that they should not share their credit card number over the phone unless they are the ones who initiated the call AND it is with a company that they know and trust.
The latest twist is that scam artists who have already somehow gotten a credit card number are calling the cardholder for one very valuable additional piece of information: those three little numbers on the back of the card.
The scam has been working like this:
The person calling says, "This is (name), and I´m calling from the Security and Fraud Department at VISA (or Master Card, American Express, etc.). Your card has been flagged for an unusual purchase pattern, and I´m calling to verify some information.
This would be on your VISA card which was issued by (name of bank). Did you purchase an Anti- Telemarketing Device for $497.99 from a marketing company based in Arizona?"
When you say "No," the caller continues with, "Then we will be issuing a credit to your account." The caller continues, "´I will be starting a Fraud Investigation. If you have any questions, you should call the 1- 800 number listed on the back of your card and ask for Security."
Here´s the IMPORTANT part on how the scam works - The caller then says, "To make sure the card was not stolen, I need to verify you are in possession of your card." He´ll ask you to turn your card over and look for some numbers.
On the back of the card are three digits that are used for internet purchases as a safeguard. Those numbers are intended to show that you are in possession of the card. They are often required to make internet purchases. Those are the numbers the scammer is fishing for.
The caller will ask you to read the 3 numbers to him. After you tell the caller the 3 numbers, he´ll say, "That is correct, I just needed to verify that the card has not been lost or stolen, and that you still have your card. Do you have any other questions?"
In this scam, it is a brief exchange where you are asked to say very little. Yet by sharing the 3-digit PIN on the back of the card, the skilled scam artist has gained access to your account. Fraudulent charges are likely to occur quickly. Remember, it is advisable to never share personal information or any credit information when someone has called you. If there is a question, you should end the incoming call and contact the vendor yourself.
How to protect yourself? It is good practice to initiate a call yourself rather than trust what the caller is telling you. Obviously, the caller in this scam is very well-informed and sounds eager to help rather than harm.
What the scammers want is the 3-digit PIN number on the back of the card. Don´t give it to them.
Instead, tell them you´ll call VISA or Master Card directly for verification of their conversation.
Lillian Rice Building
2208 Second Avenue, Suite 100
Seattle WA 98121-2055
Prizes with a Catch
According to the State Attorney General and the Better Business Bureau, residents of Eastern Washington are currently being targeted by a new scam, or rather by a new variation on an old scam. The goal of the scam artists in the recent cases is the same as cases in the past; they want the consumers´ personal information, especially bank account numbers or credit card information.
The new approach is by appealing to the notion of luck. Scam artists are calling consumers to notify them that have won a gift certificate to a local business, or that they were chosen as a "lucky recipient" of a special coupon book for local businesses. The benefits of the prize are clear as the caller describes them: $500 gift certificates to the local mall and grocery store, coupon books worth hundreds of dollars for restaurants, automotive services and gasoline. The customer need only send a small processing fee to claim their valuable prize.
The first red flag should go up at the mention of a processing fee. Legally, you never have to pay anything to claim a legitimate prize won. Plenty of scams make lots of money and stay under the law enforcement radar by asking for only small amounts of money from each victim. The losses are so slight that many people do not know they were scammed and even fewer report the scam.
The scam artists in the current cases take their scam a step further. Because the amount due is so small, the caller reports, they are unable to take a check or money order, that the transaction fees alone would prohibit them from offering such great deals. To facilitate the transaction, the caller asks for a bank account number so that they can directly transfer the processing fee to expedite the deal and get you the savings as soon as possible. Similarly, the caller may ask for credit card information to ease the transaction.
Again, a red flag should be raised. According to Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna, "consumers should never provide personal information to an unknown caller. Legitimate businesses will not ask for a bank account over the phone. These callers are asking for personal information that could be used to steal funds or otherwise commit identity theft."
Do not let the allure of a prize blind you to what information you are sharing. Always be cautious with any personal information.
