Posts Tagged ‘aging’

How to Age Well: Planning Your Path, Part 3: Money and Retirement

Thursday, May 16th, 2019

By Mason Crane-Bolton

Are you ready for your financial future? | Photo by Mathieu Turle via unsplash.com

 

There is no way to get aging “right”…

 

…But it does help to plan.

Something is happening each and every day across New Jersey. Across the United States. Across the entirety of the planet.

We are all getting older.

Like it or not, each and every one of us is on a journey of aging. From the moment we are born until the moment we die, we are aging.

We tend to think of aging as being something saved for an arbitrary age, like 50, 60, 65,…etc. We could list off the ages at which society (for one reason or another) has decided we’ve hit a certain benchmark in aging. Whether it’s Social Security benefits, Medicare enrollment, retirement, “senior citizen” discounts, or a screening your doctor now wants you to undergo, we tend to have these changes attached to specific ages or with “being of a certain age.” We think of them as being times in our life when a monumental change has occurred, a mark of “aging.”

But the truth is, regardless of what arbitrary number might be assigned to program enrollments or coupons, we don’t age in random, sudden leaps. We age constantly and gradually. While this might make it tempting to wait to plan for your later years, you should plan now. No one wants to be caught unawares by changes as you age or a sudden health crisis, so it makes sense to plan for your later years as early as possible. Think of planning now as training for becoming an older adult.

What if you already consider yourself an older adult? That’s not to say this blog doesn’t apply to you too! It absolutely does—no matter where you are or where you consider yourself to be in your path of aging, it makes sense to plan now for the road ahead, whether that road is two days or twenty years from now!

Having plans in place will mitigate much stress and bad decision-making in emergency situations. Much heartache and avoidable stressed is caused by being forced to make difficult decisions in the heat of the moment; time spent worrying about what the best decision is and then wondering if the right decision is the one you made.

What are some priorities to focus on? We’re so glad you asked. In this three-part series we’ll cover different aspects of how-to age well as we lead up to our 21st Annual Conference. If you’d like to register for the conference but haven’t yet, go to www.njfoundationforaging.org for more information.

This week, in the final chapter of our three-part series, we’ll cover: money and retirement.

 

Money

Do you have money saved for the future? Will it be enough for yourself and any care you might need? Have you enrolled or will you enroll in supplemental programs? Do you know your eligibility? Have you already retired? Are you about to retire? Do you have money saved up for retirement? Will money be coming in during your retirement or will it just be going out?

Suffice it to say there are many questions surrounding money throughout the course of our lives, particularly as we become older, possibly retire, and consider our long-term care needs. If you haven’t already, read Barbara O’Neill’s article on flipping financial switches later in life (Flipping a Switch: For Happiness and Financial Security in Later Life, pages 6-7) in the latest issue of Renaissance for some great insight into what financial changes you can anticipate facing as you age.

The sheer number of questions can be daunting, let alone the stress financial decisions and discussions can instill in people. But just having a plan for your financial future can save you from a load of future stressors and difficulties. If you’re facing a loss of income it may be necessary or helpful to consider what options you have: could you work a part-time job or are you eligible for Social Security or disability benefits? Would you be interested or able to live with a roommate or relative?

 

A note about programmatic assistance

As part of your financial discussions, investigate eligibility requirements for assistance programs—there are many different types of assistance programs across the state for services ranging from utilities, to property taxes, food and fresh produce, medication, and more! Learn more about each program and see which ones may best work for your own situation. You can learn more and apply to multiple assistance programs (though not all assistance programs) through the state’s new, simplified application NJSave.

Some programs include, but are not limited to, Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled (PADD), the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LiHEAP), and NJ SHARES. PADD is a prescription drug assistance program that can help you pay for your medications and LiHEAP and NJ SHARES are utility assistance programs that make it easier for older adults and others to pay their utilities throughout the year and may offer weatherization tips or tools. Whether you are eligible for one or all of these programs, each can make a significant difference and positive impact in your life. You may be eligible and not know it, so make sure to look into each of these programs.

