Scams and Tech, Part 3: Kicking Scammers to the Curb

March 21st, 2019

By Mason Crane-Bolton

Make yourself a to-do list for completing these tips | photo via stock photos

We’ve already given you some tips to protect yourself against the scammers we’ve listed in this series, but what else can you do? How can you best ensure you’re safe from scams and scammers?

Sadly, there is no silver bullet, no perfect solution that will guarantee you’ll never be in contact with scammers or never fall victim to a scam. But there are many steps you can take to help protect yourself. These steps can be easily divided into two categories: proactive and reactive. Proactive steps are ones you can take to help ward off scammers—these are the best steps to take because they help prevent financial and/or identity loss. Although reactive steps aren’t as ideal, they’re a good way to handle scams after you believe you’ve been contacted by a scammer or have been scammed.

Proactive

  • Consider opening an account for your Social Security number (SSN) at https://www.ssa.gov/myaccount/ to monitor your Social Security account.
  • Consider freezing your credit—this option may help prevent identity theft, but don’t freeze your credit if you plan on making a major purchase in the near future, such as a car, boat or home. Credit checks run while your credit score is frozen will hurt your credit score.
  • Monitor your credit throughout the year. You’re entitled to free credit reports from Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax once per company per year. Rather than get all three at once, spread these reports out every four months to stay vigilant. You can learn more at https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action.
  • Never email or text your Social Security number or banking information, such as credit card, account, or routing numbers.
  • Never give your SSN or credit/banking information to someone who reaches out to you.
  • Educate yourself on the latest scams—scams tend to come in droves, so it’s helpful to learn what scammers might approach you with.
  • Install virus and malware protection on any device connected to the internet, including (but not limited to) computers, tablets, and smart phones.
  • Consider adding a trusted contact to your bank accounts—if unusual spending is noticed, your bank can alert you and your trusted contact (this may be particularly useful if you’re the victim of a romance scam).
  • Read reviews for organizations and businesses that send solicitations before engaging with them.
  • Look for the fine print on solicitations you receive. If a solicitation references a relationship with another business you know (say, your mortgage company or landlord/apartment management), contact that business directly to investigate the mail/email/text/phone call you’ve received.
  • Double-check any potential romantic/friend dates before pursuing a meeting or relationship. Let people you’re close to know about anyone involved in your life (even if the relationship is online-only).
  • Don’t open any emails or click on links or attachments you’re not expecting. This goes not just for emails from strangers but emails from loved ones—Scammers can hack into accounts or disguise their email address as coming from someone in your list of contacts.
  • Use your caller ID on your phone and let calls from unknown numbers go to your answering machine or voicemail. If you’re worried about missing an important call, you can always use the general principle, “If it’s important, they’ll leave a message.”

 

But maybe you’ve already gotten a suspect phone call, or a strange voicemail. Maybe you’ve realized, too late, that the person you gave your credit card number or sent money to wasn’t who they said they were. If these things have already happened, then it’s time to take reactive steps.

Reactive

  • If you receive a call you believe is a scam, hang up the phone immediately. If caller claims to be a from a legitimate business or organization, hang up the phone—reverse search and contact the actual organization. Ask if the organization has contacted you.
  • If you’ve opened an email that seems fishy, delete it immediately. DO NOT click on any links in the email!
  • If you’ve given your credit or banking information to someone you later suspect is a scammer, report this to your financial institutions and request new card and account numbers.
  • Report any attempted scams.
  • If you’ve been a victim of a scam, report it—your report will help you AND might prevent someone from being scammed in the future.
  • You can report fraud to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint.
  • To report Social Security scams, call the Office of the Inspector General at ?1-800-269-0271 or report online at https://oig.ssa.gov/report.
  • If you or someone you know has been the victim of an online scam, register a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at https://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx or with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs at http://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/ or by calling 800-242-5846 (toll-free in NJ) or 973-504-6200.
  • Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed to report it if you’ve been the victim of a scam—scams can happen to anyone.

 

While this is not a comprehensive list, these suggestions can help guard you against tech-based scams or help you even after you’ve found yourself to be victim of a scam. Remember, scams can pop up anytime, from anywhere, and are especially prevalent through all of our tech-devices. Remaining vigilant and working to minimize your exposures to scams is the best way to prevent being scammed. But if you are the victim of a scam, report your scam to the proper authorities—your report could help you and could prevent someone else from being scammed!

We hope you’ve enjoyed this series on tech-based scams! Come back in April for our newest blog!


Mason Crane-Bolton is Communications Manager for the New Jersey Foundation for Aging. His writing has appeared in EpiphanyUU WorldTo Wake/To Rise, and others. 

Scams and Tech, Part 2: Sweetheart Scams

March 7th, 2019

By Mason Crane-Bolton

Are they interested in you, or your money? | photo via unsplash.com

In part one of our tech-scams series, we talked about the all-pervasive en-masse scams, the kinds of scams that flood your inbox and phone. Today we talk about a scam more sinister and possibly more dangerous, the romance scam.

Romance scams, also known as “sweetheart” scams, are one of the most prevalent tech-based scams. These scams may start off all “<3”s and “XOXO”s, but they end with heartbreak, $0.00 in your bank account, and maybe your stolen identity.

Romance/sweetheart scams are longer, more intense scams than the scams in the first installment of our tech-scams series. Sweetheart scams typically start online on dating websites or internet forums, but can quickly migrate to messaging services, emails, phone calls, or text messages. Many people fall victim to romance scams because of their long, drawn-out nature. It’s important to note that these kinds of scams aren’t new, but they’ve become easier for scammers to instigate with the advent of the internet, dating websites, and social media apps. It’s also important to know that although sweetheart scams are most common through internet-based channels, they can and do still occur offline through newspaper personal ads, etc.