Don´t Be a Victim of Good IntentionsReprinted from the October 2005 Senior Services' I&A PASSPORT with permission.
People across America have been trying to do what they can to help in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The charity displayed in the shadow of tragedy is inspiring. Unfortunately, according to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), there is something else that follows every natural tragedy: scam artists looking to capitalize on the good intentions of people trying to help. It is regular as clockwork. Within days of any natural or manmade disaster, the Better Business Bureau knows that some people will attempt to take advantage of America.s eagerness to assist victims of the tragedy.
Donations are an important part of recovering from any tragedy. Donations help the victims meet basic needs and they help donors to feel that they can do something to help, even from a distance. But a well intentioned donation that ends up in the wrong hands only helps the scam artist who solicited the donation from an unwitting victim. The BBB offers tips on how to spot a questionable charity plea.
- Be wary of appeals that are long on emotion, but short in describing what the charity will do with their donations.
- Do not give cash donations and make sure that any check or money order is made out to the charity and not to the individual soliciting the donation.
- Do not give credit card numbers or any other personal information to a phone or email solicitation.
- For online contributions, make sure that you research the charity first. Just because a charity sounds similar to one you have heard of does not mean it is affiliated. Scam artists are good at making look-alike/ sound-alike charities to catch people off guard.
- Be wary of any ´rushed´ donation schedule. Never give to a charity that offers to send someone in person right away to collect your donation.
- Always ask for written information about the charity before giving. Reluctance by a solicitor to provide written information is a red flag that it is probably a scam.
The BBB encourages educating yourself before you give to any charities as a safeguard to becoming a scam victim. Your local BBB has information about any local charities that may approach you. In addition, the BBB Wise Giving Alliance is a national charity watchdog that strives to ensure that charities are accountable in the way they do business and distribute donated funds. Their web site (see side bar) is a good place to start in researching a charity. The BBB is also a good place to contact if you have complaints or concerns about a specific charity.
Become an Educated ConsumerReprinted from the September 2005 Senior Services' I&A PASSPORT with permission.
Identity theft is a growing concern. Scam artists could use your Social Security number or other personal information to access your credit and bank records for their own gain. Credit card numbers, bank account numbers, Social Security numbers, even birthdates should not be shared with anyone, or any business, that you do not know well and trust.
That reminder is always important, especially now. Currently, there are two items in the news that scam artists have leapt upon to try and fool victims into sharing too much of their information. The first aims to capitalize on a recent security breach where a database with people´s sensitive information was hacked into illegally, raising the concern that there could be a multitude of identity theft victims. Media coverage has led to a great amount of public awareness. Scam artists, riding the wave of publicity, have been calling people at random and identifying themselves as representatives of various banks. Their stated purpose, the pitch, is that they are calling to verify account information for security purposes. Their real purpose, the catch, is to find someone willing to share their valuable, personal account information.
The other current news hook that scam artists are using relates to the changes to Medicare under the Medicare Modernization Act. Because so many people are hearing about the new Medicare prescription assistance set to begin in 2006, scam artists are calling senior consumers and offering "to assist" in applying for the new benefits. Posing as a government official, the caller asks for the personal information that they can use for their benefit and at your expense.
Contrary to what Consumer Corner has previously reported, it is possible that Social Security might call you regarding the new program. The conditions under which they might call, however, are very limited. Social Security will only be calling if you have already applied for a new benefit and then only if they have specific questions about your application. Social Security reaffirms that even if they do need to contact a client, they will not ask for any bank account numbers, credit card numbers, or insurance policy numbers. The only time they will ask for a Social Security number is if the reported Social Security number on the application is not valid. Anyone calling as a government official asking for account numbers is most likely a scam artist looking for a trusting victim.
To avoid becoming a victim:
- Do not share personal information when approached.
- Consult with a neutral third party about the suspect phone call or piece of mail.
