Wednesday, May 16, 2018

National Senior Fraud Awareness Day

Yesterday, May 15, 2018, was designated by the U.S. Senate as "National Senior Fraud Awareness Day." The reason for the day, according to the Congressional Record is "To Raise Awareness About the Increasing Number of Fraudulent Schemes Targeted At Older People of The United States, To Encourage The Implementation of Policies to Prevent These Scams From Happening, and to Improve Protections From These Scams For Seniors."

Senator Collins for herself and 4 other Senators, and introduced the resolution, S. Res. 506.

Here it is in its entirety:

Whereas, in 2017, there were more than 47,800,000 individuals age 65 or older in the United States (referred to  in this preamble as ``seniors''), and seniors accounted for  14.9 percent of the total population of the United States;

Whereas senior fraud is a growing concern as millions of older people of the United States are targeted by scams each year, including the Internal Revenue Service impersonation scams, sweepstakes and lottery scams, grandparent scams, computer tech support scams, romance scams, work-at-home scams, charity scams, home improvement scams, fraudulent investment schemes, and identity theft; Whereas other types of fraud perpetrated against seniors include health care fraud, health insurance fraud,  counterfeit prescription drug fraud, funeral and cemetery  fraud, ``anti-aging'' product fraud, telemarketing fraud, and internet fraud;
Whereas the Government Accountability Office has estimated that seniors lose a staggering $2,900,000,000 each year to an ever-growing array of financial exploitation schemes and scams;
Whereas, since 2013, the fraud hotline of the Special Committee on Aging of the Senate has received more than 7,200 complaints reporting possible scams from individuals in all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico;
Whereas the ease with which criminals contact seniors through the internet and telephone increases as more creative schemes emerge;
Whereas, according to the Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2017, released by the Federal Trade Commission, people age 60 years and older were defrauded of $249,000,000 in 2017, with the median loss to defrauded victims age 80 and older averaging $1,092 per person, more than double the average amount lost by those victims between the ages 50 and 59 years old;
Whereas senior fraud is underreported by victims due to embarrassment and lack of information about where to report fraud; and
Whereas May 15, 2018, is an appropriate day to establish as ``National Senior Fraud Awareness Day'': Now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That the Senate--
(1) supports the designation of May 15, 2018, as ``National Senior Fraud Awareness Day'';
(2) recognizes ``National Senior Fraud Awareness Day'' as  an opportunity to raise awareness about the barrage of scams  that individuals age 65 or older in the United States  (referred to in this resolving clause as ``seniors'') face in person, by mail, on the phone, and online;
(3) recognizes that law enforcement, consumer protection groups, area agencies on aging, and financial institutions all play vital roles in preventing scams targeting seniors and educating seniors about those scams;
(4) encourages implementation of policies to prevent these scams and to improve measures to protect seniors from scams targeting seniors; and
(5) honors the commitment and dedication of the individuals and organizations who work tirelessly to fight against scams targeting seniors.

  

 

May 16, 2018 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Other, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Pennsylvania Considering Changes to Guardianship Laws for 2018 Passage

Pennsylvania has several interesting bills pending that would make significant changes to the laws governing court-appointed guardians for incapacitated adults, and at least one of these could move forward this legislative session.  I've learned to expect late night action from the Pennsylvania legislature once it reconvenes in late May and before it adjourns in late June or early July.  The pending legislation includes:

  • Senate Bill 884 (Printer's No. 1147), with Senator Greenleaf as the lead sponsor, offered as a comprehensive reform package for adult guardianship laws, relying in large part on model legislation, and drafted before the most recent high profile news stories and editorials that involve allegations of improper appointment of a particular fee-paid guardian in a number of guardianships for incapacitated adults on the eastern side of the Commonwealth.  On April 16, 2018 this bill was referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee.  

I've seen recent drafts of proposed amendments to SB 884 that would require alleged incapacitated persons to be represented by a lawyer during the guardianship proceeding, require criminal background checks through the State Police (without creating automatic disqualifications if there is a history of convictions), and would also mandate "certification" for "professional guardians." Professional guardians are defined to include individuals or entities that are appointed to serve 3 or more incapacitated persons.  The responsibility for certification of the professional guardians would be assigned to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, although the proposed language would appear to permit the department to accept certification through an outside program such as that offered by the Center for Guardianship Certifications. 

  • House Bill 2247 (Printer's No. 3296), with Representative Gillen as the lead sponsor, and submitted in April 2018 following the high profile articles, would mandate criminal background checks for all current or prospective guardians and provides that courts "shall disqualify a guardian or prospective guardian convicted of an offense classified as a felony under the laws of this Commonwealth or a substantially similar offense under the laws of another jurisdiction."  

While the proposed amendment to S.B. 884 would require criminal background checks for potential guardians, unlike HB 2247, it stops short of banning appointment of individuals who have any particular criminal history. No doubt this decision reflects a 2003 ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Nixon v. Commonwealth.  In that case, a per se ban on employment of individuals as long-term care workers if they were convicted of certain crimes was deemed unconstitutional.  Senate Bill 884, even if amended, would give greater discretion to the courts to consider the individual history and the nature of the offense than would HB 2247.

Continue reading

May 15, 2018 in Cognitive Impairment, Crimes, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Mark Your Calendars: Drafting Advance Planning Documents to Reduce the Risk of Abuse or Exploitation

Mark your calendars for April 18, 2018 at 2 p.m. edt for a free webinar from the National Center on Law & Elder Rights, Drafting Advance Planning Documents to Reduce the Risk of Abuse or Exploitation. Here is the description that I received in the email announcing the webinar:

In 2016, Medicare began reimbursing physicians for counseling beneficiaries about advance-care planning. At around the same time, Health Affairs released a study finding that only one-third of older adults have completed any health care planning documents. For attorneys counseling older adults, completing advance planning documents is just one part of care planning. Drafting these documents in a way that reduces the risk of abuse and exploitation is a critical component of providing good counsel.