Sweetheart scams target adults across all ages, but they’re more prevalent among older adults. And they’re successful. What does this mean and why? How can you protect yourself? How do romance scams work?

Some victims believe they’ll be quick to pick up on the lies, others may be blinded by an attraction or feeling of affection for the person they believe the scammer to be. Although it’s easy to think we can always tell if someone is interested in us or just our wallets, the truth is, it isn’t that simple. In romance scams the scammer is interested in a bigger payout, so they’re willing to invest more time and energy into the scam. This means they put a lot more effort into gaining your trust and access to your money and information. Long before they’ve talked to you, they’ll already have their stories straight. They’ll already have pictures they can send to you, phones they can use to call you, and plausible reasons why they can’t meet you or why they might run into financial troubles.

And, despite their name, sweetheart scams aren’t always overtly romantic in nature. Although the relationship between the scammer and victim is often under the pretext of dating or romance, the relationship may be seen as a friendship or companionship by one or both parties. Some people fall victim to these scammers because they believe sweetheart scams always involve overt romance or dating. The sad reality is that plenty of people have been scammed out of their money or identity believing they’re helping a dear “friend” they’ve met online.

So it can be easier for people to fall prey to sweetheart scams. But why is it so hard to get out of them? Won’t somebody in that person’s life notice? Won’t the victims eventually realize what’s going on?

 

While this isn’t an exhaustive list, suffice it to say there are many reasons it can be more difficult to get someone out of a romance scam, or even to notice one is occurring. Some of these reasons include:

  • The victim may be secretive about the relationship or may not divulge certain details (Even in the best, non-abusive, of circumstances, many of us are unlikely to tell friends and family how much money we’ve loaned or given to our significant other)
  • If the victim or the victim’s closest contacts aren’t scam-savvy (or if cognitive issues play a role) it may be harder for the victim to recognize red flags, such as common scamming techniques
  • Affection and attention are crucial to our happiness and health—If the victim is, or feels, isolated they may be more susceptible to sweetheart scams
  • Scammers may use “gaslighting” to make victims doubt themselves—“Gaslighting” refers to a technique common in abusive relationships where the abuser manipulates their victim into questioning their own perception of reality or sanity
  • Even if the victim has concerns, they may be too embarrassed to ask for help

 

Romance scams can be extremely difficult for not just the people directly involved, but for the people around the victim as well. Sweetheart scams prey on our need for love, affection, and companionship, and it can be incredibly painful to admit there’s a problem. It can be even harder to give those things up—even if the scammer’s “affection” isn’t genuine. The victim’s loved ones may also find themselves between a rock and a hard place: they don’t want to see their loved ones continue to be financially abused, but they also may come against a defensive victim who is unwilling to believe their boyfriend/girlfriend or friend is really taking advantage of them.

Across the country (and globe), there are countless stories of sweetheart scams and their victims. People who have been left bankrupt, had their identity stolen, or, at the very least, had their sense of safety and stability disrupted. Sadly, there are still many more victims out there who will never come forward out of feelings of embarrassment or shame. Some victims can recoup some of their losses through the legal system, but, unfortunately, most won’t see any of their money returned. The best way to avoid the losses caused by a romance scam is to steer clear of them through education and vigilance.

 

Here are some common tricks look out for:

  • The person claims to be in the military and unable to access funds (impersonating soldiers deployed overseas is a common tactic used by scammers. The U.S. military and U.S. government warn that you should not send money to anyone overseas or with these claims)
  • The person claims they have a large amount of money they’re currently unable to access (but promise to share this wealth with you in the future)
  • The person can never meet in person—or they make plans to meet but need to cancel after an emergency or tragedy (or they never show up at all)
  • The person consistently asks to borrow money
  • They ask for personal information that could be linked to your financial information
  • They ask for access to your financial information or accounts (they may use this for future identify theft or monetary theft)
  • It’s a “whirlwind” relationship
  • They ask you to send wire transfers, gift cards, or electronics
  • Reverse check the picture of your date—if the picture is attached to more than one profile, this is a major red flag
  • It seems “too good to be true”—whether it’s their profession, their photos, their financial situation, a combination of these factors or something else entirely, follow the old adage “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.”

 

Dating websites, apps, and online forums can still be wonderful places to meet people for romance or friendship. The prevalence of romance scams doesn’t mean you need to throw out your computer or delete your apps, but it does mean you need be consistently vigilant and careful.

Just as you would with a blind date, let trusted people in your life know who you’re talking to online. They can help be a barometer for “normal” or “suspect” behavior and can alert you when something seems fishy—listen to their concerns and take them seriously, they are looking out for you.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of an online scam, register a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at https://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx or with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs at http://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/ or by calling 800-242-5846 (toll-free in NJ) or 973-504-6200.


Mason Crane-Bolton is Communications Manager for the New Jersey Foundation for Aging. His writing has appeared in EpiphanyUU WorldTo Wake/To Rise, and others. 

Scams and Tech, Part 1: The En Masse Scams

February 21st, 2019

By Mason Crane-Bolton

 Are you safe from scams? | photo via pexels.com

We know about tech. We know about scams—scams where older adults are often the target. But what do we know about how tech and scams overlap?

Wherever you live and however tech-savvy you consider yourself, it’s more than likely you encounter scams on an almost daily basis. Many of these scams may sound familiar: barely-legal businesses send flyers to your home insinuating to be affiliated with state or local agencies, or that urgent repairs need to be done to your residence; door-to-door or supermarket “magazine subscription sellers” try to get cash for magazines that will never come; a stranger who haunts a local business and always needs money for gas, etc. This isn’t a reason to give up on people or to believe that everyone you meet is out to do you wrong, but it is a reason to educate yourself and become “scam-savvy.” And where being scam-savvy may be more important than ever is in the use of those pervasive, everyday tools: our tech.

