Save our seniors from financial abuse

Financial abuse is a diverse genre of mistreatment that encompasses the embezzlement, theft or misappropriation of funds or possessions, oftentimes targeted at our most precious loved ones...our senior citizens.

Who could be financially abusing you or you loved ones? They could be anyone, from close family members to scammers a half a world away. I would like to share my experience with readers in the hopes that they can become their own advocates.

An elderly acquaintance of mine recently wanted to check her credit report. This person is very savvy in regards to her finances and investments and wouldn't typically need my assistance. However, I did recommend a reputable company for her to obtain her credit report. Yes, even some of these "free credit report" companies might also be scammers!

This particular company provides an online application and interactive dispute filing. Together we completed the online questionnaire. Within minutes we had printed her credit report and began going through the list to compare with credit cards and loans in her possession. After going through everything, we discovered four credit cards that she did not recognize, each with balances ranging between $9,000-$12,000.

Included with the report were the toll-free numbers for each credit card company. After calling the first credit card company and explaining that this credit card was not recognized, the bank representative said that the card in question was NOT hers (apparently a clerical error), and advised her to dispute it with the credit bureaus. That was very easy. We filed the dispute online and moved to the next three credit cards.

Each of the next three cards was issued from the same company. We called the toll-free number associated with these cards. After the representative asked my friend numerous questions, the rep said that the credit cards were opened in her name but with a different mailing address. The bills were being sent to one of her family members' addresses! This family member had "hijacked" one of the credit cards by changing the address to his own. Then, when offers would come in the mail, he would simply open more credit cards in her name. By making the minimum payments on the cards, his crime went virtually unnoticed.

At this point, my friend closed the accounts associated with these credit cards. Although advised that if she pressed charges against this family member, the credit card balances could be disputed, my friend decided to handle this matter unofficially. To ensure that this wouldn't happen again, I advised her to enroll in a reputable ID theft management company. This company would call, email and mail you if someone tried to open credit in your name.

In closing, I think it's safe to say that no one is immune to this type of deception. The best advice I can give is to remain vigilant in checking on and maintaining your own credit history. Another concern is that if you or a loved one co-signs a loan or line of credit, the address associated with it could end up on your credit report as one of your addresses. A credit card company will not see any red flags associated with opening new lines of credit with that "new" address.

Stop unsolicited telemarketing calls by registering your telephone number online at or over the phone at 1-888-382-1222. To opt-out of all pre-approved credit offers, call 1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688).

Stay Vigilant and Stay Safe!

Patti Novak lives in Westlake.

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Volume 2, Issue 4, Posted 12:16 PM, 02.13.2010