- Hang up and contact the agency yourself to verify that they are indeed the ones trying to contact you.
Beware of Salesmen Bearing GiftsReprinted from the September 2004 Senior Services' I&A PASSPORT with permission.
According to the State´s Attorney General´s Office, a vacuum cleaner salesman has recently begun soliciting business in the South King County area. His pitch: he offers homeowners free cans of soup or canned hams just for allowing him to do a vacuum cleaner demonstration in their home. Once invited inside, he makes a high pressure sales presentation to persuade the homeowner to buy an overpriced vacuum. People are being asked to spend nearly $2,000 for a vacuum worth only a few hundred dollars. His most common target appears to be seniors.
High-pressure sales tactics often do work because of the discomfort of having a stranger in your home. It is not easy to get a determined scam artist to leave before he closes a sale. People often agree to buy just to get rid of the salesman. If a homeowner does buy, however, they are seen as potential future victims for the scam artist. In this particular case, the scam artist even returned a few days later in an effort to borrow money.
Similar stories have been circulating around the state for years. It is unclear whether the scams are all connected or if this is a new scam artist working independently in this area. Either way, it is a reminder that you should be careful whom you invite into your home; it may be inviting trouble.
To avoid becoming a victim of a scam artist keep these tips in mind:
- Scam artists are skilled at making themselves look trustworthy and their products look appealing. Ask for references and check them.
- Scam artists create a need rather than respond to a need you have already identified. You should be the one initiating any business contacts that are in your best interests.
- Feeling pressured to make a decision is a warning sign of a possible scam. Always ask for something in writing to review.
- Avoid sharing bank or credit card information with any person or business that you do not know well. This information in the wrong hands leaves you vulnerable to exploitation.
- Too good to be true offers usually are false and not very good.
Charitable GivingReprinted from the December 2003 Senior Services' I&A PASSPORT with permission.
The holiday season is a time of giving. For some, part of that giving tradition is donating to charities. Should you choose to give, give wisely. At this time of year, many legitimate charities seek much needed donations. However, there are also scam artists looking to cash in on your good intentions.
Many people elect to give to familiar organizations with a recognizable name. This is a good practice, but pay close attention. Unscrupulous scam artists hoping to bank on familiarity will subtly alter a legitimate charity´s name. They hope that you will not notice the difference and will donate your gift to them. How can you make wise choices about your charitable dollar? Ask the following questions before giving:
Who is asking? In addition to paying close attention to the name, it is good to know if the charity itself is calling or if someone is calling on behalf of the charity. Many charities contract with fundraisers to solicit for donations. The fundraiser might even be a for-profit company that will get a portion of any donation they secure.
How is the money being used? Find out how the funds raised are being distributed. If it is a fundraiser calling on behalf of a charity, ask what percentage of any donation the fundraiser receives. Ask what percentage of the money is going to di- rect services and what percentage is going to administrative costs. Both are necessary, but the proportions should make sense to you if you are going to donate.
What does the charity do? Ask what programs the organization has supported and where they are located. You can contact some of the beneficiaries they name to verify the extent of support. Ask that information be sent to you so that you can review and decide at your own pace. Any legitimate charity will welcome your questions.
How are you being asked to donate? You should never feel rushed to give. Some scam artists will offer to send a courier right away to pick up your donation. This is not a good idea. You should be able to pay by check made out to the charity and not the fundraiser. If the solicitor insists that you use cash or credit cards or that you pay the fundraiser and not the charity, you should not donate. Chances are the money will not be used as you intended.
Attorney General Consumer Protection: 1-800-551-4636
Secretary of State´s Office: 1-800-332-4483
Senior Information and Assistance: 206-448-3110 or 1-888-435-3377
National "Do Not Call" Registry
by John Deagen, Advocate
Reprinted from the July 2003 Senior Services' I&A PASSPORT with permission.