Why are there so many tech-based scams? Technology provides a quick and simple way for scammers to attempt scams on, literally, millions of people simultaneously at little to no cost. Scammers can send you emails, phone calls, and texts from anywhere in the world at any time. They can attach malware or spyware, infect your computer, get your information and your money. While there are some basic tools you can use to protect yourself from the uninvited scammers (antivirus programs for anything that connects to the internet—this includes not just computers, but smart phones, tablets, etc.) the most basic tools are free and always available: arming yourself with information, vigilance, and skepticism.

The tactics of most scammers are basic and easy to see through—so why do we fall for them? It’s not because we’re stupid or naïve—it’s because scammers also prey on our basic emotions: fear and love. The tactics of most scammers are to threaten either ourselves or someone we love.

Now, does this mean you can expect to get action movie-style emails in your inbox or texts to your phone? “Give me the last four digits of your Social Security Number or Fido gets it”? No, I don’t think that’s something you need to worry about. But what may happen is something like a call from the “IRS”—“We have recently opened a claim against you. Your bank accounts and benefits will be frozen unless we can confirm your Social Security Number,”—or from a “friend” of a loved one—“Hi, I’m a friend of your grandson and he just got arrested. He can’t make the call, but asked me to call you. Can you send a wire transfer for bail money?” Or you could get a seemingly legitimate email that appear to be from a well-known business, like Apple or Amazon.com, that claims your account has been locked, you’ve won a gift card, or someone has racked up huge charges to your account. (There are several other scams out there; the scams listed above are only a few examples of some of the currently common scam scenarios.) So, if and when you get these messages, what can you do?

First, don’t immediately react to your impulse of fear for yourself or a loved one. Don’t click on any links in an email, don’t rush off to send a wire transfer, and don’t give away any personal information, including your Social Security Number. Instead, stop, think, and confirm. Immediately hang up on any suspicious calls. If you have a concern about any claims against you or a freeze of your Social Security benefits, hang up and call the IRS (1-800-829-1040) or Social Security Administration (1-800-772-1213 or TTY  1-800-325-0778) directly. Even if the number that called you appears to be coming from a legitimate government agency, don’t trust it (scammers can disguise their phone numbers easily) and call the agency directly. If you receive a call that a friend or relative has been arrested or is in the hospital and needs money call that person first to check out the story (some individuals have reported tricking the would-be scammer by giving a false name for the loved one, birthday, etc. to verify the scam is a scam, but we recommend hanging up immediately to spend as little time talking to the scammer as possible). And if you receive an email from a business, go directly to that business’s website and verify whether there is any problem with your account (or call customer service). Never give any financial information or personal information in any of these scenarios where you did not initiate contact.

You can report fraud to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint. To report Social Security scams, call the Office of the Inspector General at ?1-800-269-0271 or report online at  https://oig.ssa.gov/report.

Scams like these are usually quick and dirty and easier to see through. The scammers aren’t too likely to hound you constantly—when you don’t fall for the scam, they’ll just move onto the next person so they can make a buck. And usually (but now always) this means they’re a little easier to spot and avoid. The IRS and SSA won’t send you robo-calls or leave automatic voicemails, your grandchild or friend isn’t likely to have a third party call you while they’re in jail, and you’re probably not the winner (but we can dream) of a $1,000.00 Amazon gift card. But what other common scams are out there?

Check back on March 7th for part 2 of our tech-scam series: One of the other most common scams aimed at older adults? “Sweetheart” scams.


Mason Crane-Bolton is Communications Manager for the New Jersey Foundation for Aging. His writing has appeared in EpiphanyUU WorldTo Wake/To Rise, and others. 

Important Updates to Medicare: The New Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period

February 7th, 2019

By Guest Blogger Charles Clarkson, Project Director, Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey

Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period Ending.

Beneficiaries in a Medicare Advantage plan previously had a Disenrollment Period from January 1 – February 14 every year. This disenrollment period ended on December 31, 2018. It has been replaced with a new Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period. This new period was effective starting January 1, 2019.

The old Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period had permitted beneficiaries to drop their Medicare Advantage plan and return to Original Medicare (Part A and Part B). It also allowed a beneficiary to sign up for a stand-alone Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan.

The New Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period

Starting January 1, 2019, a new Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period will run from January 1 – March 31 every year. If you are already enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, you will have a one-time opportunity to:

  • Switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan.
  • Drop your Medicare Advantage plan and return to Original Medicare, Part A and Part B.
  • Sign up for a stand-alone Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan (if you return to Original Medicare). Most Medicare Advantage plans include prescription drug coverage already. Usually you cannot enroll in a stand-alone Medicare Prescription Drug plan if you already have a Medicare Advantage plan.

Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment: why would I want to switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan?