This webcast will discuss ways to work with clients to select lower-risk agents, tools to document and communicate health care values, and tips for drafting documents to reduce the risk of exploitation.

To register, click here.

April 11, 2018 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Are States' "Slayer Laws" Preempted by ERISA Rules on Entitlement to Pension Survivor Benefits?

Here's an unusual case to start off a new week.  In Laborer's Pension Fund v. Miscevic, the 7th Circuit faced interesting statutory interpretation questions about whether "survivor" benefits available under a murdered's man's pension must be paid to the very woman who killed him, his "surviving" wife.   

The first question focused on ERISA's rules, asking whether the federal law (which does not contain "slayer" provisions) preempted any disqualifying effect of state slayer laws.  Ultimately, considering the issue as a matter of first impression for federal appellate courts, the 7th Circuit rejected the ERISA preemption argument.   

But that left the question of the effect of the Illinois law in light of additional, unique facts. The wife argued her state criminal court verdict of "not guilty by reason of insanity" barred the disqualifying effect of the Illinois slayer statute.  The Court analyzed similar language of the Illinois slayer statute and the Illinois insanity law and concluded:

Put simply, an individual may not appreciate the criminality of her conduct, but still have "intentionally" and "unjustifiably" cased a death. Indeed, in this case, the judge at [the wife's] criminal trial made an explicit finding that [she] intended to murder [her husband] "without justification," despite concluding [she] was not guilty by reason of insanity."

Noting a split among state courts in analyzing the effect of "not guilty by reason of insanity" on entitlement to inheritance under other states' slayer laws, with Mississippi and New Jersey permitting recovery by a party deemed insane at the time of the murderous act, the 7th Circuit concluded that Illinois would not follow that path.  The Court concluded that the Illinois slayer statute barred this wife from recovering her husband's pension benefits.

This case is interesting for reasons other than interpretation of the federal and state laws. The case was filed as an interpleader by the Pension Fund, as the Fund had received conflicting claims for survivor benefits from the wife and the couple's 11 year old daughter.  The minor-aged daughter will now take the survivor benefits, but, the "minor child benefit" for the plan lasts only until the minor is 21.  It is perhaps an unfortunate side effect of an already sad case that without the murderous facts, the wife would have been a survivor until her death, but the innocent (and, perhaps, needy) daughter's survivor benefits will terminate after 10 years.  Should there be the option to treat any benefits payable to someone deemed "not guilty of murder by reason of insanity" as being subject to a constructive trust in favor of the next of kin?   

My thanks to always eagle-eyed attorney Thomas Murphy in Phoenix, Arizona for sending the report on the 7th Circuit case, decided January 29, 2018.  

 

April 8, 2018 in Cognitive Impairment, Crimes, Current Affairs, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 2, 2018

Another Avenue in the Opioid Fight-This Time from Medicare

There have been innumerable articles about the opioid crisis and how to crack down on abuses. Medicare has joined the fight, announcing a limit on coverage of opioids. Medicare Is Cracking Down
on Opioids. Doctors Fear Pain Patients Will Suffer explains that Medicare concluded that it "would now refuse to pay for long-term, high-dose prescriptions; a rule to that effect is expected to be approved on April 2."  Typically prescribing is the doctor's decision and this rule is may have wide-ranging impact, especially on those who are taking opioids appropriately. What happens to those who can't get their prescriptions refilled under Medicare as a result of this rule?  One expert explained "'[t]he decision to taper opioids should be based on whether the benefits for pain and function outweigh the harm for that patient,” said ... an opioid researcher and associate professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. 'That takes a lot of clinical judgment. It’s individualized and nuanced. We can’t codify it with an arbitrary threshold.'"

The article explains that under this new rule Medicare's coverage would be limited to "seven days of prescriptions equivalent to 90 milligrams or more of morphine daily, except for patients with cancer or in hospice."

What is the purpose of this rule, other than a response to the opioid crisis? The article references an unnamed Medicare official "ho would speak only on background said that the limit for monthly high doses was intended not only to catch doctors who over-prescribe, but also to monitor patients who, wittingly or not, accumulate opioid prescriptions from several doctors. When the dose is flagged, the pharmacist or patient alerts the doctor."  This means that the pharmacist will be a key player in this rule.  The rule will have an appeals process that a doctor can pursue, but keep in mind the time it takes for an appeal, and a doctor's patient load, resulting in a time period where the patient would be without pain meds of this type.

The article ends quoting one doctor about the potential impact of the rule whose "concern is that our results could be used to justify aggressive tapering or immediate discontinuation in patients, and that could harm people — even if opioids have no benefit for their pain ...  [and] [e]ven if we walk away from using opioids for back and knee pain, we can’t walk away from patients who have been treated with opioids for years or even decades now.... "  The doctor added that there is  looming "'a double tragedy for these people.'"

April 2, 2018 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 30, 2018

Medically-Assisted Dying Advances in Hawaii

The Hawaii legislature has approved legislation to legalize Medical Aid-in-Dying, according to the New York Times. Doctor-Assisted Suicide Close to Becoming Law in Hawaii reports that the bill now goes to the Hawaii governor, who has indicated that he will sign the bill.  The bill contains safeguards similar to other medical aid-in-dying statutes, including

a requirement that two health care providers confirm a patient's diagnosis, prognosis, ability to make decisions and that they voluntarily made the request. A counselor also must determine that the patient is capable and does not appear to be suffering from a lack of treatment of depression.

