Monday, February 27, 2006

Easy Targets For I.D. Theft

(All emphases by Always On Watch)

My parents are gone now. But if yours are still living and getting along in their years, you need to beware of scams such as the one related below, even if your loved ones are in a respected retirement community. And you may not be able to expect much help from the legal system.

According to an article entitled "Identity Thieves Rob Family of More Than Money," which appeared in the February 16, 2006 edition of the Washington Post:
"Diane Benson's dad kept saying that the mail wasn't coming, but he was in his eighties and in declining health. Howard Leiner was even slurring his words, which he'd never done before, so maybe he was wrong about the mail.

"Benson's mother, May Leiner, couldn't find things in her own house at Leisure World in Silver Spring. She said her camera had gone missing. Then her pocketbook.

"The Leiner children assumed their elderly parents were simply losing touch. 'She'd been pretty ill and taking Haldol, so we thought she just wasn't lucid,' says Benson, who teaches Spanish at Churchill High School in Potomac.

"Then last spring, when Benson was visiting her parents, the woman who was substituting for their usual caretakers pointed her to Howard Leiner's Hecht's bill, which included items bought at Wheaton Plaza. Benson knew her parents didn't shop there.

"Next, the bank called to say someone had tried to open a credit card account with Howard's Social Security number.

"Benson's parents were not losing touch. They were being scammed....

"Benson found credit card receipts for purchases that made no sense in her parents' lives -- women's shoes bought in Wheaton, meals at a Latin restaurant in Silver Spring, cell phone service...."
As it turns out, the Leiners had hired approved caretakers, Doris Ortiz and Josselin Aguilera, both of whom clearly had another agenda. A subsequent police investigation uncovered that these women had fraudently purchased over $2000 worth of goods at Nordstrom Rack in Gaithersburg, Maryland--with the Leiners' credit cards, of course. But thanks to the store's videotape security system, the case was a slam-dunk.

And the outcome? According to the article,
"Benson fired the two women. Almost immediately, she says, her father's speech returned to normal. She now believes the women had been overmedicating him to gain access to his credit cards and financial records."
But the legal outcome is not as satisfying:
"Facing seven charges related to identity theft, both women pleaded guilty to felony theft, theft of a credit card and use of the card to impersonate someone...

"District Court Judge Louis Harrington sentenced Ortiz to 18 months and Aguilera to 11 months. Then he suspended both sentences and put the women on probation for a year. The women did not have to spend a day behind bars. The judge even returned Aguilera's passport. When Benson asked if the women could be required to pay restitution, she remembers Harrington suggesting the losses might be covered by insurance....

"[A]uthorities say they suspect Ortiz and Aguilera are once again soliciting work with the elderly..."
Leisure World has now banned both Ortiz and Aguilera as recommended caregivers, but these two women are free to pursue their preying upon the elderly somewhere else.

Baby Boomers, sometimes referred to as the Sandwich Generation because we're caught between fulfilling at-home and career obligations and caregiving aging parents, have their hands full enough without lenient judges such as Harrington. Where is the outrage over what happened to the Leiners?

Diane Benson wasn't absent in her parents lives. She took her responsibilities seriously. As she points out:
"I was there every day with my parents; my sister was there," Benson says. "And still these women did this. The judge didn't take this seriously, but all of us who have aging parents have to."
According to the article, such scams are quite frequent. The elderly are trusting and, therefore, easy prey, and they often have the assets which attract those whose consciences don't prevent targeting easy victims.

Note: Howard Leiner died before Judge Harrington issued the sentence--or that excuse of a sentence.

For information about a scam which can affect any taxpayer, see "'Phishing' Season For Tax Scammers: IRS Warns Public Of Phony E-Mails," which appeared on the front page of the February 25, 2006 edition of the Washington Post. Excerpt:
"Marketing pitches masquerading as the 1099 forms detailing non-payroll income have been arriving in taxpayer mailboxes, while e-mails that appear to be from the Internal Revenue Service are really identity theft scams designed to collect personal financial information.

"Government officials say they are currently seeing about one widespread IRS-themed e-mail scam a week, but Internet security experts expect them to escalate as the April 15 tax deadline nears....

"And scammers are capitalizing on the fact that more than half of all tax returns are expected to be filed electronically this year. Consider this recent e-mail claiming to be from the IRS: 'You filed your tax return and you're expecting a refund. You have just one question and you want the answer now. Where's My Refund? Access this secure Web site to find out '. . ."

"The Web site looked like the real IRS site. But it wasn't....

"The phony tax e-mails are not confined solely to the IRS, said Hubbard of Websense. He said his firm has also seen some fraudulent solicitations allegedly from H&R Block, offering online tax preparation services. The taxpayer is steered to a fake company Web site that asks for personal financial information."
Therefore, take extra precautions. Protect your identity and that of your family!

