Cybersecurity: Where does it begin? Where does it end?

May 31st, 2018

Mitchell Feather, Vice-President, Creative Associates

 

It seems like every day brings news of more cyber threats and breaches, which seems to leave you with more questions than answers. Has my information been stolen? How should I respond? What can I do to protect myself? What can I do to detect and avoid threats?

Companies may take measures to protect – or share – your information. Regardless of new technologies, tools, patches, laws, and regulations, there is one unwavering fact: Cybersecurity begins with you – and ends with you. What you do or don’t do is critical and that cannot be overemphasized. When it comes down to it, you control what you do or don’t do to protect yourself, your money, and your information. And you cannot delegate that responsibility.

Protect Your Tools and Toys: The first thing you should do, if you haven’t already, is to ensure that you have installed the appropriate software and that the appropriate settings have been enabled (or disabled) to protect your computers, smartphones, tablets, etc.

You should have antivirus/antimalware software/apps installed on all of your devices. There are a number of very good products to choose from such as Sophos, McAfee, and Malwarebytes. Even though it might be tempting to install just free versions of some of these, you should look at the paid versions. They generally offer more features that can enhance your security and peace of mind.  

One thing that you must NOT do is respond to pop-up alerts that warn you that your device has been infected and recommending that you click on a link or button to install software to protect your computer or device. If you click on that link or button, you will probably achieve just the opposite and infect your device. More about this later.

Sometimes, while browsing websites, you may end up on a malicious web page that that results in your computer or device becoming infected. This is why a utility like McAfee’s WebAdvisor can be very helpful, and it is a free download which offers a number of protections. If you are looking for similar utilities, be careful with what you find in your search results. Some malicious threat actors have paid ads for product names that sound very legitimate but, in reality, are carefully thought-out schemes that are designed to trick you into installing malicious software.

Plan For the Worst: Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, bad things still seem to happen such as lost or stolen smart phones or computers or ransomware infections. This is one of the reasons you should always make backups of your devices – and keep the backups current. Procedures vary depending on the type of device. For Windows and Apple computers, you can backup hard drives you have physically connected to your computer or you can back up to a number of cloud services. For Android and Apple devices, there are settings on the devices to allow for automatic backups to Google or iCloud, respectively. Whether you are backing up to a USB-connected hard drive or to a cloud storage service, you want to make a practice of disconnecting it from the computer after you make the backup. Some variants of ransomware are “smart” enough to not only access all of your computer’s files, but they will also seek out any backups you may have and gain access to those as well.

Now, Assume the Worst: It is not unrealistic to assume that your personal and/or financial information has already been compromised by one or more of the many breaches that have occurred last year or prior. This means that you should be monitoring your financial assets.

You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion every 12 months. Nobody says that you have to take them all at once. Spread them out so you are getting a copy of your credit report every 4 months and review them carefully for signs of unusual activity or identity theft. You can order the free reports from annualcreditreport.com. That same website can also help explain what you should be looking for when you review your credit report. And do not think somebody is too young or too old to bother with this task. If somebody has a social security number, then their credit reports should be monitored.

Also, many banks now offer free credit score monitoring for their credit card customers. Depending on the bank, the information they offer will vary. But, generally, they will tell you if your credit score has moved up or down and provide some insight as to why it changed.

Talking About Credit Cards and Banks, most banks offer notification options, so you can be kept informed regarding any activity. Some banks will allow you to set an alert so that you can be notified if there is any credit card charge activity, even as small as a few cents. This may seem a little extreme but some fraudsters will run extremely small charges to test if credit card numbers are still valid while maintaining a low profile.

If you have not already, you should take other steps to secure your credit card and online banking accounts. Specifically, you should seek out if your online banking websites offer two factor authentication. If they offer two factor authentication, also known as 2FA, I strongly recommend you implement it. This advice extends beyond just online banking. You should implement 2FA for any of your online services that offer it: banks, brokerage accounts, telephone company, gas/water/electric utilities, email, Google, Facebook, etc. What if your bank does not offer two factor authentication? You may want to consider changing banks. You can find a list of banks, as well as other business and services, which support 2FA at https://twofactorauth.org.

