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.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.
"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...."
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...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.
"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..."
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.Therefore, take extra precautions. Protect your identity and that of your family!
"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."
[I have previously posted on identity theft here and here]