Computer Innocence

Seniors weren’t raised with computers and tend to be less savvy to hackers’ tactics. For example, they may not question the authenticity of a pop-up window that say their computer has a virus, and they need to call a number or click on a link to fix the problem. Microsoft estimates 3.3 million Americans across all age ranges fall victim to tech support scams each year with annual loss of $1.5 billion.

Virus Vulnerabilities

In a late 2016 survey by Home Instead, Inc., approximately 20 percent of U.S. and Canadian seniors in their 70s or older, said they weren’t using any anti-virus software on their computers. Those who do have anti-virus software installed on their devices may not be updating their software or staying current on other, more effective services.

Financial Factors

Seniors typically fall into two categories: access to liquid financial assets or large “nest egg” or haven’t saved sufficiently fearing outliving their assets. They also tend to have good credit ratings. These factors and others make them attractive targets for investment scams or “claim-your-prize-now” schemes.

Social Media

Social media helps seniors feel connected to long-distance friends and relatives. Facebook is the dominant social media for most seniors. It’s also a convenient way to fill voids in other social interactions, potentially setting seniors up for accidentally “oversharing” personal information, which makes them easier targets for scammers.

Trusting Nature

Many seniors like to help people and have big hearts. People raised in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s were often taught to be polite and trusting, rather than skeptical. They’re generally more likely to help others without doing background research on the individual or charity in question.

They’re also more likely to go out of their way to help relatives, which sets them up as victims of scammers impersonating a family member with a medical or overseas “emergency” that requires immediate funds.

Seniors also fall victim to family members who don’t have their best interests at heart. According to the National Council on Aging, in nearly 60 percent of all elder abuse and neglect incidents, the perpetrator is a family member, typically an adult child or spouse.

Cognitive Impairments

Scammers are well-versed in manipulation and description techniques, which can be even more effective with seniors, who may have some degree of cognitive impairment.

Time on Their Hands

Many seniors have plenty of time to talk—and may be lonely—which makes them more vulnerable to scam artists who befriend them or pretend to have a romantic interest, later milking them for money. More than a third of seniors surveyed in the latest National Poll on Healthy Aging said they felt a lack of companionship at least some of the time, and 27 percent reported sometimes or often feeling isolated.

Medicare

In the U.S., where Medicare provides medical insurance for people ages 65+, scammers may masquerade as Medicare officials attempting to:

  • “Verify” Social Security numbers (and steal this personal information)
  • Obtain Medicare numbers (to purchase medical services or reimbursements)
  • Acquire other useful personal and financial information (claiming to send free medical equipment)

Scammers may also threaten loss of coverage if the information isn’t provided, claiming it is required due to new policies, addendums, or a need to send a new, updated card. When in doubt call Medicare directly.

Prescription Drugs

Since seniors are often on a fixed income and may face higher prescription drug expenses than the rest of the population, they are more likely to order prescription drugs online to save money, potentially falling victim to dangerous counterfeit prescription drug scams.

Online Pharmacies

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been investigating a growing number of counterfeit prescription drug operators each year. What’s the best way to ensure an online pharmacy is safe? In the U.S., make sure the answer is “yes” to these four questions:  1) Are they licensed to operate in your state? 2) Do they require a doctor’s prescription? 3) Do they have a physical address and phone number in the U.S.? 4) Do they offer a licensed pharmacist to answer questions?

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in every year from 2009-2016, for example, seniors faced $3,288 average total expenditures, compared to $1,539 for younger people.

Home Ownership

Seniors are more likely to be homeowners, which makes them potential targets for related scams, including pitches to reduce your property taxes by having your home’s value reassessed—for a fee.

In the so-called “woodchuck” scam, fake contractors convince seniors, living alone, that they need expensive tree-trimming services, a new roof, or other costly home projects, subsequently fleecing them for thousands of dollars.

Senior homeowners are also vulnerable to scams involving reverse mortgages or home equity loans. Family members caregivers, and home repair companies will encourage seniors to borrow excess equity then proceed to relive the homeowner of their funds.

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Impersonators

Imposter scams are the leading type of consumer fraud—and imposters’ favorite strategy is to pretend to be an IRS official. More 2.4 million Americans have been targeted by scammers impersonating IRS officials, and collectively lost more than $72.8 million from this scam.

The IRS insists that it will not:

  • Call to demand immediate payment or call about taxes owed without initially mailing a bill.
  • Demand that taxes be paid without providing an opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.
  • Require a specific payment method or ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  • Threaten to involve law enforcement groups.