The patient must make two oral requests for the life-ending medication, with a 20-day waiting period between each. They also must sign a written request witnessed by two people, one of whom can't be a relative.

The measure creates criminal penalties for anyone who tampers with a request or coerces a prescription request.

Assuming the Governor signs the bill, Hawaii will be the 6th state to have such a law, joining Washington, Oregon, Vermont, Colorado and California, along with the District of Columbia.  Montana, although without such a statute, has a state supreme court opinion addressing the issue.

March 30, 2018 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Penn State's Dickinson Law Hosts Pennsylvania Judges for Program on "Dementia Diagnosis and the Law"

Dickinson Law's CJE Program on Dementia Diagnosis and the LawOn Thursday, March 29, 2018 Penn State's Dickinson Law hosted a continuing judicial education program for the Pennsylvania Judiciary, with live attendance in Carlisle by more than 30 judges and with even more judges around the state participating via a live stream.  The program was "Dementia Diagnosis and the Law," organized into three parts:

Part 1:  Medical Science and Dementia

Panel Discussion and Audience Q & A

Part 2:  Legal Implications of a Diagnosis of Dementia

  • Keynote Presentation:  Clinical, Legal and Judicial Judgments of Capacity in Persons with Dementia
  • Why “Guardianship Oversight” is a Hot National (and State) Topic
    • Professor Katherine C. Pearson, Dickinson Law, Pennsylvania State University

Panel Discussion and Audience Q & A

Part 3:  Adjudication Exercises, facilitated by Professor Tiffany Jeffers, Dickinson Law, with Dickinson Law students in role plays on issues about capacity to contract, limited guardians, the roles of guardians ad litem and the potential for attorneys or judges to become affected by a neurocognitive disorder.

  • Panel Discussion and Audience Q & A

Panel Members included:

As the law school's organizer for the event, I know I learned a lot from this dynamic group of seasoned experts who spoke on the challenging legal, medical, and judicial issues that can arise from cognitive impairments associated with aging. The judges in our audiences were fully engaged, offering great comments, questions and experiences.

My special thanks to each and every one of the speakers, facilitators, judges, lawyers and students who made the program so informative.  It was fun to work with the Administrative Office of the Pennsylvania Courts on this project and we look forward to additional opportunities to collaborate in the future.  Once I catch up a little on my day job (and maybe on some missed sleep), I'll post again with some additional reactions and thoughts from this program.  

March 29, 2018 in Cognitive Impairment, Crimes, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Property Management, Science | Permalink | Comments (1)

New Mexico, Where New Guardianship Laws Will Take Effect July 1, 2018, Struggles With Reporting Systems

Earlier this week, The Albuquerque Journal reported on continued problems with accountability for court-appointed guardians within New Mexico. Colleen Heild writes:

What’s become of Elizabeth Hamel? Hamel is among dozens of people placed under a legal guardianship or conservator in southern New Mexico over the past 20 years whose welfare is unknown – at least according to state district court records. . . . Nothing in the online court docket sheet indicates that Hamel’s case has been closed. But since being appointed, Advocate Services of Las Cruces hasn’t filed any annual reports about Hamel’s well-being or finances, the docket sheet shows.

 

There’s no indication as to whether she is dead or alive, or if the  guardianship/conservatorship has been revoked. . . . 

 

As New Mexico prepares for a new law, effective July 1, to help its ailing guardianship system, the state’s district courts still don’t have a uniform way to ensure guardian compliance with reporting laws that have been on the books at least since 1989.

 

State Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said last week that he was disappointed that annual reports haven’t been filed in some cases.

 

“And I’m not surprised the courts wouldn’t know,” said Ortiz y Pino, a longtime advocate for reform. “That’s what we ran into over and over again, the lack of any kind of system to make it possible to log them (annual reports) in, let alone read them, let alone send somebody out to verify whether or not what they’re reporting is the truth. Those are the kind of things we shouldn’t be missing. Somebody should be at least saying, ‘Hey, you never did file a report.’ ”

For more, read Missing Reports Plague Guardianship System (3/25/18). 

March 29, 2018 in Cognitive Impairment, Crimes, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, March 25, 2018

NAELA Past President Howard Krooks Writes Thoughtfully About Effect of Parkland Shooting on His Family

Seasoned Elder Law attorneys often make the news, but today the sober reason was because I was reading two of Elder Law guru Howard Krooks's Op-Ed pieces for a Florida newspaper, about his son's fortunate escape from the Parkland School shooting and the aftermath for his family and for many, many others, especially those with more tragic outcomes.

 Howard, who is a CELA and past president of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA), writes in part:  

Now it’s Wednesday morning. We decide Noah will go to school today. Zachary Cruz [the brother of the school shooter] is being held on $500,000 bond. He will undergo a psychological evaluation. His home in Lake Worth will be searched for weapons. And Gov. Rick Scott has requested that an armed law enforcement officer “secure every point of entry” at the school.

 

Good, I think. I feel safe now sending my son to school. Not.

 

My wife came home this morning from dropping off Noah, sobbing. “Why are you crying?” I ask. “Because I just dropped our son off at school, and I don’t know if he will be safe. Will he come home this afternoon? Will we ever see him again? And what if we beef up security at MSD so that nobody unauthorized can enter the campus — but our other son’s middle school is right next door, so the person can just go there and wreak havoc on the middle school campus, instead?”