Are you tired of having your dinner or favorite TV show interrupted by an unwanted phone call? It should now be possible for you to reduce the number of telemarketing calls you receive. As of July 1st, you will be able to register for a nationwide Do Not Call Registry sponsored by the Federal Trade Commission.
How will the Registry work? Telemarketers will be required to access the Registry starting in September and "scrub" numbers from their telemarketing lists that have now been placed on the Registry. They will be required to rescrub their lists at least once every 90 days. In October, the FTC will begin enforcing the Registry by levying fines of up to $11,000 per violation on companies that fail to scrub their lists.
Once you register your number, it stays on the Do Not Call Registry for five years or until you choose to remove it. You can renew your number on the list after those five years have passed. Should you change phone number, it will be necessary to register your new number if you want to stay on the list. If there is a particular company that you would like to allow to call you in spite of being on the Registry, it is possible to give written permission for them to call you.
While this should decrease the number of telemarketing calls that you receive, it will not eliminate them. Some companies are exempt from the rules of the new Registry including long-distance phone companies, airlines, and insurance companies that are operating under state guidelines. It is also possible for companies with whom you have done business to contact you for 18 months following your last purchase, payment or delivery. Companies are also allowed to call you for three months after you have first made an inquiry to them. Nonprofit companies are still allowed to call and solicit charitable donations, but professional telemarketers acting on their behalf are not. All of these exceptions, however, are still required to take you off of their lists if you request that they put you on their own company Do Not Call List.
Be aware that clever scam artists are trying to capitalize on this longawaited new service by calling people and offering to "preregister" them for the Registry. Some are asking for nominal fees. Others are not asking for fees, but gathering your personal information that they can then use for their own benefit. Bank Account, Credit Card, Social Security, and calling-card numbers are very useful to scam artists. As always, be aware of such "outreach" efforts.
The service is free and the Federal Trade Commission will not be calling people to help register them. It is up to you to register yourself either online or by phone if you want to be included in the Do Not Call Registry.
Contacting the Do Not Call Registry:
Online: If you have an email address, you can sign up online at www.donotcall.gov.
Phone: You must call from the number that you would like included on the Do Not Call Registry. The FTC phone number will be announced as soon as it is available. Contact Senior Information and Assistance after July first for the new FTC number: 206-448-3110 or 1-888-435-3377.
I was just in the neighborhood....
by John Deagen, Advocate
Reprinted from the June 2003 Senior Services' I&A PASSPORT with permission.
Many of us remember when it was common to have the Fuller Brush Man or the Avon Lady knock at the front door offering products for sale. Responding to today´s door to door sales pitches is riskier and requires good consumer sense and caution.
At this time of year, it is not uncommon to have someone come to the door offering to do yard work or home repairs. "I was just in the neighborhood," they might say, "and I noticed that your hedge and lawn could use some trimming." They offer to help, for a modest fee, of course.
The offer is convenient. The work needs to be done. The price might even be right. Still, you should do some research before agreeing to have any work done. Too often, unsolicited offers are from scam artists. Savvy scam artists know that people are looking for help at this time of year and will drive through neighborhoods searching for potential victims.
The "I was just in your neighborhood." pitch has become a common one. It helps the solicitor to establish, at least on the surface, some local credibility. Before making a decision to hire, ask where else in the n e i g h b o r h o o d they were working. Ask them if they work in your neighborhood on a regular basis. Ask them for the name of a neighbor so you can check references. If they cannot answer these questions or pressure you for a quick decision, they may not be as professional as they appear to be. Your best bet is to decline their services and look for someone else on your own.
Another variation on the "I was just in your neighborhood" pitch is the Contractor with left over material from a job they just completed nearby. They may offer to repave a section of driveway with left over concrete or sell you some left over wood at highly discounted prices. A quality contractor would know exactly how much materials they would need for a given job. Any leftovers they have cut into their profits and they are very careful to avoid extra ordering.