Medical Identity Theft

Medical identity theft occurs when scammers use someone’s personal information—especially a Medicare or private health insurance number—to obtain prescriptions drugs, treatments, and medical devices in their name. Unfortunately, there are no legal protections of medical identity theft. This can lead to victims being denied necessary medical treatments or health insurance. The scammer and victim’s medical history becomes co-mingled too. It is important to read medical and insurance statements carefully and immediately notify providers and insurers of unrecognized claims.

Grandparent Scam

A con artist calls an older person, masquerading as a grandchild. They may already know the name(s) of grandchildren (information gleaned from social media), or the con may initiate the conversation with “Hi Grandma/Grandpa. Do you know who this is? You may offer a name, then scammer proceeds as this person and explains the fake emergency often adding “I’m so embarrassed. Please don’t tell Mom and Dad.” Scammer is relying on their kind heart, proceeds to persuade them to send money in an untraceable method.

Fake Charities

Before contributing to an unfamiliar charity, potential donors should conduct background research to confirm the charity is legitimate and has a solid reputation. The site https://www.charitynavigator.org/ is an excellent place to start. To proceed with a donation, call them, mail a check, or make a gift on the charity’s website. Never provide a gift card or credit card number to an inbound caller. Charity scams ramp up following natural disasters, so be especially alert for con artists attempting to leverage these events.

Sweepstakes and Contest Scams

Legitimate contests and sweepstakes never require winners to spend money to claim their winnings. Know that any legitimate issuer of prizes over $600 will insist upon the winner submitting an affidavit, to verify tax information. That means any check over $600 that doesn’t require an affidavit is a fake. It is essential to understand that anyone who deposits fraudulent funds can be held personally responsible for any losses, potentially including fines and bank account closure.

Social Media Spies

Hackers, scammers, and identity thieves rely on information gleaned from social media sites to execute various con schemes. To reduce the likelihood of becoming a victim:

  • Keep privacy settings locked down to control who can see your posts.
  • Don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know.
  • Don’t share personal phone numbers, home addresses, information about vacations, or details about children and grandchildren (like their names and where they go to school).

Scammers use technology extensively through false email messages, fake pop-up windows, malicious website links, and fraudulent phone calls on both landline and mobile devices.

The scams involve quick cash, stealing your medical identity and most have a sense of urgency. When it involves financial solutions immediately, you should be suspicious.

These can include calls or emails requiring you to act now to collect a prize, avoid a fine or jail, or save someone from a dire situation – always step back before acting. If a pressing need involves money, chances are it’s a scam.

How to fight back on your phone?

DO register your phone number with the DO NOT CALL REGISTRY at https://www.donotcall.gov/ or 888-382-1222. This service will not block scammers, but legitimate telemarketers will stop calling within a month. I have found you have to do this yearly.

DON’T answer unrecognized calls unless you’re expecting a call from an unknown number.  Let the call go to voicemail, then review the message. Most con artists will hang up before leaving a message.

DO independently verify facts from any callers asking for money or sensitive personal information.

DON’T share private information in social media posts that may be useful for imposter scams, including phone numbers, home addresses, and names of relatives. (Also, don’t accept unknown friend requests and keep your account settings private.)

DO be wary of government imposters. Officials from the IRS, the Social Security Administration, Medicare, and other government agencies will never call you unless you contact them first or they’ve sent mail correspondence explaining a situation that requires your attention.

DON’T say “yes” to an unknown caller.  Scammers may be trying to obtain a recording of your voice, which can be used to verify approval of charges to your phone, cable, or internet bill or a credit card. If you sense something sketchy, hang up quickly.

As we age, people start to think about what the best option for their living arrangement is: active adult living community 55+, independent/assisted living communities, multi-generational homes, or aging in place. Whatever you decide there are ways to help you live longer in your home independently safely.

Walk Your Way to Health

All types of physical activity deliver health benefits. For seniors, a daily walking routine is often the best option. Harvard Medical School cites various studies that have confirmed that walking counteracts the effects of weight-promoting genes, reduces cravings for sweets, eases joint pain, and boosts immune function.

Achieving these benefits may require only 20 minutes of walking a day, five days a week. To gain even more from your walks, take them outdoors, with or without a friend. These short bursts of activity can improve your mental outlook in addition to your physical health.