 

She is sitting on our bed, head in her hands, filled with fear. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is real.

 

We need to do better. The legislation Gov. Scott signed on March 9 was a start. But it was just the beginning of the sweeping structural change needed in this country to send our children safely to school each day.

 

We in Parkland want to remain positive. We want to move forward. And we want to honor those who lost their lives or were injured on that terrible day. But most of all, we want to use this tragedy to bring about positive change. . . . 

Thank you, Howard.  For the full Opinion piece, see A Parkland Father's Plea for Help, and his earlier article, As School Shooter Stalks, Texts Between A Father and Son, both in the Sun Sentinel.

March 25, 2018 in Crimes, Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Free Webinar Protecting Elders From Scams

The National Center of Law & Elder Rights has announced their next webinar,  Legal Basics: Protecting Older Adults Against Fraudulent Schemes and Scams. The webinar is scheduled for April 10, 2018 at 2 edt.  Here's a description of the webinar:

With savings and assets accumulated over a lifetime, older adults are attractive targets for individuals promoting fraudulent schemes and scams. Scammers use deception, misrepresentation and threats to convince older adults to send money or provide personal financial information. Most frauds and scams go unreported. 

This webcast will provide an overview of the frauds and scams aimed at older adults, discuss legal protections, and provide resources to aid older adults defrauded by the individuals and business that promote these scams. The webcast will also focus on efforts by the Federal Trade Commission to prevent older adults from falling victim to these scams. 

To register for this free webinar, click here.

March 22, 2018 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Programs/CLEs, State Statutes/Regulations, Webinars | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Senate Committee on Aging: Top 10 Elder Scams

A little mid-week reading for you. The Senate Committee on Aging has released their 2018 Fraud Book, listing the top 10 elder scams of 2018.  Fighting Fraud: Senate Aging Committee Identifies Top 10 Scams Targeting Our Nation’s Seniors  lists the top 10 scams of the year, based on reports to the hotline, which are (drum roll please) 

IRS Impersonation Scams

Robocalls and Unsolicited Phone Calls

Sweepstakes Scams / Jamaican Lottery Scams

"Can You Hear Me?” Scams

Grandparent Scams

Computer Tech Support Scam

Romance Scams

Elder Financial Abuse

Identity Theft

Government Grant Scams

Here is the executive summary for the report:

From January 1, 2017, through December 31, 2017, the Senate Aging Committee’s Fraud Hotline received a total of 1,463 complaints from residents all across the country. Calls pertaining to the top 10 scams featured in this report accounted for more than 75 percent of the complaints.

                The top complaint, the focus of more than twice as many calls as any other scam, involves seniors who receive calls from fraudsters posing as agents of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). These criminals falsely accuse seniors of owing back taxes and penalties in order to scam them. Due to the extremely high call volume and continued reports from constituents from across the country, the Aging Committee held a hearing on April 15, 2015, to investigate and raise awareness about the IRS imposter scam. Prior to a large law enforcement crackdown in October 2016, nearly three out of four calls to our Hotline involved the IRS impersonation scam. In the three months after the arrests, reports of the scam into the Committee’s hotline dropped by an incredible 94 percent. Though the numbers have since rebounded somewhat, they are still far below the levels we have seen in the past.

                The second most common scam reported to the Hotline involved robocalls or unwanted telephone calls. On June 10, 2015, the Aging Committee held a hearing on the increase in these calls that are made despite the national Do-Not-Call Registry. The Committee examined how the rise of new technology has made it easier for scammers to contact and deceive consumers and has rendered the Do-Not-Call registry ineffective in many ways. On October 4, 2017, the Aging Committee held an additional hearing on robocalls, this time examining recent developments by both the private and public sectors to combat robocalls and protect seniors from fraud.

Sweepstakes scams, such as the Jamaican lottery scam, continue to be a problem for seniors, placing third on the list. A March 13, 2013, Aging Committee hearing and investigation helped bring attention to these scams and put pressure on the Jamaican government to pass laws cracking down on criminals who convinced unwitting American victims that they had been winners of the Jamaican lottery. The United States government has had some recent success in bringing individuals connected to the Jamaican lottery scam to trial, but these types of scams continue to plague seniors.

A new scam to make the top 10 list for 2017 involves consumers receiving calls in which the caller would simply ask “Are you there?” or “Can you hear me?” in order to prompt the recipient to say “yes.” According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), these illegal robocalls are pre-recorded, and are

designed to identify numbers that consumers are likely to answer, allowing scammers to better identify and connect with potential victims. The increased use of this tactic by scammers in robocalls last year demonstrates how sophisticated scammers are.

Grandparent scams, the focus of a July 16, 2014, Aging Committee hearing, were next on the list. In these scams, fraudsters call a senior pretending to be a family member, often a grandchild, and claim to be in urgent need or money to cover an emergency, medical care, or a legal problem.

Computer scams were sixth on the list and the subject of an October 21, 2015, Committee hearing. Although there are many variations of computer scams, fraudsters typically claim to represent a well-known technology company and attempt to convince victims to provide them with access to their computers. Scammers often demand that victims pay for bogus tech support services through a wire transfer, or, worse yet, obtain victims’ passwords and gain access to financial accounts.

Romance scams were seventh on the list. These calls are from scammers who typically create a fake online dating profile to attract victims. Once a scammer has gained a victim’s trust over weeks, months, or even years – the scammer requests money to pay for an unexpected bill, an emergency, or another alleged expense or to come visit the victim – a trip that will never occur.