  • Medicare Advantage plans can change every year. Premiums, co-pays and deductibles may change and a beneficiary may find and switch to a plan more suited to his/her needs.
  • If a beneficiary is not happy with the Medicare Advantage plan’s network (doctors and hospitals who participate in the plan) or a beneficiary discovers that their doctor has dropped out of the plan’s network and no longer accepts the plan, he/she may want to switch to a plan that their doctor participates in.
  • Medicare Advantage plans are required to provide beneficiaries with similar coverage as Original Medicare. Many of them also include coverage beyond Original Medicare (Part A and Part B). For example, most plans include prescription drug coverage, and some include routine vision services, some dental and hearing services or other benefits such as Silver Sneakers program. With new changes in Medicare, Medicare Advantage plans may soon offer other services such as adult day care services, home and bathroom safety devices, transportation and home meals. Of course a beneficiary should review the plan documents carefully to understand these services and their limitations.
  • These extra benefits (beyond Part A and Part B) can change year to year. For example, suppose you take certain medications and you have a Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plan. Your plan might cover your prescriptions. But sometimes a plan changes its formulary (list of covered medications). If your drugs are no longer being covered, you should seriously consider changing Medicare Advantage plans.
  • Medicare Advantage plans may change premiums, deductible and co-pays every year. You might even be able to find a Medicare Advantage plan with a zero premium that was not available in 2018.
  • Some Medicare Advantage plans can provide better service than others and can be rated higher or lower than other plans. Medicare has a star rating system that rates Medicare Advantage plans from 1 to 5 stars. Many beneficiaries may feel uncomfortable staying in a lower rated plan.

 

Every fall, your plan will send you an Annual Notice of Change. Pay attention to this, because it lists any changes to your benefits or plan rules. A plan formulary may change at any time. You will receive notice from your plan when necessary.


Charles Clarkson, Esq. is the Project Director for Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey.

 

 

The Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey (SMP) is a federally funded program of the Administration for Community Living. The grant for this program has been awarded to the Jewish Family Services of Middlesex County, 32 Ford Avenue, Milltown, New Jersey 08850, telephone number 732-777-1940. Its mission is to assist Medicare beneficiaries in fighting health care fraud, waste and abuse. SMP also seeks to educate Medicare beneficiaries about Medicare so they will not become victims of fraud, waste and abuse.

Detour the Dumpster‚ A Better Approach to Overwhelming Clutter

January 17th, 2019

By Guest Bloggers Carolyn Quinn and Jaime Angelini

Do you have too much stuff?

Do you have too much stuff?

The people we meet who have “too much stuff” won’t ever be followed by a camera crew that captures shots of perilous, towering stacks of papers, bins or boxes. There will never be split screen comparisons of their house or apartment before and after workers and family members arrived.

That’s because clean outs are not our approach.

Though clean outs are good for TV ratings and achieving an immediate solution to a problem, it’s not what we do. Sure, it’s rewarding for viewers to stay tuned and see those transformed tidy, neat living spaces during the final minutes of the show. And, truth be told, we prefer tidy homes for those living in unsafe situations, but the means we employ to get to that goal do not include a dumpster.

The reason why we don’t endorse clean outs is often highlighted in those shows: it’s distressing. People who are strongly emotionally tied to their possessions have big emotional responses. Sometimes a dumpster-style clean out can be a trigger that leads to a setback of collecting – often ending up worse than the original hoard. They begin the behavior again; re-accumulating and filling up all that prime, vacant new real estate.

A confession…In the past–in another job many years ago–one of the authors of this blog, has been “guilty” of these clean outs. While assisting people under the threat of eviction, she cleaned up and cleaned out while working as a residential case manager. (So, cable TV, we are not picking on you unfairly. One of us has evolved from that thinking.)

We are better educated and better informed today. Older and wiser, as they say. The practices we teach now are rooted in successful programs that were proven to work long-term on changing behaviors for individuals living with hoarding disorder, also sometimes called Finders/Keepers, which is a modern term we prefer to use.

Can you identify your rooms on this chart?

Can you identify your rooms on this chart?

How it started

We originally sought out help for people in Atlantic County, following Hurricane Sandy, when we met and identified storm survivors who couldn’t part with their wet belongings. We saw firsthand people who did not get rid of their water-logged possessions weeks–even months–after the storm. They were stuck; and we worried about their health and safety as we observed layers of hazards in their living situation.

Jaime (left) and Carolyn (right) as part of The Atlantic County Hoarding Task Force

There was another glitch, a big one.

In our area no one local was working with people who lived with hoarding disorder. We called and asked…a lot. No one.

The results of online searching and researching led us to a successful initiative in Boston (now called the Metro Housing Boston’s Hoarding Training Institute). Luckily, the forward-thinking, helpful professionals there were willing to teach others, like us. Fast-forward through conferences, training, long-distance phone calls, more training and meetings.

The Mental Health Association in Atlantic County started its, “Too Much Stuff? Hoarding Tendency Initiative,” based on Boston’s successful model. We have been working with people referred to us by code enforcement officials, social workers, nurses, pest control and other professionals who have become partners in our effort to connect help to those who need it and accept it.

Individuals who are ready to make a change start out by attending our “Too Much Stuff,” support groups, which are bi-weekly meetings. During a typical meeting, people at various stages in their own pursuits to declutter are working their way through the process togetherTough topics, like how their possessions affect social relationships, are discussed openly and honestly among peers who understand and offer suggestions based on their experience.

We also provide in-home services to those who are ready for one-on-one support from staff. Each week staff spends about an hour to offer guidance on sorting/discarding, non-acquiring exercises and practicing other skills critical to manage clutter.

Some of those tips for decluttering include:

  • Start with 15 minutes a day. It’s emotionally draining, so the recommendation is to work in small, daily increments to prevent feeling overwhelmed or frustrated.
  • Resist the urge to do more or “get ahead” in a single day. The downside is that you may not return to the task the next day because of exhaustion.
  • Use a timer.
  • Sort in three piles: “Keep,” “Discard,” and “Maybe.” By the end of the session, assign the “maybes” to either “discard” or “keep.”
  • Work in the same room/space. Do not wander from room to room.
  • Maintain the space that is cleared. Mark the cleared space with painter’s tape as a visual cue to prevent the clutter from accumulating again.
  • Use black trash bags to hold items destined for trash or donation.

    Use signs like these for your ‘Keep,’ ‘Maybe,’ and ‘Discard’ piles!