As always, if you feel pressured to make a decision, decline the offer. Pressure tactics are the life blood of scam artists. Better yet, ask a trusted friend or neighbor for a referral. Be sure to check references and get a signed agreement before authorizing work.
Are You Missing Out On Benefits?
Nearly 1.2 million seniors in America qualify for but don´t receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI); 3 million never receive the Medicaid assistance they deserve and 3.7 million qualify for but do not receive food stamps. In King County the number of seniors who qualify for but don´t receive Medicaid assistance is estimated to be almost 14,000; with 20,000 seniors in the county qualifying for but are not receiving food stamps.
BenefitsCheckUp.org, a service of the National Council on the Aging, allows older Americans, their families, caregivers, and community organizations to quickly and easily determine what federal and state benefit pro- grams a senior qualifies for and how to claim them.
BenefitsCheckUp asks visitors to take a few minutes to fill out a free, online survey. BenefitsCheckUp then issues a report describing programs for which they are likely eligible. The personalized report also details contact information for the applicable government agencies, as well as a step-by-step guide on how to proceed, what materials are required for the application, etc. The site is confidential; users do not enter their name, social security number or any other identifying information.
To date, over 7,000 seniors in Washington State have completed a BenefitsCheckUp screening. For more information, visit www.seniorservices.org and click on the link to Benefits or call 206-448-3110 and request a benefit screening.
Senior Rights Assistance
Telecommunications Consumer Education
Confused about your telephone service or bills? Frustrated with telemarketing calls during the dinner hour? Then you may not be surprised to learn that problems with telecommunications companies last year topped the State Attorney General´s list of consumer complaints. Senior Rights Assistance (SRA) is working to address problems related to telecommunications products, services, and consumer complaints.
As part of the statewide Consortium, SRA is providing materials and outreach presentations on various programs available to state residents. Low-income households are encouraged to take advantage of the Washington Telephone Assistance Program, called WTAP, a program that reduces the cost for basic local phone service to only $4 per month for those who meet eligibility requirements.
Telephone services in the U.S. have undergone major changes in recent years. Once considered a public utility fully regulated by federal and state agencies, some telephone companies and services are now free of certain regulatory restrictions. For example, a recent newspaper article reported a local woman who was charged more than $600 for directory assistance, unaware there was a $1.25 charge for each call. Telecommunication companies are not required to tell you up front everything you might want to know consumers need to do their homework and ask questions.
If you have a problem with telecommunications products or services, call the company to discuss the problem, then follow up in writing. Once you reach resolution, it can take up to three billing cycles for credits and adjustments to appear on your bill. If you cannot resolve your problem directly with the company, you can call the Washington Utility and Transportation Commission at 1-800-562-6150. Or you can call Senior Services at 1-888-435-3377 for assistance.
To schedule a speaker for a workshop or group presentation call Senior Rights Assistance at 206-727-6216.
Wills, Probate and Trusts
by John Deagen, Advocate
Reprinted from the June 2002 Senior Services' ACCESS with permission.
"What will happen to my estate when I die?" While this is not a comfortable question, it is an important one. However, there is no one standard answer; it depends on the contents of your estate and what you want to see happen with it. There are many options for you to consider. Learning what they are and consulting with an estate planning expert are key to being prepared.
The first step is to have a Will in place. A Will states who is to receive property from your estate and in what proportions. A Will can designate who will be the responsible party to see that your wishes are carried out. It is the first line of preparation that anyone should explore, even if the estate is minimal.
Probate is the legal process that makes sure that all interested parties (such as inheritors, taxing agents and creditors) are satisfied with the fair disposition of the deceased person´s assets. Generally, the more diverse the estate, the more complicated the process can be. Because Probate rules vary from state to state, an estate that includes holdings in another part of the country, for instance, will take longer to settle one whose contents are all within Washington. It might be necessary to undergo Probate procedures in each state where land or buildings were owned by the deceased.