Elder financial abuse was eighth on the list and the topic of a February 4, 2015, Committee hearing. The calls focused on the illegal or improper use of an older adult’s funds, property, or assets. Chairman Susan M. Collins, former Ranking Member Claire McCaskill, and current Ranking Member Robert P. Casey Jr. have introduced the Senior $afe Act, which would allow trained financial services employees to report suspected cases of financial exploitation to the proper authorities without concern that they would be sued for doing so. The Committee also examined the financial abuse of guardians and other court appointed fiduciaries at a hearing in November 2016.

Identify theft was the ninth most reported consumer complaint to the Fraud Hotline in 2017. This wide-ranging category includes calls about actual theft of a wallet or mail, online impersonation, or other illegal efforts to obtain a person’s identifiable information. On October 7, 2015, the Aging Committee held a hearing titled “Ringing Off the Hook: Examining the Proliferation of Unwanted Calls”, to assess the federal government’s progress in complying with a new law requiring the removal of seniors’ Social Security numbers from their Medicare cards, which will help prevent identity theft. Medicare will start mailing the new cards in April 2018.

            Government grant scams rounded out the top 10 scams to the Fraud Hotline last year. In these scams, thieves call victims and pretend to be from a fictitious “Government Grants Department.” The con artists then tell the victims that they must pay a fee before receiving the grant.

The report is available here.

From January 1, 2017, through December 31, 2017, the Senate Aging Committee’s Fraud Hotline received a total of 1,463 complaints from residents all across the country. Calls pertaining to the top 10 scams featured in this report accounted for more than 75 percent of the complaints.

                The top complaint, the focus of more than twice as many calls as any other scam, involves seniors who receive calls from fraudsters posing as agents of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). These criminals falsely accuse seniors of owing back taxes and penalties in order to scam them. Due to the extremely high call volume and continued reports from constituents from across the country, the Aging Committee held a hearing on April 15, 2015, to investigate and raise awareness about the IRS imposter scam. Prior to a large law enforcement crackdown in October 2016, nearly three out of four calls to our Hotline involved the IRS impersonation scam. In the three months after the arrests, reports of the scam into the Committee’s hotline dropped by an incredible 94 percent. Though the numbers have since rebounded somewhat, they are still far below the levels we have seen in the past.

                The second most common scam reported to the Hotline involved robocalls or unwanted telephone calls. On June 10, 2015, the Aging Committee held a hearing on the increase in these calls that are made despite the national Do-Not-Call Registry. The Committee examined how the rise of new technology has made it easier for scammers to contact and deceive consumers and has rendered the Do-Not-Call registry ineffective in many ways. On October 4, 2017, the Aging Committee held an additional hearing on robocalls, this time examining recent developments by both the private and public sectors to combat robocalls and protect seniors from fraud.

Sweepstakes scams, such as the Jamaican lottery scam, continue to be a problem for seniors, placing third on the list. A March 13, 2013, Aging Committee hearing and investigation helped bring attention to these scams and put pressure on the Jamaican government to pass laws cracking down on criminals who convinced unwitting American victims that they had been winners of the Jamaican lottery. The United States government has had some recent success in bringing individuals connected to the Jamaican lottery scam to trial, but these types of scams continue to plague seniors.

A new scam to make the top 10 list for 2017 involves consumers receiving calls in which the caller would simply ask “Are you there?” or “Can you hear me?” in order to prompt the recipient to say “yes.” According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), these illegal robocalls are pre-recorded, and are

designed to identify numbers that consumers are likely to answer, allowing scammers to better identify and connect with potential victims. The increased use of this tactic by scammers in robocalls last year demonstrates how sophisticated scammers are.

Grandparent scams, the focus of a July 16, 2014, Aging Committee hearing, were next on the list. In these scams, fraudsters call a senior pretending to be a family member, often a grandchild, and claim to be in urgent need or money to cover an emergency, medical care, or a legal problem.

Computer scams were sixth on the list and the subject of an October 21, 2015, Committee hearing. Although there are many variations of computer scams, fraudsters typically claim to represent a well-known technology company and attempt to convince victims to provide them with access to their computers. Scammers often demand that victims pay for bogus tech support services through a wire transfer, or, worse yet, obtain victims’ passwords and gain access to financial accounts.

Romance scams were seventh on the list. These calls are from scammers who typically create a fake online dating profile to attract victims. Once a scammer has gained a victim’s trust over weeks, months, or even years – the scammer requests money to pay for an unexpected bill, an emergency, or another alleged expense or to come visit the victim – a trip that will never occur.

Elder financial abuse was eighth on the list and the topic of a February 4, 2015, Committee hearing. The calls focused on the illegal or improper use of an older adult’s funds, property, or assets. Chairman Susan M. Collins, former Ranking Member Claire McCaskill, and current Ranking Member Robert P. Casey Jr. have introduced the Senior $afe Act, which would allow trained financial services employees to report suspected cases of financial exploitation to the proper authorities without concern that they would be sued for doing so. The Committee also examined the financial abuse of guardians and other court appointed fiduciaries at a hearing in November 2016.

Identify theft was the ninth most reported consumer complaint to the Fraud Hotline in 2017. This wide-ranging category includes calls about actual theft of a wallet or mail, online impersonation, or other illegal efforts to obtain a person’s identifiable information. On October 7, 2015, the Aging Committee held a hearing titled “Ringing Off the Hook: Examining the Proliferation of Unwanted Calls”, to assess the federal government’s progress in complying with a new law requiring the removal of seniors’ Social Security numbers from their Medicare cards, which will help prevent identity theft. Medicare will start mailing the new cards in April 2018.