Two factor authentication is based on two pieces of information rather than just a password. These factors can be various combinations of things like something you know (e.g., passwords or PINs), something you have (e.g., ATM card, smartphone), or something you are (e.g., fingerprint, voice print, or facial recognition). For greater security, we sometimes use more than 2 factors. This is referred to as Multi-factor authentication, or MFA. This is an area that is always changing in an effort to try to create more secure but also easier for you to use. Currently, the most common 2FA implementations you will find include sending you a security code by text message (SMS), by telephone call, or by email. Be careful if you are access any of your online sites from a smartphone and you have the security code sent to the same smartphone. If your smartphone gets lost or stolen, you may find yourself or your accounts a little vulnerable.

Many online websites also take advantage of security questions (e.g., In what town was your elementary school?, where did you meet your spouse?, etc.). I strongly advise you to lie when you answer these questions. Use answers that are totally irrelevant (e.g., What is your favorite color? Answer: “Outer Mongolia”) and meaningless to you or somebody else. Nobody says you have to tell the truth. All you have to do is remember your answers. And do not use the same questions or answers among different websites.

Let’s Pass on Passwords: Probably as far back as you can remember, you’ve been saddled with the task of creating and remembering passwords to access all sorts of information. Some of you used easily-remembered personal details like your anniversary date, your spouse’s name, your pet’s name, your mother’s maiden name, etc. Some of you may have just used easily remembered words such as your favorite food or flower. Some of you still use “password12345” or “qwerty” as your password. Even worse, many of you use the same password for many of your online login passwords.

There are serious security risks associated with these practices: If you use personal information as a password, a threat actor can figure out that password just by researching your personally identifiable information. Common words as passwords are also easily determined by threat actors by use of tools called password crackers, which use large dictionaries.

You are better protected by using complicated collections of letters, numbers and symbols, such as “P^MP2F7~HRnZ)LU”. You can also better protect yourself by using passphrases instead of passwords, complete with spaces when allowed. Additionally, replace some letters with numbers and symbols. You can go with lyrics to a song, poetry lines, etc. As an example, consider the lyrics of Over the Rainbow: Start with “Somewhere over the rainbow Way up high.” Replacing letters with numbers and/or symbols, this can become “50meWh3r3ov3rther@!nb0w#wAyupHi!”. Or you can take just the initial characters of each word and put those together and similarly swap out some letters. This can become: “50TrWuH!” Just use your imagination: the more complicated it is, the safer you are.

Remember not to use the same password or passphrase with more than one account. And change your passwords regularly. Also, if you get notified or read that any service that you use has been breached or compromised in any way, immediately change that password/passphrase.

Also, it is very important to remember to change the default passwords on any software service to which you subscribe or any hardware that you purchase. This is especially true for any internet routers, switches, wireless cameras, televisions, appliances, etc. The FBI and other agencies have released alerts warning about the threat actors from foreign countries that are trying to penetrate these devices.

You Expect Me To Remember This?: You have no decided to follow all of my advice about passwords. Remembering all of these passwords may prove to be more than challenging. Fortunately, there are some very good password managers available to you. Some are available for free, some you have to pay for. Two of the better password managers are Dashlane and LastPass.

Reign In Your Privacy: Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s turn attention to keeping your information more private and less at risk. You should review and adjust some of your web browser settings. Additionally, you should review and adjust your privacy settings on your social media sites and other online accounts.

Check your web browser settings for privacy and security settings. There, you will find a number of options that would be useful to you. With Chrome, for example, you will find settings like “Protect you and your device from dangerous sites” and “Send a ‘Do Not Track’ request…”. I recommend enabling both of them. You will also find settings like “Automatically send usage statistics…” I recommend that you seriously consider whether or not you want to share this private information with Google.

You will also find a section to enable or disable the capability to Autofill information when you need to fill out online forms. I strongly recommend that you disable this functionality. Among the many reasons is the possibility that a threat actor can setup a web page to secretly retrieve all the fields of information that you have stored in the autofill feature. You should also NEVER store credit card information in a web browser’s autofill feature.

