How to Protect a Loved One’s Finances

How to Protect a Loved One’s Finances

If you find you have a loved one who is in failing health, has hired caregivers in the home, or is living in a care community, minding the day-to-day finances and spending is a simple task you can manage from a computer. Unfortunately, this can also happen to very health adults who get fooled by clever fraudsters as well. 

After caring for two parents with dementia, I remind myself how much the checkbook meant to my mother. She had always managed the household finances and the suggestion that she was unable to manage a checkbook safely was something that needed to be left unsaid. I found that out after I said it a few times. ; <

 

The biggest problem I faced was a lost purse that contained the checkbook. She thought she left it in a cab, a store, at a bridge game … I couldn’t manage the hours each week spent looking for her purse. Today you can at least get a tile which would have been immensely helpful in keeping track of her handbag, but it wasn’t an option yet.

There are several simple ways to help track the daily spending from the convenience of your computer: 

  • Get a tile and insert it into the wallet so you can easily find it if it get’s misplaced. You can use their online portal to track it’s location.  
  • Open up a new checking account and fund it with a small amount of money that can afford to be lost. You can easily move money into the account in small amounts as it needed to be replenished. If the checkbook is lost or you suspect fraud you can easily close the account.
  • Consider setting up a TrueLink card. It is basically a credit card where you can set up limits on how much can be charged as well as products and services that it won’t fund. There is a fee for it, but the small expense is worth the money it will most likely save in potential losses.

Unfortunately, I have recently had clients both at home and living in communities be a victim of caregiver exploitation. One got my client to write her a small check, one purchased some face cream for my client and asked her for repayment of $85, and another apparently kept asking for gas money. Most agencies and communities require their caregivers agree to never accept money or gifts from clients. Should a client give them money, it needs to be reported to the community or agency. In the past month, I have reported three caregivers for violating this condition of employment. Sadly, I know they will just turn up at another agency.

What I struggled with was that this was one of the few remaining freedoms for my mom. She could no longer drive, or run the bridge games she loved, and that checkbook gave her an empowered sense of self. Now as a Daily Money Manager, I see all the ways that people are trying to get at the money of my clients.

Ultimately, someone needs to be vigilant about minding the finances as well as considering how to layer in these protections. A few bad apples spoil the lot. I hope these options help you and your loved ones. 

How our aging brains fail us.

How our aging brains fail us.

aging brainWhile caring for two parents with different forms of dementia, I tried to understand how I could better help them. In doing so, I also found a ton of research about the how and why we may not recognize our own failings when it comes to managing our finances and day-to-day lives.

 

What I finally came to learn was that my parents were unable to perceive they were making poor decisions and just yearned for independence and control over their own lives.

 

Turns out, that our aging brains make us more vulnerable as we age. We perceive people as more trustworthy. I would have thought the school of hard knocks would actually make us trust people less. Apparently that is not what the science tells us. 

You can read the full report: Neural and behavioral bases of age differences in perceptions of trust.  In summary:

 

“Older adults are disproportionately vulnerable to fraud, and federal agencies have speculated that excessive trust explains their greater vulnerability. Two studies, one behavioral and one using neuroimaging methodology, identified age differences in trust and their neural underpinnings. Older and younger adults rated faces high in trust cues similarly, but older adults perceived faces with cues to untrustworthiness to be significantly more trustworthy and approachable than younger adults. This age-related pattern was mirrored in neural activation to cues of trustworthiness. Whereas younger adults showed greater anterior insula activation to untrustworthy versus trustworthy faces, older adults showed muted activation of the anterior insula to untrustworthy faces. The insula has been shown to support interoceptive awareness that forms the basis of “gut feelings,” which represent expected risk and predict risk-avoidant behavior. Thus, a diminished “gut” response to cues of untrustworthiness may partially underlie older adults’ vulnerability to fraud.”

 

I am seeing how some unscrupulous home services vendors are taking advantage of older adults. An elderly neighbor paid a plumber over $7,000 for some minor repairs that were later assessed to cost around $1,200 by a Master Plumber. He had no idea that the work should not cost that much until he showed me the invoices. He lives on his own and was just trying to keep his home in good repair. Unfortunately, there are no protections in the Commonwealth of Virginia against predatory pricing … nor in many states. Once you sign the agreement and they do the work, there is little you can do. 

There may come a time when we might need someone to at least bounce things off of. At minimum, it will help to always ask for at least two bids for any work estimates over $500. That little extra effort may save you thousands of dollars. 

$58 Billion Reasons Why to Organize Your Information & Online Passcodes

bag of moneyMost American’s are unaware that more than $58 billion is sitting in state and federal treasuries — it’s money that got lost in the shuffle of a move, crisis and even death. Family members and loved ones don’t know about it and it ends up in dormant accounts help by State and Federal Treasurers.