What we know

Many people with “too much stuff” want to change. They’d like to make healthier lifestyle changes–such as not buying more stuff, not collecting free stuff, or not saving mail and other ways that commonly lead to a house that is cluttered and unsafe. We also recognize that, if these people could have changed their behaviors on their own, they would.

The reasons behind these behaviors are complex and individualized, and talking about them among peers helps.

We also know that talking about it all–the impact on family and friends, the challenges, and the successes–is an important part of the process. People feel less alone; they feel understood. Peer support helps.

Time and time again, we see that working toward the weekly goals is rewarding and worth the effort. Based on our experience and what’s been reported, this yields positive results and leads to success.

Science and research have come a long way for individuals with too much stuff. We understand that there is still a way to go to chip away at stigma associated with clutter. Shame and embarrassment can keep people frozen in place. We also know that this blog can make a difference to someone who reads it and shares it.

We don’t know all the answers, but we understand more than we did in recent decades. We keep looking for answers. And we’re confident that they’re not found in a dumpster.

We have a place for that idea: the “Discard” pile.

Like what you read here? Need help? Email [email protected] or call 609 916-1330


Carolyn and Jaime are co-developers of “Too Much Stuff? Hoarding Behaviors Initiative” at the Mental Health Association in Atlantic County.

Carolyn M. Quinn works at the Mental Health Association in Atlantic County as the ICE Wellness Program Manager, which provides peer-led support groups and a variety of wellness workshops to adults living with mental illness and co-occurring challenges. She also is a certified instructor for Adult and Youth Mental Health First Aid as well as a certified Advance Level Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) Facilitator.

Jaime Angelini is the Director of Consumer Services at the Mental Health Association in Atlantic County where she provides support, education and advocacy to individuals living with mental illness, substance use disorders, and those experiencing homelessness. Jaime is a certified Mental Health First Aid Instructor, parent educator, Disaster Response Crisis Counselor and a trainer for law enforcement officials who respond to individuals with special needs.

 

 

A New Year, a New Start – Time to Declutter!

January 7th, 2019

by Mason Crane-Bolton

It’s a new year and that means a new start! After all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season (and the inevitable clutter for so many of us), now is the perfect time to do a bit of “spring” cleaning. We have some excellent tips for a good cleaning and de-cluttering, and some excellent reasons why you should toss out that old box of knick-knacks and pull out your clothes from seasons past!

Pixabay via Pexels.com

Stuff & more stuff! | Photo: Pixabay via Pexels.com

Easy things to get rid of:

Obsolete Technology: If you aren’t using your computer from 1994, you aren’t going to start using it now, and it’s unlikely you’ll ever watch a VHS tape again. Some items may be of interest to specialized collectors or electronics tinkerers, but if you aren’t one (or if you are but still haven’t touched that “project piece”) now if the time to get rid of it. Do your research with each gadget: If you think it might be of value or interest to someone research local groups and stores who might want it; but most obsolete tech is best recycled—look at electronics recycling in your area, which often has special restrictions.

Clothes You Haven’t Worn: Maybe it was a gift. Maybe you got it at a great price. Maybe it was your style a few years ago. For whatever reason, you never wore it and now it’s sitting at the back of your closet, looking a little sad and forlorn. Luckily there are lots of ways to get rid of excess clothing. If you’re looking to make a few dollars, try a yard/garage sale, consignment shop, or flea market. If you’d like to just get the clothing off your hands, try donating to shelters, dropping it off in clothing donation bins, donating to thrift stores or seeing what organizations in your area accept clothing donations.

Clothes That Need to Be Tossed: If you have old clothes/shoes that are too worn to be reused or can’t be (i.e. underwear and broken shoes) look for special drop boxes or organizations that take textiles as well as clothing donations. Planet Aid (recognizable by their bright yellow drop boxes) accepts socks and underwear, shoes and clothing in all conditions as long as it’s dry and clean.

Books: Books are a wonderful thing to have, but too many books can quickly be a heavy burden. Literally. Keep a few favorites you’ll read again and again and donate or sell the rest. Borrow future books from the library.

Old Prescriptions and Medical Devices: If you aren’t using it, you don’t need it. Although it can be hard to give away medical devices we think we might, one day, need, if they’re creating clutter it’s time to get rid of them. Fortunately you can donate your medical devices to someone in need through local and national groups, such as specific Goodwill locations (http://www.goodwill.org/donate-and-shop/donate-stuff/) and other nonprofit organizations. Contact organizations first to make sure they can take your donation if you have any questions.

Prescription medicines should be responsibly disposed at approved locations. Many drug stores now have anonymous prescription disposal boxes as do many police stations. You can go to The American Medicine Chest Challenge website (http://americanmedicinechest.org/) to type in your zip code and find drop off locations in your area.

Food: Go through your pantry and look for expired food items and things you’re unlikely to eat. Throw away the expired food items (this is different than a “best by” date, which indicates staleness) and donate any unwanted (non-expired or non-perishable) items to a local food bank.

 

Harder things to let go:

Knick-knacks: Many of us have lots of sentimental objects we‚Äôve picked up over the years. Some might be very meaningful and important to us, but most are probably something we can do without. Go through your knick-knacks (souvenirs from vacations, past gifts, old d?©cor); keep a few with the most meaning and decide what to do with the rest. Some options for letting go of knick-knacks are to donate the rest to a thrift store or sell at a garage sale or flea market, or to pass it down to a family member‚Äîthis last option can be a great gift not only of an object, but of the memories and stories you have to go with it.

Old Cards and Photos: A lifetime of greeting cards and photographs can really add up when it comes to clutter. Just like with knick-knacks, sort through your greeting cards and choose the ones that mean most to you and recycle the rest—letting go of the cards doesn’t mean you’re letting go of the person who wrote them.