            Government grant scams rounded out the top 10 scams to the Fraud Hotline last year. In these scams, thieves call victims and pretend to be from a fictitious “Government Grants Department.” The con artists then tell the victims that they must pay a fee before receiving the grant.

rant.

TThe 60 page report is available here.

March 20, 2018 in Books, Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink

Monday, March 5, 2018

News Feature Focuses on Court-Appointed Guardian in Pennsylvania, Raising Important Systemic Questions

From Nicole Brambila, an investigative journalist for the Reading [Pennsylvania] Eagle, comes an article examining the history of a specific individual appointed by courts to serve as a guardian in multiple cases, in different counties in Pennsylvania.  The article raises important questions about court oversight, including but not limited to whether there should be mandatory criminal background checks for those serving as court-appointed fiduciaries:  

If [an elderly couple in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania] were astonished to learn the court-appointed guardian [for the 79-year-old husband] had not been paying the mortgage and other bills, their surprise would pale in comparison to the revelations yet to come.  Unbeknownst to them, Byars [the guardian in question] had been convicted multiple times of financial theft.

 

Her most recent arrest came in 2005.  She pleaded guilty to felony fraud and was sentenced to 37 months in a federal prison after cashing $20,000 in blank checks [she] found while rummaging through trash cans at a Virginia post office. 

The article points to another case in Philadelphia Orphans Court, where an attorney representing family members of a different person alleged to be in need of a guardian, looked into the background of Byars, and discovered records detailing her history.  The attorney was successful in having her removed as the court-appointed guardian in that case.  The Reading Eagle reporter writes:

For six months she continued serving as guardian to 52 incapacitated Philadelphians. No other Philadelphia judge removed her until after the Reading Eagle made dozens of inquiries in January with the court, Adult Protective Services, the Pennsylvania Department of Aging and state lawmakers about her appointments. . . . 

 

Philadelphia Orphans Court works with more than a dozen professional guardians. Ten of these, including Byars, carry some of the highest caseloads: 22, 48, 54 and more. But none more than Byars, who was appointed in Philadelphia alone 75 times from 2014 through 2016, according to court dockets.

For more, read Unguarded: Montgomery County Couple's Trust Betrayed, published March 4, 2018 in the Reading Eagle [paywall protected, although there is a $1 fee for single day access].  

 

March 5, 2018 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

U.S. Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Death Penalty Case; Inmate Has Suffered Multiple Strokes & Dementia

One of my well-rounded Contracts students, Andrew Ford, pointed out to me that this week the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of Madison v. Alabama, wherein the issue is whether execution of a prisoner violates the 8th Amendment if the inmate, who has experienced multiple strokes and vascular dementia, is now severely impaired and no longer has any memory of his crime.  From the Petition for Writ of Certiorari:

[T]he State seeks for the second time to execute Vernon Madison, a 67-year-old man who has been on Alabama’s death row for over 30 years. Mr. Madison suffers from vascular dementia as a result of multiple serious strokes in the last two years, and no longer has a memory of the commission of the crime for which he is to be executed. His mind and body are failing: he suffers from encephalomacia (dead brain tissue), small vessel ischemia, speaks in a dysarthric or slurred manner, is legally blind, can no longer walk independently, and has urinary incontinence as a consequence of damage to his brain.

Thank you, Andrew!  Here's the link to comprehensive coverage on the case from SCOTUS Blog

February 27, 2018 in Cognitive Impairment, Crimes, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Federal Authorities Coordinate Filing of Charges Against Individuals and Companies on Telemarketing and Postal Mail Fraud Schemes

On Thursday, February 22, 2018, federal authorities released news of formal charges filed against individuals and companies accused of telemarketing and postal fraud schemes targeting seniors.  The charges focus on more than 250 defendants, located both in and outside of the U.S.

The Federal Trade Commission's press release provides specific details from two cases filed in coordination with authorities in the State of Missouri.  In the first case:

[T]he FTC and the State of Missouri charged two men and their sweepstakes operation with bilking tens of millions of dollars from people throughout the United States and other countries.

 

The FTC and Missouri allege that the defendants, doing business under dozens of different names, sent tens of millions of personalized mailers falsely indicating that the recipient had won or was likely to win a substantial cash prize, as much as $2 million, in exchange for a fee ranging from $9 to $139.99.

 The Defendants distributed three types of phony mailers:        

  • Notices such as “Congratulations, You Have Just Won $1,230,946.00,” when the consumer hasn’t actually won anything;
  • Fliers that claim the recipient can win a substantial cash prize by answering a simple arithmetic question and paying  a registration fee, but that don’t disclose that there are multiple rounds to the “game of skill,” that the consumer will have to pay additional fees to advance to each round, and that in order to win, the consumer will have to answer a final, complex puzzle that few people, if any, can solve; and
  • Mailers that appear to be notices that the consumer has won a prize of $1 million or more, but that are really just newsletter subscription solicitations.

In the second case: 

[T]he FTC alleges that the defendants worked with Indian telemarketers to trick older Americans into buying bogus technical support services. Specifically, the defendants set up business accounts for the telemarketers, collected and deposited consumer payments, and provided a gloss of legitimacy to the scheme.

During my sabbatical last year, I often had occasion to answer the phone in my elderly mother's home. The majority of calls were from scammers, including those posing as the IRS, those offering "specialized health insurance," or seeking to "confirm" the homeowners' bank numbers for deposit of some kind of "winnings."  I was stunned by the volume of the calls -- and the persistence of the callers. If you tried to hang up, the callers would often ring back within seconds.  