I used the MissingMoney.com website when I was caring for my parents. You can do one search and see if any of your loved ones money ended up in a state treasury. Every year, I do a quick search to see if anything slipped through the cracks. A few years ago, we found a record for my dad and claimed $2,500. Turns out, something was left behind in Kansas when we moved away in 1969.

Given the amount of accounts you accumulate today, it’s easy to understand how easy it might be to forget about a stock certificate, utility deposit, or even a small retirement account. I even found some of my money that was for an over-payment to the county water utility that I never received.

HOW TO SEARCH FOR MISSING MONEY

To do a quick search to see if you are entitled to missing funds, visit MissingMoney. Enter your name and state and you will get back a list of possible matches. You should make the claim directly to the state treasury. Every state website has a simple portal you can use to initiate the process.

1) Go to the state web site where you believe you may have missing money

2) Search the state web site for “missing” or “unclaimed money”

3) Make a direct claim following the web site instructions.

You should never have to pay anyone money to claim money that is rightfully yours.

Happy hunting! Enriched.

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MissingMoney does not include all states and not all the information — in particular some very old records. To learn more about this topic, check out Mary Pitman who wrote The Little Book of Missing Money.

Even Savvy Adults Get Fooled by Imposter Scams

Even Savvy Adults Get Fooled by Imposter Scams

A girlfriend shared how her mom, who she thought was of sound mind, was fooled into thinking that she (my girlfriend) had been kidnapped. They tried to get her mom to a check cashing place to wire money for her release.

Thankfully, her mom navigated it well but it was a quite a traumatic event. Her mom lives in a condo and kept the fraudster on the phone while she went down to the concierge who called the police. However, she was wondering if her mom was really of sound mind if she fell for this.

I confirmed to her that really smart people can be victims of this scam because the fraudsters are so good. In fact the FTC reported that the kidnapping scam is the top “Imposter Scam” for 2017 and cost Americans at least $328 million.

As a Daily Money Manager, I work with older adults in their homes and one of the first things I do is implement a call screening solution. In metro-DC, I can implement Nomorobo which is free service from Verizon. The Nomorobo website can help you find out if you can get their free service in your area.

You will immediately notice the quiet once you implement this feature in your own home.

If you can’t get a service like Nomorobo, you can purchase a call blocking device like Sentry 2 that lets you blacklist numbers. It does require that you tag calls to the “blacklist” to block, and you can also add numbers and only get calls from those on your “whitelist”. It can fill the need but does require assistance to be effective.

Two other simple options include:

  1. Sign up for “Anonymous Call Rejection” with your local carrier. This service rejects calls from anyone that has blocked their caller ID information. It is usually something you can enable using *77 but varies by provider.
  2. Never answer the phone if they don’t recognize the number.  Real people trying to reach you will leave a message.

Eventually, I think the FTC might start requiring phone companies to offer more protections for their clients. They have admitted the “Do No Call” list is a total failure. Technology improvements are great … it just stinks that crooks are always looking for ways to separate us from our money. For now, it’s our job to help protect ourselves and our loved ones.

For more on this topic, check out this story:

How to Avoid Becoming a Victim of a Virtual Kidnapping Scam The Washington Post

When banks prioritize their interests over customer service, we all lose.

wells_fargo_realityI have yet to be convinced that the default process being used by banks put into place to protect our accounts is reasonable. Today reminded me of how frustrating it is to deal with Wells Fargo in particular.

My client wanted me to step in as POA to help on her accounts, so we went to the bank and set it up so I could easily act on her behalf. She was with me and we used the Wells Fargo form to set it up and the whole process took an hour–it should have taken 10 minutes. The first banker had no idea how to even do it, so we waited for the “senior banker”.  The “senior banker” had to call the “back office” to be walked through the process.

My client has estate plans and a trust in place, but her son is not in the area. I was stepping in to help while she was transitioning from her home into a life care community.  We are on the other side of the transition and now that Wells Fargo has the Trust and all the beneficiaries is in alignment with her plans, I wanted to step down as POA.

I visited the bank to resign thinking it would be relatively easy. The first appointment took over an hour as I first had to wait for the “senior banker”, and then we sat on the phone as he called the “back office” to get tutored on what to do. I was told I had to bring in a letter formally resigning. They didn’t have a form, or any further instructions.

When I returned with my “resignation letter” I was working with a different banker.  While thankfully, I was attended to right away, we then had to wait on hold in the queue for the “back office” for 25 minutes. This time the “back office” tells us there are specific things that had to be included in the resignation. My typed up letter put her name in the header, not in the sentence, so that letter didn’t work. After 45 minutes, I am really annoyed since the “letter requirements” were not provided to me on my first visit.

This banker understands my frustration and grabs a piece of paper and asks me to hand write the resignation.

Ummmm, you mean I could have done that on the first visit?

Yes, I could have. He is now talking with a contact at “document review” to finish the process to complete what Wells Fargo needs to complete the resignation.