Photographs are often the trickiest and hardest thing to get rid of. Instead of trying to sort through which ones mean most to you, first go through your physical photos and get rid of the bad ones—blurry ones, ones with flash spots, over-exposed, ones you can’t remember why you took it etc. Display your favorites, the ones that give you joy. Depending on how many photos you have, store the rest or ask a friend or family member for help sorting through the rest and deciding which ones, if any, to let go. Consider digitizing your physical photos and keeping them on flash drives, rewritable CDs/DVDs, or an external hard drive. Several companies offer this service for a fee, but you can also do this at home if you or a friend have the right equipment. Then you can decide whether to discard your physical photos or keep your digital ones as a backup. You can even use a digital photo frame, which can rotate through several images so you can display more of your favorite moments.

Important Papers: This one is time consuming, but straight forward. Sort through your important papers and determine which ones you need to keep. Keep essential documents (current insurance policies, deeds, warranties, birth/marriage/death certificates, etc.) in a safe place and consider scanning a copy for backup—don’t keep this copy your computer but rather on a flash or external hard drive. Shred documents you no longer need (old bank statements and bills, expired insurance policies or copies with old information, etc.). Sign up for electronic mailings where possible to avoid future clutter—as an added bonus, some companies offer small discounts for choosing e-mail notifications over paper, plus you’ll be helping the planet.

 

There are lots of other things you may need to sort through depending on your individual situation. It may be things long acquired over the years, or things that have come into your life more recently. Whatever the reason, getting excess clutter out of your home is not only healthy, but necessary.

Getting rid of clutter:

  • Removes trip hazards and decreases your risk of falling in your home
  • Keeps your home cleaner and reduces the amount of health-hazardous dust
  • Makes organization of important information better and makes it easier to find favorite treasures
  • Creates a brighter, more attractive living space, which will uplift your mood
  • Helps pave the way for accumulating less clutter in the future
  • Improves stress, motivation, and happiness‚Äîdecluttering can be extremely therapeutic

 

We hope you have a Happy New Year and reap all the benefits of a good, long decluttering season!

 

Skitterphoto via Pexels.com

Photo: Skitterphoto via Pexels.com

Home for the Holidays

December 20th, 2018

Mason Crane-Bolton

Winter¬†can¬†be¬†a¬†difficult¬†time¬†for¬†many…|Photo¬†by¬†Peter¬†Fazekas¬†via¬†Pexels.com

The Loneliness Issue

Loneliness is not a new problem, but rather a changing one. Like all social issues, loneliness is a problem bound to be affected by the other changes in our environment. Historically, loneliness and social isolation have been a great concern in the older adult population due to several factors: friends may have passed away, our health may deteriorate and make socializing extremely difficult, adult children or older parents may have moved away from one another, and long-distance communication has been more difficult to maintain. But there are changes on the horizon.

Several changes that have already come and will keep coming over the next several decades are such to impact the problem of loneliness among older adults. Some changes will be positive while others may have a negative or mixed impact. A quick list of just some potential changes include:

  1. The Digital Age will decrease social isolation—beyond email and chats, we’ve already seen the positive impact of services like Skype, which allows users to freely video chat with friends and family across the globe. The prevalence of cell phone technology means more people will be reachable and able to reach loved ones.
  2. The “graying of America” means we’ll have a much larger older adult population—this could have a mixed impact. The shifting demographics could mean our population of older adults will be harder to ignore and there could be greater calls (both intentionally and unintentionally) for an older adult focused society. However, a disproportionate number of older to younger adults could mean more older adults who become homebound and require care (physically as well as socially) with fewer able persons to assist—this could result in increased isolation and loneliness for many.
  3. Continuing advances in medicine may not only increase our life span, but also our quality of life. We may find ourselves perfectly healthy and mobile well into older adulthood and more able to socialize with family and friends old and new.
  4. Heightened desire and calls for the ability to age in place may add challenges to the natural socialization found in more communal living arrangements and may require extra attention be placed on socialization of older adults.

Bringing the Community Together

Community is at the heart of solving 
loneliness | Photo via Pexels.com

Loneliness is ultimately a community health concern in every sense of its meaning. It is a health problem not only affecting individuals of the community but affecting the community at large. It is, however, also a public health problem with solutions in communities around the state.  Community programs with a focus on alleviating loneliness can and should exist throughout our great state.

Many churches and local organizations do have community wellness outreach programs with at least part of the service focus being on wellness visits. These wellness visits usually focus on individuals who have a hard time leaving their home either for an extended period of time or permanently and provide social contact and possibly delivering food or other necessities.

Solutions for Loneliness

Even though not all solutions may be available for all people, there are different solutions and fixes for people struggling with loneliness.

  1. Getting involved in new activities is a great loneliness solution at any age or stage in life. Consider joining groups that interest you—whether it’s a hobby, an issue you care about, or a group with a similar ideology, being involved with a group will give you social connections now and for later.
  2. For those looking at assisted living or older adult communities, the close proximity to your neighbors can be a huge social boon. While the result can vary greatly between communities, living in a close, communal environment significantly increases a person’s chances of social contacts and new friendships (as opposed to living in a single-family home). Living in a close-knit older adult oriented community can also increase the likelihood that your peers will notice and reach out if someone in the community stops socializing.
  3. Although socializing on the internet can be risky, it can also be a great place to stay in touch with friends and family who are far away or rekindling old connections. If you use social media to reconnect with people or to make new connections, be sure you’re as safe as possible. Never give out any banking or personal information to a social connection. If you choose to meet in person use an abundance of caution and meet in a public place, preferably with an additional friend.
  4. Get out and take a stroll through the neighborhood, if able. You can see old neighbors and meet new ones and, as an additional benefit, outdoor activity and sunshine have been proven to boost mood.