With your online accounts like Google and Facebook, you will see features like privacy checkup and security checkup. You should perform these checkups and appropriately limit which features are enabled and what information you are allowing to be tracked. In the case of Google, as an example, this may include actual recording of your voice. You can – and should – purge any of this tracking information that you do not wish to be shared and/or stored. Also check your social media settings such that you only share information and files as you desire.

Time To Be Diligent: Now that you have addressed many of your hardware, software, and account settings tasks, you now come to the never-ending task: Be Diligent! The greatest risk to you is social engineering. Threat actors are always trying to take advantage of you by getting you to lower your guard, cause you to panic, take advantage of your trusting nature, etc. All it takes is one click on a link or opening one attachment to cause all kinds of problems for yourself and possibly others. These social engineering attempts, also known as phishing, can appear as very legitimate-looking emails or websites. It might appear as a PDF attachment in an email, or a Docusign email, a link to a dropbox document, an alleged invoice, or a multitude of others.

The rule is a simple one: if you are sent an attachment or an email telling you to click on a link and you do not recognize the source, do NOT open it nor click on the link. If you recognize the sender of the email but you are not expecting the attachment, call the sender by telephone and ask him/her if he/she really sent you the attachment or link. Do NOT just reply to the email and ask if it is legitimate because you may not be sending the email to the individual that you think you are sending it to.

There are a many websites that you can visit to learn more about phishing or where you can take phishing quizzes. A good starting point is www.phishing.org.

Don’t Be Proud or Shy: Some phishing attacks are so realistic and so well done that trained professionals can sometimes be fooled. So do not be embarrassed if you are not sure what to do or you are afraid your device or your information may have been compromised. As someone you trust for help. Or file complaint with agencies like The Internet Crime Complaint Center (www.ic3.gov) or the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov). If you really don’t know where to turn, you can always reach out to your local police department for assistance. If they cannot help you, they can help steer you to appropriate individuals for help.

 

©2018 by The LBC Group, Inc. All rights reserved

Learning About Your Rights: The Americans with Disabilities Act and Understanding Disability

May 18th, 2018

Learning About Your Rights: The Americans with Disabilities Act and Understanding Disability

Joe Zesski

Program Manager, Northeast ADA Center

 

For some people, disability is a word that has negative connotations. To them, disability is something to be avoided, a weakness, a stigma. They think someone who has a disability cannot make do for him or her self. But disability does not mean these things. Disability is part of the human experience. Disability can be a part of the aging process. According to the 2016 American Community Survey, In New Jersey 31 percent of people 65 and older has some type of a disability. And for those 75 and older, that figure rises to 45.8 percent.

Legally, the word disability can also have several different definitions depending on the context. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), disability is “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity; a record of such an impairment; or being regarded as having such an impairment.” Congress intended this to be a broad definition that applies to a wide range of individuals. It is quite different from the meaning of disability in Social Security, for example, where someone must not be able to engage in substantial work activity in order to receive benefits. Unlike Social Security, he ADA is a civil rights law; not a benefit or agency. It is designed to protect the rights of individuals who have a condition or circumstance that falls within its definition of disability. The ADA is intended to create an equal opportunity for people with disabilities in employment, in access to state and local government and its programs, and in access to public accommodations such as businesses and nonprofits open to the public.

At the upcoming 2018 New Jersey Foundation on Aging Conference, Mary Ciccone of Disability Rights New Jersey and I will share information about the legal rights of the disabled, including those covered by the ADA and NJ State laws. I will talk about the ADA’s impact and coverage, and its importance to older Americans. Many people are not familiar with the ADA and do not even realize that they have rights under the law. If someone can no longer see well enough to read, she may not know that she can ask the waiter at the diner to read the menu for her. Perhaps a gentleman who can no longer climb stairs must go to his town’s public works office located on the second floor of a building without an elevator. He may not realize that he can request to have someone meet him on the ground floor level. Or if that same gentleman goes to a senior center that is planning a trip to Atlantic City, the bus provider should have a vehicle with a lift available, as long as they are given notice for the need of one ahead of time. In these ways and others, people with disabilities have rights under the ADA, as well as some other laws. The presentation will discuss what disability means, how common it is, and the misconceptions surrounding the word. It will give an overview of the rights under the ADA as well as those in housing. It will provide resources for attendees to refer to when they want to find out more. And it will give an opportunity to ask questions of and to connect with two professionals who have years of experience in the disability rights field.