Embrace One-Floor Living

Talk to a universal design specialist to learn how to prepare your home so you can age gracefully. You may need to make significant renovations, or your home may only require a few small changes to accommodate one-floor living.

If your house doesn’t lend itself to a first-floor bedroom, can’t accommodate assistive equipment in the shower, or requires more renovations than you’re willing to make, consider moving to a different home.

It will be easier to change your address now than to wait until health issues dictate a move. You’ll have more time to make decorating decisions and get settled in, so the new house becomes “home” to you and your family.

Get Comfortable With Technology

Technology is rapidly changing many aspects of life, from opening up new ways to receive medical care, new options for staying in touch with family and friends, and new says to manage tasks around the home.

If you aren’t already familiar with tablets and smartphones, take a class at your local library or community center, and learn the basics. (Obviously in person classes will have to wait until we are no longer under a stay in place order, but you may have a family member that through Face Time, Skye, or other video chat options could help you learn about your devices to help you, maybe even a grandchild). You’ll be pleasantly surprised by all the benefits these devices can offer.

Robots and smart homes will play a significant role in independent living. Soon, you’ll be able to control your entire home, from opening windows and unlocking doors to changing the thermostat and ordering delivered meals—all with your voice!

  • Loose or leaky gutters can lead to drainage issues that can allow water into your basement or crawl space.  Downspouts should be clear of debris and drain away from the foundation.
  • The grade around your home should be sloped away from the foundation to prevent water from pooling up and entering the home.  Use compact soil to increase the grade so that water flows away from the foundation. 
  • Check any wood trim surrounding windows, doors, railings, or decks for rot.  This can easily be done by using a screwdriver to probe the material.  You’ll want to repair any trouble areas before the spring rains begin.
  • Examine the roof’s shingles and flashing around skylights, vents, and chimneys from the ground.  Missing or damaged shingles should be replaced.
  • The exterior of the chimney should be examined for signs of damage. Have the flue cleaned of debris from any winter fires you may have had in your fireplace.
  • Concrete slabs should be inspected for signs of movement or cracks. All exterior concrete should drain away from the home’s foundation. Fill cracks with a concrete crack filler. When weather permits, power-wash and then seal the concrete to increase longevity.
  • Check outside hose faucets for freeze damage. Turn the water on and place your thumb or finger over the opening. If you can stop the flow of water, it is likely the pipe inside the home is damaged and will need to be replaced. While you’re at it, check the garden hose for dry rot.

Have a qualified heating and cooling contractor clean and service the outside unit of the air conditioning system. Clean coils operate more efficiently, and an annual service call will keep the system working at peak performance levels. Change interior filters on a regular basis. 

Working from home can be a big adjustment, mentally, emotionally and physically. You may even find yourself having to rig up a new at-home workspace so you can stay focused and plugged in—literally. Here are nine important things to remember when it comes to using your electrical system safely and responsibly:

  1. Test your home’s smoke alarms to be sure they’re in good working order.
  2. Avoid overloading your outlets.
  3. Use proper wattage for lamps and other light sources.
  4. Remember that extension cords should only be used on a temporary basis
  5. Never plug a space heater or fan into an extension cord or power strip.
  6. Never run extension cords underneath rugs, carpets, doors or windows.
  7. Keep papers and other combustibles at least three feet away from outlets and heat sources.
  8. Keep all cords out of the way to prevent tripping hazards.

Unplug computers and office appliances at 5:00 p.m. to save energy AND keep your work/life balance in check. 

What better way to usher in spring than by celebrating all that our amazing planet has to offer? April is National Garden Month, or, as National Today likes to call it, “Mother Nature’s colorful antidote to cabin fever.” We couldn’t have said it better! Since most of us are staying home, now is the perfect time to get in on all the fun. Here are a few ways to enjoy National Garden Month right in your own backyard:

1. Plant something new. 
Whether you’re a seasoned pro with the best-looking flower beds on the block or you’ve never so much as pulled a weed, it’s time to think outside the box. Do a little research about the climate and soil in your area and plant something you’ve never dreamed of planting before. If you go with an herb, fruit or vegetable, you can enjoy your bounty all summer and into the fall.   

2. Make it a part of your kids’ learning.
If you’re currently homeschooling, you can get your whole family involved in National Garden Month by incorporating activities into your kids’ daily learning. From preschool to high school level, there are countless free resources available online. Ideas include coloring sheets, plant and insect identification, historical research, plotting and planning and of course, planting.   