Finally, as we get into the heart of winter and the coming cold, gray days, know you’re not alone! Loneliness and isolation is a problem faced by millions of Americans and many New Jerseyans. No matter your stage in life there are lots of ways to meet new friends and reconnect with old ones. Being aware of your loneliness is the first step—the second step is to reach out for help. Tap into your community if you’re lonely and see what resources are available to you. And if you’re an ally, get involved and reach out to others who may be isolated. Loneliness is a problem that can affect us all, but we can all fight it together.

No¬†matter¬†how¬†lonely¬†you¬†feel,¬†you’re¬†not¬†alone.¬†|
 Photo by Matthias Zomer via Pexels.com 

Where Have All Our Elders Gone? – A Call for Intergenerational Community

December 6th, 2018

Photo by Ingo Joseph, via Pexels.com

Where are the older adults in our larger communities? |Photo by Ingo Joseph, via Pexels.com

If you look at flyers for local events or calls for volunteers, ads for the local town, you’ll notice one thing that’s often missing in the promotional materials: any sign of our aging population.

There are tens upon tens of thousands of older adults in New Jersey, but all too often the bright flyers and TV ads only have older adults when it’s something “targeted” at the older population. With an estimated 1.8+ million adults aged 65+ projected to live in New Jersey by 2030, and 32% increase in the 60+ population by 2034, community messages that ignore older adults are not only harmful, but fail completely to accurately reflect the communities they address. What can we do to address this issue?

Maybe the focus we need to put is on intergenerational community. We often focus on families when we think “intergenerational,” and older adults are only included in this if they’ve had children and grandchildren to bring them into the spotlight. But intergenerational community is not just about families. It’s about making sure that every member of our communities, regardless of age, is included and made to feel a valued member of the community.

As we get older, we at an increasing risk of social isolation. And were all, constantly, getting older. Whether you feel “older” now or not, it’s vital we remember everyone out there—people like us and who we may one day be—is looking to be included and have social connections. Accomplishing this intergenerational, connected community is not always easy, but the solutions are fairly straightforward.

The first step is to reach out to older adults and ask for their input. Ask how they would like to be included and what suggestions they have for outreach, for planning, and for execution. Don’t make their involvement a token gesture—make it count and have them as an active focus of the conversation the whole way through. Speak to all your neighbors, the ones you haven’t heard from before, the people who haven’t usually been in your social sphere. Reach out to senior centers, local aging offices, and residential care facilities and see if any of the residents are aware of the events and would like to take part in it. Their lives, your life, and your community will be all the richer for it.

Caregiver Stories

November 16th, 2018

As November rolls along we continue to celebrate National Caregivers Month. With Thanksgiving only a week away, we know many people are preparing for gatherings of friends and family (both biological and “found”). We hope the holiday will be an enjoyable celebration filled with love and community, but we also recognize that the day will be difficult for many, not the least of whom are our caregivers.          

Thanksgiving is often a time of gathering and telling stories as we give our thanks for the good things in our lives. In honor of this tradition and our caregivers we’d like to share the stories of some New Jersey caregivers. Thank you caregivers for all you do.


Photo provided by Pixabay via Pexels.com

Photo provided by Pixabay via Pexels.com

Some of our caregivers talked about their gratitude for being able to return the care that had been given to them over the years…  

“In my mom’s last years, she was living alone in her apartment at Seabrook Village. Her skin had become very thin, and she was prone to injuries that became much more major than for a younger person. On several occasions she injured a leg, producing large areas where her skin was largely rubbed away, in one case requiring a skin graft.  In addition to helping her with hospital and doctor visits, I came over to her home daily during one period to help clean wounds and change the dressing. As the geographically closest one of my siblings these duties fell to me, and I regarded it as an honor to be able to give back to someone who had given me so much.” –Tinton Falls

 

One caregiver wrote about the bonding moments that occur during caregiving…

‚ÄúTwo weeks ago, one of my Mom’s high school friends passed away. Mom wanted to go to the viewing and pay her respects. Since Mom had her shoulder surgery, she can only drive short distances, but this ride was going to take the better part of the day, so her driving wasn’t possible. Instead, I picked Mom up at the retirement complex where she and Dad live. We then drove back to New Jersey and up Route 1 to the Funeral Home. Mom is an accomplished map reader so she was an able co-pilot for this part of the trip.

This was a very difficult day for Mom emotionally. Marge was her last living high school buddy. During our ride, we talked about Mom’s memories of high school, Marge’s family, and Marge’s visits to my Grandparents’ home. When we got to the funeral home, we were greeted by Marge’s daughter, Nancy and son, John. It was comforting to meet and speak to them about their mother. Mom got the chance to bid farewell to her friend and we spent some time looking over the many photos of Marge and her family. It was helpful for Mom to see all these pictures, because she hadn’t seen Marge in many years‚Äîthey simply spoke on the phone. The ride home was peaceful. We talked about how welcome Nancy and John made us feel and what a lovely family Marge had.