 

Excited about the session!? Register now!

http://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/event?oeidk=a07ef660enjb3d2f50d&llr=5r7gyn7ab

The Village Movement

April 16th, 2018

The Village Movement
By Julie Dalton, Executive Director Gramatan Village, Bronxville, NY

The Village Movement is a nationwide trend of grassroots organizations that develop creative strategies to address local needs. The Village Movement started with Beacon Hill Village in Boston in 2002, and today there are 200 villages operating in 45 states and the District of Columbia serving 40,000 individuals and their families. Currently, another 150 villages are in the development phase. The village model arose out of community members’ desire to reside in their own homes while being able to access services that address their changing lifestyles. 

The village model is based on giving back, healthy lifestyles and staying connected to the community.
Villages are self-governing, self-supporting, grassroots membership-based organizations that provide options and choices. They are a single point of contact for access to referrals and volunteers.
Villages run on social capital and foster “neighbor helping neighbor”. Many programs employ a “volunteer first” model relying on the generosity of community volunteers to provide services such as transportation, running errands, and assistance with minor household chores.

Villages promote intergenerational connections bringing community members of all ages together. Community volunteers, many of whom are village members themselves

Rather than moving to an institutional setting, the preferred choice of older Americans is to live at home with support and affordable services. Villages consolidate and coordinate and create innovative strategic partnerships that leverage existing community resources.

Many villages refer to their preferred provider network when professional expertise is required to meet a member’s needs.

Villages recognize the importance of engaging members and provide a variety of social, educational and volunteer opportunities. Members choose which services and activities they desire.

Finding one’s purpose becomes even more important at later stages of life. Villages enable individuals to live a healthy and meaningful life.

The National Village Network was established in 2010 to support communities in establishing villages. This peer to peer network provides invaluable resources that enable villages to thrive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The session at NJFA’s 20th Annual Conference will address the various village movement program models, highlight the key steps to establishing a village and will present the lessons learned from nearly 10 years of village operation.

 

Let’s Talk About It

April 13th, 2018

On Tuesday, June 12th NJFA will host it’s 20th Annual Conference. This year’s conference title is Models, Policies and Prescriptions for Healthy Aging. We have an agenda full of great presenters and topics, you can learn more by visiting our website.

NJFA is honored that our Luncheon Keynote will be presented by Dr. Alison Thomas-Cottingham. Please see the article below (click on the image for full article) written by Dr. Thomas-Cottingham from the Fall 2017 issue of Renaissance magazine. We hope that you can join us for this informative discussion and much more on June 12th.

 

Recent Developments in D.C. To Combat Financial Abuse of the Elderly

March 15th, 2018

Recent Developments in D.C. To Combat Financial Abuse of the Elderly

by Robert M. Jaworski, Esq.

Financial abuse of the elderly is getting some attention in Washington these days, and, some say, it’s about time.  On February 22, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and law enforcement partners announced[1] the largest coordinated sweep of elder fraud cases in history.  In addition, it was reported[2] on March 13, 2018, that an elder fraud bill sponsored by Senate Aging Committee Chairwoman Susan Collins (R-Maine) was recently folded into the banking regulation bill (S. 2155) that is expected to be approved by the Senate in the near future.  Details concerning both of these developments are set forth below.

Nationwide Elder Fraud Sweep Coordinated by the Department of Justice

The cases, which include criminal, civil and forfeiture actions, involve more than 250 defendants from around the globe. They are charged with victimizing more than a million Americans, most of whom are elderly.  Of the defendants, more than 200 have been charged criminally.

The actions charged a variety of fraud schemes, including large scale mass mailing, telemarketing and investment frauds, as well as individual instances of identity theft and theft by guardians.  One case alone concerned a scheme that operated from 14 foreign countries and resulted in losses to American victims totaling more than $30 million.