[I have previously posted on identity theft here and here]


At 2/27/2006 8:31 AM, Blogger eyesallaround said...

I wonder if there would be a way to "bond" care givers... I've seen dog sitters and house cleaners who advertise that they're "bonded", whatever that means...

At 2/27/2006 1:14 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

I've seen some ads mentioning bonded caregivers. I rather imagine that Leisure World might have such a provision.

Of course, bonding isn't all that comforting when family heirlooms are irretrievably lost. That also happened to the Leiners, and the judge's repsonse was "Insurance."

I know how upset I would be if my great-aunt's locket were forever gone. The money wouldn't recompense me at all.

At 2/27/2006 2:51 PM, Blogger WomanHonorThyself said...

As always AOW the scammers get a slap on the wrist..I 'd like to see the judges family suffer what these folks went thru and then put his gavel down..see what kind of sentence these thugs would get then...hurting old pple is as unforgivable as hurting helpless children.

At 2/27/2006 4:04 PM, Blogger MissingLink said...

How absulutely awful.
What would one need to do to get into jail, mass murder?
I can see the judges in the US are as much removed from reality as in Oz.

At 2/27/2006 9:00 PM, Blogger The MaryHunter said...

This is horrid. Special level in hell reserved for scammers such as these. I'm gonna link you up, AOW.

At 2/27/2006 9:08 PM, Blogger Lone Pony said...

That's horrible! I had a hard time taking care of my Mom before she died. I had so little time. I've also seen websites like that. Heck, anyone can make them. Just copy the source and put it on a webpage. Also, people are stealing the SS numbers of babies and getting credit cards. They aren't found for years.

At 2/28/2006 9:16 AM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Lone Pony,
I had a hard time taking care of my Mom before she died.

I understand. I did caregiving for my grandmother and my father. Until their last few days, both were "on their feet," but someone had to keep an eye on them. Time becomes a precious commodity when caregiving is required.

My grandmother nearly fell prey to a door-to-door scammer; just in time, I prevented her from writing the fellow a check which would have taken here entire life savings. Fortunately, my mother was still living, and she reasoned with my grandmother and essentially took away the checkbook.

As to my father, I did caregiving to some extent for nearly 10 years. But his mental capacity was never seriously compromised, so I didn't have to worry about scammers, though I did have to put a stop to a greedy nephew, who took out of Dad's house a few of the family heirlooms. My cousin was planning to come back for more, but I put a stop to it.

Neither my grandmother nor my father wanted any caregiver from the outside, so to speak. And the extended family was in a position to see that no outside help was needed (I eventually quit my job to take care of Dad in the last six months--couldn't juggle both responsibilities).

But my grandmother died in 1981 and my father in 1998, when scams were not so rampant. Plus, neither of them had a credit card. The old-fashioned types in that regard.

Maybe the Amish have the best idea for caregiving: the elderly live right next door to the next generation. In metropolitan areas, however, that possibility is often very limited.

At 2/28/2006 9:17 AM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Thanks for linking to this post.

Preying upon the helpless--often the very young or the elderly--is a grievous wrong.

At 3/03/2006 12:02 AM, Blogger Mr. Beamish the Instablepundit said...

When I'm President, scam artists such as identity thieves, Medicare claims adjusters, and Tony Robbins will all, all, all be put to death.

On TV.

At 3/03/2006 9:50 AM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Televised executions? Might be an effective deterrent, but only if lethal injection is not the method. Call me merciless, but I'm dealing with all the paperwork for a seven-year alert right now. ARGGGHHHH!

At 3/03/2006 12:50 PM, Blogger Mr. Beamish the Instablepundit said...

Lethal injections are cruel and inhumane.

I was thinking more along the lines of air hammers to the dome, cattle style.

At 4/13/2006 2:07 PM, Blogger Storm said...

Sorry, I left the bloggers world for awhile.

Always asked me to comment because I work in the field of law enforcement in a large metro area assigned to ID theft cases.

In my opinion Bonded scmonded

I have had RNs and CNAs and every other caregiver across my desk.

Your best bet is the same in every case trust no one and secure all valuables including ssns of everyone in the household.

The ssn of the patient is unsecurable so you the "guardian" will have to step it up and pay attention. Get a POA and order the persons credit report now free by Federal mandate thank you Bush.

Also you can "freeze" your credit a good strategy for the elderly since they do not need to use theirs often.

At 4/13/2006 7:27 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Glad to see your comment here.

I held POA for my father. I never really needed to use it, but Dad established the POA shortly after my mother died.

I also hold POA for my husband, who had brain surgery in 1993. I have needed it on occasion, some necessary times and some times just as a matter of convenience.

Hope you'll stop by more often.


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