Prompts to the banker who helped me on this last visit. He is the kind of banker you want, but the Wells Fargo systems are a hindrance to building a positive relationship with CUSTOMERS.

I am frustrated. Wells Fargo is doing this for THEM, not for my CLIENT, or for ME. We are both customers. For the millions of caregivers who are going to have to go through this laborious process, be forewarned and do it before you need it. It only gets harder.

I miss the smaller bank I used to work with. I came first. I’ve also seen this with my clients and colleagues. The big name banks prioritize their interests and procedure before customer service.   

** I left my smaller bank because their online banking was very difficult to use and unreliable. Open to recommendations for banks in the NoVA!

Why Auto-Debit is a Bad Habit

Why Auto-Debit is a Bad Habit

In my work as a Daily Money Manager, I meet with people who have set up auto-payments on their credit cards and have no idea about the source of several charges. In an audit of 20 new clients, I had only 1 that did’t have a variety of charges on their credit account they couldn’t explain. As we investigate those charges, they realize they were for things they don’t use, or worse, never recalled subscribing to.

This is the “set it and forget it” option.

What’s the harm? Over the course of a year, it’s typically over one thousand dollars. In a few cases this year, I had clients who it was costing several thousands dollars a year. Charities, face creams, supplements, a shipping service, iTunes/App subscriptions … it’s easy to get lost in the list of charges. The scammers are crafty.

The most frustrating are the charities. I find that many clients don’t realize they were giving to a charity every month. This usually happens to those that respond to phone solicitors. Somewhere in the conversation, you might have agreed to make the donation every month.

You hate to tell someone to cancel funding a good cause, however, many of the people I work with need to focus on funding their care for the rest of their lives, and that few hundred dollars a month can make a big difference over the coming years.

I get it! Life is busy. I have set up and use auto-debits, but in particular for credit cards, I set it at a modest amount so that if I miss the payment, I have at least met the minimum payment. This forces me to review my bills every month to make sure no nefarious charges are showing up. If I don’t recognize something, I call the phone number that is listed on the bill.

If you see something, do something!  In the end, you will be rewarded for your efforts. It’s up to you to keep a close eye on your credit and finances, if you don’t, someone else may!

The Sneaky Mind of a Scammer

phonescamWhile there is a lot of coverage for the inbound phone scams, I almost got sucked into one that I had called.

When my mom passed away, I dialed the contact number to reach her personal insurance agent. While the number is ringing, I decide to also check my email but am surprised when I’m prompted to press “1” if I am over 50. I wait for the next option which turns out to be a request for discounted insurance. I’m starting to think I dialed the wrong number and hang up. I dial the number again and pay close attention. I am not greeted with “Welcome to New York Life” but hear a general greeting, then am again asked to press “1” if I’m over 50.

Apparently, someone bought the direct number for my mom’s insurance agent. I didn’t stay on long enough to find out who it was, but thought what they did was both brilliant and sneaky.

It was a simple reminder about how easy it is to get fooled. I’m thinking I’m calling my mother’s insurance agent, and had I not paid close attention, I could have provided a host of information about her that could lead to an unscrupulous person being able to steal her identity.

In general, most of us are overwhelmed by the calls coming to us. There are several ways to help protect yourselves.

It’s discouraging to find out that they agency managing the National Do Not Call Registry admits it has failed consumers. The scammers don’t play by the rules, and now technology helps them spoof the caller ID leaving me to ignore any call I don’t recognize.

Some options to help block the INCOMING calls include:

  1. Sign up for a automated service for your landline to block calls. Nomorobo is free service I can get from my local carrier, Verizon. The Nomorobo website can help you find out if you can get their free service in your area. I implemented it at home and it has made a big difference. When we moved in nearly two decades ago, we opted for the unlisted number–that USED to work at keeping callers at bay.
  2. If you can’t get a service like Nomorobo, you can purchase a call blocking device like Sentry 2 that lets you blacklist numbers. It does require that you tag calls to the “blacklist” to block, and you can also add numbers and only get calls from those on your “whitelist”. It can fill the need but does require assistance to be effective.
  3. Don’t answer the phone if you don’t recognize the number. When you answer, they know they have a valid number. Asking to be removed, or selecting the dial option they offer typically won’t yield a positive results.
  4. Sign up for “Anonymous Call Rejection” with your local carrier. It will reject calls from anyone that has blocked their caller ID information. It is usually something you can enable using *77 but varies by provider.

THE NEXT SCAM COMING

There is a new model of scams coming in as voicemail. Your phone will not ring, but a message will be left in your message center. Because there is some consideration to mandate technology to block the spoofed calls, the “no ring voicemail” is the next tool in the fraudster toolkit.

It’s discouraging that we have to be so protective of our personal information. Unfortunately, the consequences of not being our own best advocate can be financially and emotionally devastating. Scammers stink.