Mass mailing schemes.  In each of the mass mailing schemes, fraudsters sent direct-mail letters to individuals falsely promising them that they had won cash or other valuable prizes.  All they had to do to claim their prizes was to send back a payment for what was represented as processing fees or taxes. The letters appeared to come from legitimate sources, typically on official-looking letterhead, and to have been personally addressed to each recipient. When an individual took the bait and sent the requested fee, the fraudsters simply kept the money.  No victim ever received a promised prize.  Worse yet, when people showed a susceptibility to these scams, the fraudsters repeatedly targeted and victimized them with other scams.

Other Schemes.  Other examples of elder financial exploitation schemes prosecuted by the Department of Justice include:

  • “Lottery phone scams,” in which callers convince seniors that a large fee or taxes must be paid before one can receive lottery winnings;
  • “Grandparent scams,” which convince seniors that their grandchildren have been arrested and need bail money;
  • “Romance scams,” which lull victims to believe that their online paramour needs funds for a U.S. visit or some other purpose;
  • “IRS imposter schemes,” which defraud victims by posing as IRS agents and claiming that victims owe back taxes; and
  • “Guardianship schemes,” which siphon seniors’ financial resources into the bank accounts of deceitful relatives or guardians;

The Department of Justice indicates that it has partnered with Senior Corps to educate seniors about these types of scams and prevent further victimization.  Senior Corps is a national service program administered by an independent federal agency, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).  You can access information on Senior Corps’ efforts to reduce elder fraud by clicking here.  If you suspect that you are a victim of a scam, you can file a report with the Federal Trade Commission by clicking here.  Finally, remember that the best way to avoid becoming a victim of a scam is to be skeptical of anything that sounds too good to be true.  It probably is too good to be true!  Check it out first.

Senator Collins Elder Fraud Bill

This bill, Senate Bill S-223[3], which is called the “Senior$afe Act of 2017,” strives to prevent elder financial abuse by encouraging financial institutions (including credit unions, insurance agencies, banks, investment advisers, and broker-dealers) and their employees to sound an alarm bell whenever they suspect that an elderly person is being financially exploited.  The bill seeks to accomplish this objective by immunizing these institutions and employees from potential liability in any civil or administrative proceeding for disclosing such suspicions.

This immunity, however, is subject to the following conditions:

  • The disclosure is made only to a State or Federal banking or securities regulator, a State insurance regulator, a law enforcement agency, and/or a State or local adult protective services agency.
  • The disclosing employee must be a supervisor or compliance officer employed by the financial institution at the time of the disclosure and have made the disclosure in good faith and with reasonable care.
  • The disclosing employee must have previously received training from the financial institution, appropriate to the employee’s job responsibilities, concerning (1) how to identify and report suspected exploitation of a senior citizen internally and, as appropriate, to government officials or law enforcement authorities, including common signs that indicate the financial exploitation of a senior citizen, and (2) the need to protect the privacy and respect the integrity of each individual customer of the financial institution.

Interestingly, New Jersey already has a similar law on the books, which dates back to 1998.  The New Jersey Foundation for Aging helped to educate concerned individuals and agencies about that law following its enactment.

 

Mr. Jaworski is a member of the NJFA Board of Trustees and an attorney with the law firm Reed Smith, LLP.  He specializes in providing banks and other financial institutions with advice and assistance concerning their responsibilities to comply with applicable federal and state laws and regulations, including, in particular, consumer protection laws and regulations.

 

 

 

MEDICARE — 2018 and Beyond

February 27th, 2018

MEDICARE — 2018 and Beyond

By Charles Clarkson, Esq. Project Director/VP, Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey Jewish Family Services of Middlesex County

New Medicare Cards

Starting in April 2018, new Medicare cards will be issued. These new cards will remove the Social Security numbers from the cards. This is a significant change for Medicare and it holds the promise of substantially reducing fraud, both in Medicare and in general. The cards will look similar to the current ones with some style changes (See photo).