The notion of going through Probate is an unpleasant thought for many people. Even though Washington´s Probate system is one of the easiest and least expensive in the country, people will try to avoid it. It is possible. A married couple can enter a Community Property Agreement that, if done properly, can avoid Probate. And there are certain Trust Accounts that can be written to avoid Probate as well. Either of these options may be a good idea, but may not be appropriate given your specific situation. They may also be unnecessary wastes of money.
There are a number of Trust companies that will advertise the Trusts they sell as ways to "avoid Probate" and "keep the state from taking all your money." They will share horror stories of what happened to someone who did not have a Trust when they died. These stories are scare tactics and unfortunately, some companies or individuals will use such tactics to sell a Trust Account even if it is not the best choice for you.
As with anything, there are both advantages and disadvantages to setting up a Trust Account. Because there are many ways a Trust can be set up, the specific wording is key to see that your intentions will be properly carried out. Remember, too, that there are costs involved in setting up and maintaining a Trust. Do some research before making a decision.
Whether your estate is large or small, planning ahead is important. There are Attorneys who can help you determine the best Estate Planning options for you. There are even local legal clinics where you can talk to an attorney for a half-hour of free legal advice to get you started. It is a big decision. Make sure you are informed before you make it.
- Senior Information & Assistance: 206-448-3110 or 1-888-4ELDERS (1-888-435-3377)
- Senior Rights Assistance: 206-448-5720
- King County Bar Association Lawyer Referral: 206-623-2551
Become an Educated Consumer
by John Deagen, Advocate
Reprinted from the May 2002 Senior Services' ACCESS with permission.
Sadly, the majority of people who become victims of scam artists are seniors. Seniors are attractive targets because they are home a larger portion of the day than other people and because they are trusting. You can greatly lessen the odds of becoming a victim by becoming an educated consumer.
Scams come in various disguises, from sweepstakes that you "have already won" and need pay only a modest handling fee, to the friendly person who shows up at your door with an offer to do home repairs or yard maintenance. Of course, sweepstakes can be legitimate; handymen can be trustworthy. How can you tell the difference?
Here are some common warning signs that should alert you that a proposed "deal" may be a scam:
- Pressure to act quickly before the great opportunity disappears
- Cash or wire transfer only transactions
- Payments requested in advance
- Inability to give an estimate until work has begun
- Reluctance by worker to sign a work contract
- Unsolicited offers, either on the phone or in person
- Requests for a lot personal identification information (birth date, Social Security Number, Credit Card Number, bank account number)
- Lack of a physical address (beyond a PO Box) or phone number to contact company
- "Free" prizes with modest shipping and handling fees attached
- Unwillingness to provide written information
- Inability to provide references
- Telephone solicitors eager to meet you in your home to describe their services
Should you encounter any of these scenarios, or if there is anything about the call or visitor that makes you uncomfortable, you should think twice. Ask for time to consider the offer. Consult with a neighbor, family member, friend, or Senior Information about the situation. Scam artists are skilled at what they do. Being aware of how they operate will help keep you from becoming a victim.
Contact Senior Information & Assistance at 206-448-3110 or 1-888-4ELDERS (1-888- 435-3377) for further assistance.
Domestic Violence & Elder Abuse
by John Deagen, Advocate
Reprinted from the March 2002 Senior Services' ACCESS with permission.
Domestic violence is not an issue limited to young people or married couples. It happens to all age groups, in gay and lesbian couples, among family members, and among seniors and their caregivers.
Domestic violence has both legal and behavioral definitions. While the legal definition is precise, focusing on assault, bodily injury, stalking, or inflicting fear of imminent harm, the behavioral definition is harder to identify. However, most experts agree that the key components are "pattern" and "control." Abusers inflict a pattern of control over their victims using name-calling, criticizing the other person, or humiliating them. Abusers often isolate their victims from others, control finances, or make all decisions in order to increase the victim´s dependence. In short, the abuser creates a feeling of inferiority or a need that they can then exploit in order to render their own superiority over the victim. Methods of control are varied, but the result can be devastating.