Also, during my time as director of  Dickinson Law's Elder Protection Clinic, I can remember one particularly troublesome case involving a so-called Jamaican lottery scam, where the senior in question had been a sophisticated investor for her entire adult life, but was unable to resist the siren song of a scammer who managed to convince her to repeatedly send him money.  It was one of my first personal experiences with how dementia and financial abuse can intersect, through a particular form of early onset dementia known as FTD (frontotemporal disease).  The impairment often impacts judgment and the ability to evaluate risk, including financial risk.  

February 22, 2018 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Seventh Circuit Interprets "Ambiguous" Special Needs Trust, Amid Background of Fraud Claims

On February 7, 2018, the Seventh Circuit ruled as a matter of law that language in documentation attempting to create a Special Needs Trust was ambiguous.  In its decision in National Foundation for Special Needs Integrity, Inc. v. Reese, the Court resolved the ambiguity in favor of the children of the Missouri woman who had established the trust, using proceeds of her personal injury settlement. 

The Court, with jurisdiction that appeared to be based on diversity, ordered an Indiana foundation that was named as the trustee of the account to reimburse the estate of the deceased Missouri woman.  The amount awarded is more than $243K, plus prejudgment interest.  The decision by itself is interesting, especially as it touches on issues such as the intention of the settlor, a defense of laches and the roles of a law office or others in counseling the Missouri woman, who was reportedly unable to read, on how to complete the trust documents.  Even more interesting is news indicating that the foundation was created by "a suspended Indiana attorney facing charges that he stole from other clients' trusts." See The Indiana Lawyer's report on Seventh Circuit Reverses, Orders Special Needs Trust Group to Pay Estate.

In the lawsuit, the foundation argued it was entitled to keep the funds designated in the trust, based on a variety of theories including laches; the laches defense failed when the court, in an extended footnote, observed there was no evidence the foundation ever notified the woman's personal representative of outstanding trust amounts, allowing the PR to believe that any proceeds had been used to reimburse the state for Medicaid expenditures.  Instead, the court concluded the foundation simply transferred portions of the mother's account into other accounts, which might have been permitted under certain guidelines, if it had been clear the trust was intended to be a "pooled" special needs trust.   

For another "great and timely" discussion (I have that description on good authority!) of the Foundation v. Reese case, see Arizona lawyer Robert Fleming's newsletter here.  As Robert says, "the background story . . . reinforces the need for transparency and disclosure in pooled special needs trust administration -- and in fact, in all special needs trust management."

February 11, 2018 in Crimes, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Medicaid, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Webinar on Multidisciplinary Teams

Mark your calendars for this webinar from the Elder Justice Initiative scheduled for February 22, 2018 at 2 est, on MDT Member Recruitment and Retention: Building Trust and Traction  Here are the learning objectives from the website

Learning Objectives:

  • Understanding the best practices for recruitment and ongoing engagement of team members.
  • Exploring real-world examples of relationship- and trust-building strategies.
  • Discovering new MDT Guide and Toolkit documents, including a recruitment letter and statement of need.

 

 

Click here to register.

February 7, 2018 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Programs/CLEs, Webinars | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 26, 2018

New Mexico Legislature Considers Comprehensive Reform of Guardianship Laws, Following Fraud & Embezzlement Scandals

In a bipartisan effort, two New Mexico state senators have introduced Senate Bill 19 -- some 187 pages in length -- in an effort to completely overhaul the state's laws governing guardianships in New Mexico.  The proposed changes, which largely track the Uniform Law Commission's recommendations for "Guardianship, Conservatorship and Other Protective Arrangements," will make such proceedings open to the public and require more notification of family members about the process.  The reform follows high-profile scandals involving two companies that are alleged to have "embezzled millions of dollars of client funds," while appointed-guardians also sometimes restricted family access to their wards.

Hearings on the bill began on January 25, 2018, during the regular 30-day session of the legislature.  From the Albuquerque Journal's coverage on the reforms:

Under the bill pending at the Roundhouse, legal guardians would not be able to bar visitors – both in person and via letters and emails – unless they could show the visit would pose significant risk to the individual or if authorized to do so by a court order.

 

[State Senator and Co-Sponsor of SB 19 Jim White] said the legislation does not call for any additional funding to be appropriated, though it could shift some money from the state guardianship commission to the courts for administrative duties. His bill is the only bill filed so far on the issue of guardianships, though others could be introduced in the coming weeks.

 

Meanwhile, the proposed law would also permit bonds to be required of conservators – a protection already proposed by the New Mexico guardianship commission and recently put into place by district judges in Albuquerque.

For more on the criminal charges filed against executives at Ayudando Gaurdians Inc. and Desert State Life Management, read Who Guards the Guardians? by Colleen Heild. 

January 26, 2018 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

A History of Public Pensions and Corruption in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Attorney Charles Shields and former  Dickinson Law Librarian [now West Virginia Law Librarian] Mark Podvia have teamed to present a provocative history of public pensions and public corruption, using Pennsylvania as the focus.  The first of their two-part series is available in the January 2018 issue of the Pennsylvania Bar Association Quarterly.  For an overview, the authors write:

On June 12, 2017, Pennsylvania Governor  Tom Wolf signed a bill authorizing significant reform of the Commonwealth's public pension system.  The law will replace the current traditional pension system with three 401(k) style options for future state employees and public school teachers.   This is the first article in what will be a two-art series on the laws regulating public pensions and pension forfeitures in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  This part will examine the historical development of public pensions and provide an overview of the public corruption in the Commonwealth [tied to these pension systems]. The second part will examine the adoption and application of the Pennsylvania pension forfeiture law.   