When beneficiaries get their new cards, they should start using them. Not all beneficiaries will receive their new cards at the same time. A year has been allocated to issuing approximately 57 million new cards, through April 2019. There will be a transition period (through December 2019) when both the old and new Medicare cards can be used. Of course, beneficiaries will still have to protect their new cards.

The card will now contain a new Medicare number (called a Medicare Beneficiary Identifier) selected at random and made up of letters and numbers. This card allows access to Medicare services and should be protected at all times. Beneficiaries should leave their Medicare cards at home whenever possible and take them with them only when they need medical services.

The SMP of New Jersey is very concerned about fraud involving the new Medicare cards. We have already heard of cases when beneficiaries have been scammed into paying for the new Medicare cards. Remember, the new Medicare cards will be FREE. You do not have to do anything to receive the new card. Make sure that the Social Security Administration has your current address to ensure that the card is mailed to the correct address. Medicare or Social Security will not call you on the telephone. Do not give any callers any personal information if they call you about the new Medicare card, especially your checking account information to pay for the card. If you receive a suspicious call, just hang up.

Medicare beneficiaries will receive written explanations in the mail from the appropriate government agencies about the new cards. We can also expect an education campaign on television and radio to explain about the new cards.

For more information visit SMP online at http://seniormedicarepatrolnj.org/ or contact Medicare directly at www.medicare.gov

#GivingTuesday

November 20th, 2017

#GivingTuesday

The NJ Foundation for Aging has joined #GivingTuesday, a global day of giving that harnesses the collective power of individuals, communities and organizations to encourage philanthropy and to celebrate generosity worldwide.

Help the NJ Foundation for Aging (NJFA) to continue it’s mission of enabling older adults to age in the community with independence and dignity. Your support allows NJFA to continue to bring information and resources to seniors, boomers and caregivers via Renaissance magazine, Aging Insights (TV Program) and through our website and social media platforms. Additionally, your donations assist NJFA in creating learning opportunities for professionals serving older adults and caregivers with our Annual Conference and other educational forums.

Occurring this year on November 28, #GivingTuesday is held annually on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving (in the US) and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday to kick off the holiday giving season and inspire people to collaborate in improving their local communities and to give back in impactful ways to the charities and causes they support.

Won’t you join the movement and support NJFA on #GivingTuesday?

Thank you for your support and have a VERY Happy Thanksgiving!

MEDICARE OPEN ENROLLMENT

October 25th, 2017

MEDICARE OPEN ENROLLMENT

ARE YOU AWARE OF YOUR CHOICES?

Charles Clarkson, Esq. Jewish Family Services of Middlesex County, Project Director/VP, Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey

 

Every year between October 15 and December 7, during a period known as “Open Enrollment,” Medicare beneficiaries can make changes in their Medicare coverage. The Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey (SMP), a Federally funded program of the U.S. Administration for Aging, believes that if you know your options you can avoid being scammed and make the right choices giving you the best coverage at the least cost.

Why make a change?  Whether you have Original Medicare (Part A and/or B), Part D (prescription drug plan), or a Part C Medicare Advantage Plan, your plan can change.  Premiums, deductibles  and coverages can all change.  Even if they remain the same, your health or finances may have changed. SMP encourages all beneficiaries to re-visit their coverage and decide whether or not to change during Open Enrollment.

Beneficiaries have these choices:

  1. If you are enrolled in Original Medicare, you can change to a Medicare Advantage plan with or without drug coverage. These plans are private companies approved by Medicare and give you the services of Original Medicare. If you join a Medicare Advantage plan, you do not need (and are not permitted) to have a Medicare supplement insurance plan (also known as a Medigap policy) and if your Medicare Advantage plan has drug coverage, you will not need a Part D plan.

 

  1. If you are in a Medicare Advantage Plan, you can switch to another Medicare Advantage plan or drop your Medicare Advantage Plan.  If you decide to drop a plan and not switch to another plan, you will be enrolled in Original Medicare.  You should then consider enrolling in a Medicare supplement insurance plan to cover the costs that Original Medicare does not pay for and enroll in a Part D plan for drug coverage.