3. Have a picnic. 
Celebrate National Garden Month without ever getting your hands dirty. A backyard picnic is a great way to get some fresh air and enjoy a change of pace. All you need is a tarp or blanket to enjoy a meal outside picnic-style. You can always up the ante by playing music, putting out pillows and lanterns or preparing a fun drink or food spread. 

If you’re not feeling joy in your living space these days, first, I get it (you’re not alone!), and second, it’s probably time for a change. Luckily, even the smallest tweaks to your home can add up to big results and a new perspective. Try these afternoon projects for a quick change: 

1. Rearrange your furniture.

Nothing says fresh like a new room layout. NOTE: For your safety, please don’t rearrange furniture unless you have at least one other family member present!

2. Clean your vents and baseboards.

It may not be the most exciting project, but you won’t believe the difference it’ll make. Getting all that dust and grime off vents and baseboards gives any room an instant facelift. Great way to get the family involved while we are in shelter in place orders for most areas.

3. Rearrange the items on your shelves. 

Books, knickknacks, vases and picture frames can all be rearranged on shelves, mantels and tables for a brand-new look. We recently changed some furniture in two rooms and it did change our perspective for the better.

4. Give your cabinets and kitchen appliances a wipe-down.

Similar to vents and baseboards, kitchen appliances and cabinets can be deceptively grimy, giving the whole room a dull appearance. Wipe them all down and give the space a much different feel. Especially the kitchen near the range/cooktop!

5. Hose down your outdoor furniture.

Whether you live in a warm climate and keep furniture out all the time, or you’re getting it ready for spring after a long winter, your patio tables and chairs could probably use a good cleaning. 

6. Organize your closets.

There’s nothing like opening a closet door and seeing a perfectly neat and organized space. When you tackle your hall and bedroom closets, you’ll also likely find things to donate. 

7. Replace lightbulbs, air filters and detector batteries. 

Most of us have a burnt-out bulb somewhere. When you go to change lightbulbs, you can create new ambience with a new type of brightness or softness. And while you’re at it, go ahead and change out air filters and the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Nothing to make you want to do this than a 2/3 am wake up call with a chirping smoke detector!

Happy Spring! Here are some maintenance items though not comprehensive by any means, for a couple of projects for the month to consider. They are important for the upkeep of your home.

Kitchen

Check your fire extinguisher (if you have one). You’ll want to verify that the lock pin is intact and press the test indicator to take the pressure reading.

Clean your garbage disposal. Giving your garbage disposal a thorough cleaning will help keep bacteria and resulting odor at bay.

Bathroom

Clean showerheads. You can use a simple vinegar soak to remove sediment and mineral deposits, so water flows unobstructed.

Living Areas

Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.  Test the button on your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to make sure the siren still works. Be sure to replace the batteries if you don’t hear the alarm sound.

Clean the fireplace.  Cleaning your chimney will help prevent soot buildup and chimney fires.

Inspections, appraisals, and automated valuation models, while related, all have different functions but can be easily confused. Let’s take a closer look.

Inspections:  A property inspection is ordered by the buyer and is meant to be an unbiased look at the condition of the property. While not necessarily required by the lender, an inspection protects the buyer from purchasing a home that requires expensive repairs or otherwise doesn’t live up to its list price. A property inspector will examine the condition of the property inside and out, running through a checklist of areas including, but not limited to, the roof, electrical panels, wiring, plumbing, appliances, doors and windows. If any issues pop up, the inspector makes note and provides the buyer with a report.

Many reported issues will need some attention but won’t affect financing. If major repairs are needed however, the lender might want to have those issues addressed before they provide any funding.

Appraisals: Once the inspection has been completed and reviewed, the lender can order an appraisal. The appraisal will consider comparable homes in the area as well as other factors such as lot size, nearby schools and crime rates. The goal of the appraisals is to determine the true value of the property for the sake of the lender.

The key difference between an inspection and an appraisal is that an inspection aims to assess the physical condition of the home itself, while an appraisal solely determines the market value of the real estate.

AVMs: An automated valuation model is a digital evaluation of the value of a home. An AVM will quickly research the database of similar homes in the area and compare them with the value of the subject property. AVMs are often used to assess the value of a property portfolio and have the advantage of saving time and money since no one physically visits the property. However, AVMs can’t take into account the true condition of a property and often aren’t enough to secure a conventional loan for a home buyer.