Mostly, this was an unexpected day for bonding with Mom. Marge was from our hometown. The funeral home has seen our family on numerous occasions for the mourning of relatives and friends who have passed away. As stressful and annoying as the driving was that day, I know how much it meant to my Mom and I wanted to do it for her.” –Lawrenceville

 

Photo by Noelle Otto, via Pexels.com

Photo by Noelle Otto, via Pexels.com

Some caregivers told us about the challenges of watching parents grow older and increasing caregiving duties…

‚ÄúNearly every Thursday for the past several years I have been visiting my Mom and Dad in Pennsylvania. Dad just turned 90. Mom will be 88 in a few days. Eighteen months ago, Dad was diagnosed with bladder cancer. His treatment lasted for 6 weeks and I accompanied him for each office visit and the follow-up appointments with the doctor. Thankfully, the treatments were successful and Dad is cancer-free. Mom had shoulder replacement 12 months ago. I stayed with Mom and Dad after the surgery for a short while to ensure that Mom was able to get around on her own. As with Dad, I went to follow-up visits with Mom and she has recovered most of the use of her left arm. Often times, I take my Mom (and sometimes Dad) shopping and we run errands in the neighborhood. What has become more difficult, is watching how each of them is declining in what they can or can’t do and what they remember or don’t recall.‚Äù ‚ÄìLawrenceville

 

 

Photo by Matthias Zomer, via Pexels.com

Photo by Matthias Zomer, via Pexels.com

Others talked about watching their own parents become caregivers for each other, both the trials and the lessons learned…

‚ÄúI am in awe watching my almost-92 year old mother caring for my Alzheimer’s stricken father. It is not only about the patience, compassion and love she extends him, but even about the occasional short-temper and impatience. She extends herself about as far as she can and forgives herself, mostly, when she comes up short of her goals.

And she not only takes care of him, but to the extent she can of herself: she has arranged for volunteers and paid aides and relatives to help her and gets herself out, whether it’s to attend meetings or just get errands done, in order to maintain her mental and emotional equilibrium. I do think that extending his care to others is not only a necessity for her, but even a boon and blessing to them in the sense of affirming our humanity‚Äîthat we are all in this together and that extending care and caring to others is a fundamental way of sharing that.

I know their current situation of my mom providing continued care in their home cannot last much longer, and has only been possible thus far because another daughter lives with them. And her children are all concerned about the effects of months of sleep deprivation and the curtailing of her activities (as well as watching your partner of 70+ years deteriorate in this horrible way), but she has managed so far with fortitude, help, a fair amount of grace, and a great deal of love.” –Central New Jersey, with parents in California


Ultimately, caregiving is one of the most selfless and loving acts a human being can perform for another. It is a life-changing experience, and it can be rewarding, painful, hopeful, and challenging. According to Pew Research Center, approximately 25% of Americans aged 45-64, and 17% of 65+ aged adults, are caring for an older adult. Whether you are a caregiver or anticipate becoming one in the future, caregiving dramatically affects the lives of everyone involved. As our nation and state continue to experience the “Graying of America,” we can expect the numbers of caregivers to rise alongside those who need care. So we recognize and thank you, caregivers, for all you’ve done and all you continue to do. Happy National Caregivers Month to you, and thank you to our caregivers who were so willing to share their stories with us.

Who is a Caregiver?

November 1st, 2018

As we welcome November we also welcome National Caregivers Month. But, while it can be easy to recognize the month, it’s not always easy to recognize a caregiver. Caregivers range from the professional and paid to full-time non-professional caregivers to informal caregiving on a part-time basis. According to the Mayo Clinic, “About 1 in 3 adults in the United States provides care to other adults as informal caregivers.” Given the numbers, it’s almost certain you personally know someone who is a caregiver.

Provided by rawpixel.com via pexels.comBut who is a caregiver? A caregiver is anyone who provides help to someone in need. Anyone can be a caregiver, and caregiving is widely prevalent. Caregivers are diverse and consist of a wide range of ages, socio-economic backgrounds, genders, ethnic identities, locations, and caregiving arrangements. Despite how many people are caregiving, many don’t identify as “caregivers” because of their idea of what a caregiver is or isn’t. As a result, it’s important for us to recognize that not all caregiving looks the same. For instance, one caregiver might provide near-24 hour care, but another caregiver might drop off groceries once a week or organize medication; one caregiver might need to live with the person who needs help, but another caregiver might be providing help remotely from across the state or across the country.

As we continue to experience the “graying of America,” and our life expectancy rises, it’s likely many of us will become caregivers at one point or another. Being a caregiver is no easy task. While incredibly rewarding, caregiving is also often emotionally, mentally, physically, and financially taxing. Caregivers have been shown to be significantly more at risk for illness, depression, and other health conditions associated with prolonged exposure to stress. If you’re a caregiver it’s vital to take time to care for yourself.

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We want to celebrate caregivers and all they do. Caregivers are often the frontline advocate for their loved ones, working tirelessly to make sure the person(s) in their care is receiving all they need despite the impact on their own lives. We also want to remind caregivers to take care of themselves (see our “5 Self-Care Tips for Caregivers,” below). Being a caregiver can be one of the most rewarding experiences, but also one of the most exhausting times in a person’s life. Thank you to all of our caregivers, it’s your efforts that change the lives of so many and help so many live longer, richer lives in their community.

 

5 Self-Care Tips for Caregivers

Here are 5 vital ways for caregivers to practice self-care to rest, recharge, and revitalize!

  1. Take breaks every day—try a 5-minute meditation or any other practice that helps you de-stress
  2. Join a support group—in person or online.
  3. Do some self-massage to relieve accumulated tension
  4. Get enough: Water, Nutrition, Exercise, and Rest (caregivers often report a poorer diet and lack of adequate exercise and sleep)
  5. Know when to ask for help—watch out for signs of burnout and escalating health concerns; know when you need to ask for additional help from family or friends, or when outside agencies need to step in

Do you have a story about your caregiving experience you’d like to share? NJFA will be sharing stories in caregiving later this month for our 2nd blog on National Caregivers Month. To share your story, simply leave a comment on this blog or any of our social media pages, or email Communications Manager Mason Crane-Bolton at [email protected]

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