 

  1. If you are in Original Medicare with a Part D plan, you can stay in Original Medicare and switch your Part D plan.

 

  1. If you are in Original Medicare and do not have a Part D plan, you can enroll in a Part D plan.  If you join a Part D plan because you did not do so when you were first eligible for Part D and you did not have other coverage that was, on average, at least as good as standard Medicare drug coverage (known as creditable coverage), your premium cost will be penalized 1% for every month that you did not enroll in Part D.  You will have to pay this penalty for as long as you have a drug plan.  The penalty is based on the national average of monthly premiums multiplied by the number of months you are without coverage and this amount can increase every year.  If you qualify for extra help (low income subsidy), you won’t be charged a penalty.

Why change Part D plans?

Beneficiaries may want to change Part D prescription drug plans (PDPs) for a number of reasons:  (i) the PDP has notified the beneficiary that it plans to drop one or more of their drugs from their formulary (list of available medications); (ii) the beneficiary is reaching the coverage gap (donut hole) sooner than anticipated and may want to purchase a PDP with coverage through the coverage gap, if one is available; (iii) the PDP has notified the beneficiary that it will no longer participate in the Medicare Part D program;  (iv) the PDP will increase its premium or co-pays higher than the beneficiary wants to pay and a less expensive plan may be available and (v) a beneficiary is not happy with the PDP’s quality of service or the plan has received low rankings for a number of years.  For 2018 beneficiaries in New Jersey can expect to choose from a number of  PDPs. The plans are announced in late September or early October, 2017.

Compare plans each year.

Beneficiaries should remember that PDPs change every year and it is recommended that beneficiaries compare plans to insure that they are in the plan that best suits their needs.  When comparing plans, keep in mind to look at the estimated annual drug costs, i.e. what it will cost you out of pocket for the entire year, from January 1 through December 31 of each year.  Plans can be compared at the Medicare web site:  www.medicare.gov.  If you do not have access to a computer, call Medicare at 1-800-Medicare to assist in researching and enrolling in a new plan. Medicare can enroll a beneficiary over the telephone.  When you call, make sure you have a list of all your medications, including dosages.  Another resource for Medicare beneficiaries is the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (known as SHIP), telephone 1-800-792-8820.  SHIP is federally funded and can provide beneficiaries with unbiased advice.  Call SHIP to make an appointment with a counselor. You do not need to use a broker or agent who may not be looking out for your best interest. Brokers and agents are usually being paid to enroll you in certain plans.  Beneficiaries can also call the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey at 732-777-1940.

Medicare Open Enrollment can also be a time of fraudulent schemes that can cost you money. The SMP wants you to be on the alert for scams involving new Medicare cards.  Back in the spring of 2015, Congress passed the “Doc Fix” bill which mainly dealt with the long standing problem of the Physician Fee Schedule.  At the same time, Congress sought to remedy the problem caused by having Social Security numbers on the red, white and blue Medicare ID cards.

 

The new cards will be rolled out starting in April of  2018.  Since it will take a period of time to mail new Medicare cards to all Medicare beneficiaries, there will be a transition period through December 31, 2018 when beneficiaries will be able to use either card.  All cards should be issued by April of 2019.  You should start using the new Medicare card once you receive it.  Make sure that the Social Security Administration and Medicare have your current address to insure that you get your new card.

 

This card change is both a blessing and a curse for Medicare beneficiaries.  By removing Social Security numbers, the change greatly decreases the financial havoc that a stolen Medicare card can cause, but it opens the door to scammers  presenting a golden opportunity to take advantage of Medicare beneficiaries.  Remember, there is never a charge for the new Medicare card.  Scammers already are calling  and scaring seniors into paying $300 or more for a new Medicare card and asking for their checking account information to pay for the new card’s fee.