To provide more incentive for our readers to track down this disturbing history, here's a concluding line from part one of the series:

The combination of a corrupt political system with public pension funds -- ranging from local retirement systems, small but with little oversight, to large statewide funds -- created a situation open to graft and corruption..... 

January 23, 2018 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Property Management, Retirement, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Patient Dumping-By the Health Care Provider

There's been a lot of buzz after that video surfaced of a hospital patient left at a bus stop just in a hospital gown. NPR ran a follow up story, Why Was A Baltimore Patient Discharged At A Bus Stop In Just A Gown?  The president and CEO of the hospital in a subsequent press conference indicated that the event was isolated and those involved would answer for their actions.  There is a lot we don't know about the story (and some we may never know because of privacy issues). CBS then ran a story from the mother of the patient. In the story Mother calls hospital "callous and heartless" for leaving her daughter in the cold, the mother explains that her daughter, the patient, has mental illness.

How is this different, if at all, than granny dumping, where a family member might abandon an elder relative at the emergency room? I did a quick google search to see if I turned up any recent articles on granny dumping, and didn't really find much, except for this one from a year ago, Japanese people who can't afford elder care are reviving a practice known as 'granny dumping'.

What's your take? Is this not specifically happening much, if at all, in the US any more?

 

January 18, 2018 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Challenge of Finding Safe & Effective Pain-Killers for Older Adults

Over the holidays, unfortunately I had the experience of learning more about how older consumers struggle to understand what safe and effective treatments are available.  In this instance, my mother, in her 90s, was experiencing overwhelming back pain.   She has a long-history of osteoporosis (and it runs in the family on the female side, so my sister and I pay particular attention to this issue!) and in the last few weeks without any known "accident," she had begun to find it almost impossible to walk without pain.  She's not the complaining type, and, having been raised by parents who were Christian Scientists, she tends to follow a "mind over matter" approach to this kind of problem.  But, by Sunday last week, it was no longer possible to pretend she wasn't deeply uncomfortable.

We began another health care odyssey.  Some of the steps we had already learned from past "holiday" experiences with my parents, including calling the "non-emergency" 911 number to get an experienced EMT evaluation of her status in the home, and, if necessary, a transport from her home to the emergency room.  Then, recognizing that New Year's Eve is probably not the best night (if such a thing even exists) to spend in the local hospital's ER, we decided to go early in the morning.  

Five hours after our arrival in the ER, we left with a new "LSO" back brace, instructions on how to use it, and prescriptions for a different walker and a new pain medication.  On the latter point, we informed the ER physician of the fact Mom had not done well on narcotic pain relievers in the past ("why are those ants crawling on the walls") but we were told the drug prescribed was like a very strong Ibuprofen, but in a formulation that would not interact with the blood thinner she was on or her pacemaker.

We duly stopped at the pharmacy on the way home, and I signed my life away in order to pick up her prescription as she was unable to walk in to get it herself.  When we got home,  there were two documents in the bag with the prescription, including what I would call a typical "product insert" that looks like a page from the Physician's Desk Reference and a second sheet entitled "Directions for Use."  The top of the instructions warned, "This is a narcotic drug and not recommended for the relief of pain in...."  And then the list of disqualifying conditions included at least 3 of my mother's age-related conditions.  Yikes!  

My sister and I are  not usually intimidated by product inserts, but here the instructions seemed directly at odds with our concerns about narcotics for mom.  Everything we found on the internet only made us more confused and worried.  

By this time it was late on New Year's Eve, her pain was increasing, and we knew we couldn't persuade her to go back to the ER and her primary care physician wasn't on call.  The bottle said "every 6 hours."  The ER physician had orally told us "every 6 to 8 hours," and finally we knew we had no choice -- her pain was real and we started using it at 12 hour intervals, gradually moving down to 8 hour intervals before she seemed to have real relief.  It was another 5 days before her very kind primary care physician could squeeze us in for an appointment to have a more complete conversation -- and the good news is that we are now more comfortable about a longer range plan.

So on the heels of that multi-day experience, I was very interested in an article I spotted for my airplane trip home to Pennsylvania from Arizona. Phoenix Magazine had a detailed feature story in their January 2018 issue on "Pharma Chameleon," reporting on the arrest for fraud and racketeering charges of INSYS  Therapeutics founder, a "billionaire executive" in Phoenix, well-known for his work on painkiller medicines.  The history of this executive has nothing to do with my mother's pain relief medicine, but it was definitely a reminder that the pharmaceutical industry is deeply involved in pursuit of the "next" generation of painkillers.  And, of course, this article contrasts with the recent news that a different drug company is dropping R & D for a dementia drug.  Pain-killers are still "in," and dementia drugs apparently are "out."  

So, I recommend the Phoenix Magazine article!  I was particularly struck by this paragraph:    

In November, Kapoor [the Phoenix-based INSYS executive arrested by the feds] pleaded not guilty to all charges and is currently awaiting trial, along with the six other former executives, who pleaded not guilty last January. All have severed ties with INSYS, which continues to do business. In July, it received FDA approval for a new drug, Syndros, a synthetic form of THC, the psychoactive component found in cannabis, to treat chemotherapy-induced nausea and loss of appetite in AIDS patients. As it did with Subsys, the company is looking into ways to manufacture the drug as a sublingual spray. Under Kapoor, the company donated $500,000 to the effort to defeat the measure to legalize marijuana for recreational use on Arizona’s 2016 general election ballot, paving the way for the synthetic substitute.

January 8, 2018 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Science, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (1)