Elder Abuse can be physical, sexual, psychological or financial. Neglect of a vulnerable adult may also be a crime, and it is defined as the failure of a caretaker to provide the care necessary to avoid physical harm or mental anguish to the vulnerable adult. It includes failure to provide proper food, clothing, medical treatment, medication, and hygiene.
It is important to recognize that not all abuse is intentional. A spouse may be struggling with how to deal with their life long mate who has now changed due to a medical condition such as stroke or Alzheimer´s Disease. Their struggle can easily translate into abuse if they are not educated about caregiving strategies to cope with the new dynamics of their relationship.
There is a new unit of the Prosecutor´s Office designed to prosecute offenders in elder abuse cases. King County Prosecuting Attorney Norm Maleng created the Elder Abuse Project last year in response to the rapidly increasing elderly population in our area, and to increases in crimes against this population. It will prosecute crimes of domestic violence, physical and sexual abuse, neglect, and financial abuse of the elderly and disabled. The Project will focus on those cases in which persons are victimized because of their age or disability. The Elder Abuse Project will work with police and social service agencies to improve the referral, investigation, and, ultimately, prosecution of these cases.
Whether the abuse is intentional or not, legally prosecutable or not, it deserves attention. If you have concerns for yourself or someone you know, contact the following agencies. Help is available.
If you suspect a crime has occurred call 911 immediately and report suspected abuse, neglect or financial exploitation to Adult Protective Services at 206-341-7660 or 1-866-221-4909.
For more information about the Elder Abuse Project call the King County Prosecutor´s Office at 206-296-9000 or visit Elder and Vulnerable Adult Abuse.
For community resources contact Senior Information and Assistance at 206-448-3110 or 1-888-4ELDERS (1-888-435-3377) or www.seniorservices.org.
Keep an Eye on Home Repair
by John Deagen, Advocate
Reprinted from the February 2002 Senior Services' ACCESS with permission.
The January 4, 2002 episode of Dateline NBC aired an investigative report about the costs of in-home repairs. NBC had a home repair expert unplug the stove or flip a switch on an air conditioner or otherwise "cause" what should have been a simple repair. They then recorded what happened when they called companies to do the repairs. The results were startling.
The report used both men and women acting as homeowners and had them adopt different personalities, some more passive and uninvolved and others actively present while the repairs were being done. Roughly one third of the repair calls ended up with the repairman overstating the extent of the needed repairs. Often they did unnecessary work and billed the homeowners for more than the simple repair should have cost.
Both men and women, whether they were involved or not involved while the repair was being done, were subject to the repairmen´s fraud. However, if the homeowner was in the room watching the repair and asking questions while the work was being done, the incidence of fraud was reduced.
The bottom line is that you should not assume a worker is honest and leave them alone to work unsupervised.
As always, you should not do business with someone who shows up at your door unsolicited by you. You should be the one to initiate any business transaction. Nor should you be asked to pay upfront before any work is done. Also be aware of anyone who uses pressure or scare tactics to entice you to act quickly. Lastly, if a repair company has no physical address other than a PO Box, you might want to avoid using them. They could disappear very quickly if any questions do arise.
Follow these guidelines to help keep you from being overcharged:
- Contact your insurance company to see if the repair might be covered by your homeowner´s policy
- Ask friends and neighbors for recommended repairmen
- Check to see if the company is licensed and bonded
- Keep a file of workers that you have used successfully for future reference
- Ask for customer references that you can contact
- Contact the local Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been filed against a company before you hire them
- Ask about billing practices: Are you billed just to have someone come to your home even before the hourly charges begin?
- Stay in the room while repairs are being done
- If parts are replaced, ask that your old parts be returned to you