What do you do when you realize that a scammer is calling?  Just hang up.  Do not be polite and just hang up.  Also, do not open any emails about the new Medicare cards even if they appear to be coming from a legitimate source, such as Medicare.  They are most likely scams.  Any questions about the new Medicare cards, call the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey at 732-777-1940.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hurricane Season- Be Prepared

August 17th, 2017

Hurricane Season- Be Prepared

 

Hey, the tree is down, the power is out; are you ready? The August episode of Aging Insights addresses that question. On this program NJFA’s Executive Director, Grace Egan speaks with Melissa Acree Executive Director of NJ 211and Mike Weber, Emergency Preparedness Manager – Electric from PSEG. Register Ready is a program hosted by NJ 2-1-1 that enables people to self-identify and register that they may have difficulty in an emergency evacuating their home to safe place or to a shelter. Caregivers may also register their loved ones who have a physical or cognitive impairment. This information is then shared annually with the County Office of Emergency Management Office.

PSEG partners with NJ 2-1-1, Mr. Weber joined the interview and explained how PSEG prioritizes repairs in a storm. He highlighted the many first responders that PSEG regularly works with before, during and after a storm.

It’s now the peak of hurricane season. With that comes the threat of an active

September and the possibility of activity in October and beyond, according to AccuWeather meteorologists.

Hurricane season officially begins June 1, and generally, the peak is from mid-August to the end of September. During this time, conditions are ideal for strong and quick-moving tropical storms, hurricanes and depressions.

Check on the latest Aging Insights episode about emergency preparedness. Are you prepared? Does your utility company know your needs?

 

A few words from the Social Security Administration

June 21st, 2017

A few words from the Social Security Administration- Beneficiary Codes

The Social Security Administration (SSA) reports that following situation has occurred many times over the years: a client (or an organization) contacts SSA about a letter from SSA which contains a Social Security Number (SSN) followed by the letters “A”, “B”, “E” or other letters, and then asks me to explain what type of benefit is indicated by the letter following the SSN. As this seems to be a common question, SSA thought they should address the question publicly.

NJFA thought the information they shared was valuable and so we are posting it here to our blog.

Letters that come after a SSN are called “Social Security beneficiary codes.” A list of the Social Security beneficiary codes which includes the meaning of each code is located on SSA’s website at Social Security Online. By reviewing the Social Security website, you will find that the SSN followed by one of these beneficiary codes is actually a claim number. Social Security assigns a beneficiary code to a SSN after an application for Social Security benefits is filed. These beneficiary codes may appear on correspondence from Social Security or on Medicare cards. However, the codes will never appear on a Social Security card. For example, if the wage earner applies for benefits and his or her SSN is 123-45-6789, then the applicant’s claim number is 123-45-6789A. This number will also be used as the wage earner’s Medicare claim number, once he or she is eligible for Medicare. If the wage earner’s spouse subsequently files for benefits on the wage earner’s SSN, the spouse’s claim number is 123-45-6789B. A list of the most common Social Security codes and their meanings follow:

Code Identification
A Primary claimant (wage earner)
B Aged wife, age 62 or over
B1 Aged husband, age 62 or over
B2 Young wife, with a child in her care
B3 Aged wife, age 62 or over, second claimant
B5 Young wife, with a child in her care, second claimant
B6 Divorced wife, age 62 or over
BY Young husband, with a child in his care
C1-C9 Child – Includes minor, student or disabled child
D Aged Widow, age 60 or over
D1 Aged widower, age 60 or over
D2 Aged widow (2nd claimant)
D3 Aged widower (2nd claimant)
D6 Surviving Divorced Wife, age 60 or over
E Widowed Mother
E1 Surviving Divorced Mother
E4 Widowed Father
E5 Surviving Divorced Father
F1 Parent (Father)
F2 Parent (Mother)
F3 Stepfather
F4 Stepmother
F5 Adopting Father
F6 Adopting Mother
HA Disabled claimant (wage earner)
HB Aged wife of disabled claimant, age 62 or over
M Uninsured – Premium Health Insurance Benefits (Part A)
M1 Uninsured – Qualified for but refused Health Insurance Benefits (Part A)
T Uninsured – Entitled to HIB (Part A) under deemed or renal provisions; or Fully insured who have elected entitlement only to HIB
TA Medicare Qualified Government Employment (MQGE)
TB MQGE aged spouse
W Disabled Widow
W1 Disabled Widower
W6 Disabled Surviving Divorced Wife

Thanks to David Vinokurov District Manager – Trenton, NJ Social Security Administration for helping to keep us informed!