It’s important to know that some of these programs, particularly the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), face chronic underenrollment—in NJ alone, only 48% of eligible older adults are receiving benefits, meaning that 52% of eligible older adults are facing additional food insecurity and financial strain and may not realize they qualify for this benefit. Learning more about SNAP and other assistance programs could help you today or in the future, depending on your eligibility status. Furthermore, signing up for these programs will help you save money and ensure you have access to basic necessities and a higher quality of life. Although you cannot apply to SNAP through NJSave, you can apply only through the NJ SNAP website.

Another way to help secure greater benefits later in life is to put off taking your Social Security benefits until you’re 70, if possible. Waiting until age 70 will maximize your benefits payout. If you plan on using Social Security benefits to supplement your income in a meaningful way you’ll want to have as much of your money as possible coming to you in each benefit check or deposit.

 

Retirement

Does the thought of retiring make you sweat or fill you with joy? What will you do with your newfound time? Will you have too much, too little, or none at all? How can you make this new phase of your life work best for you?

Retirement can be a joy for some and a great sorrow for others. Whether you’re looking forward to retirement or dreading it, it’s important to know what you’re going to do with this next phase of your life. Many people may choose not to retire or may not be able to for financial reasons, and in this case it’s equally important to choose how to spend this time when many friends may be retiring or health changes may make it necessary for you to cut back on hours spent working.

For those who are retiring, having a plan for your retirement can make the difference between remaining healthy and happy and declining physically and mentally. For many of us, even those who don’t love their jobs, having a regular work schedule can fill us with a sense of purpose or, at least, give us a predictable schedule and a way to pass the time. A newfound freedom in retirement may allow you to pursue a hobby or travel, spend time with friends and family, or relax in ways you didn’t think were possible. If this sounds good to you, try planning out at least a few days a week with activities that are meaningful to you and keep you engaged; this could be going out and socializing with friends, reading books, engaging in a craft or sport, or volunteering—anything that gives you pleasure and a sense of purpose.

If the above sounds boring and pointless to you, or at least unfulfilling and unwanted, consider working part-time as part of your retirement or semi-retirement. For many people fulltime retirement may not be enjoyable—it may seem dull, and could lead to depression, physical and mental decline. A volunteer role (fulltime or part-time) may work for some, but not for others. The work could be a passion of yours that’s been on the backburner, or could be something like office work, cashiering, or other positions that work for you and your schedule. Often it’s the set schedule of work that’s vital to keeping people happy and engaged more than the work itself. Moreover, people who have the luxury to choose to work past retirement instead of working out of necessity can enjoy the freedom of knowing they can leave their job if and when they choose to and can have greater flexibility in schedule and line of work.

However you decide to spend your later years, come up with a preliminary plan and a backup plan. Although your plans may change over the years, it will be helpful to have an initial plan in place now for how you’d like to spend your time and what activities will be meaningful to you in the future.

 

 

There is no one solution to deciding how you will cope with money, retirement, and other financial changes. Just as your life changes, so many the appropriate solution for you—having a plan, or even considering your current or future needs, is the first step to aging well.

Thank you for reading our three-part series on how to age well and how to plan for aging! We hope you learned something new, connected with a resource, tried one of our tips, or had thought-provoking discussions with loved ones. If you missed part one or part two in this series, you can read them here ( Part 1: Mobility and Transportation ) and here ( Part 2: Home, Health, and “After I’m Gone…” ?). As this series in our blog winds to a close the excitement for our June 4th, 2019, annual conference is just beginning! If you’d like to attend our 21st Annual Conference, “The ‘How-To’s’ for Aging Well,” go to njfoundationforaging.org for more information and to register! We hope to see you there on June 4th!

 

If you have feedback or would like to be part of the conversation, leave us a comment below or email us as [email protected].

Come back for our next blog! New posts are published on the first and third Thursdays of each month.


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. 

How to Age Well: Planning Your Path, Part 2: Home, Health, and “After I’m Gone…”

Thursday, May 2nd, 2019

By Mason Crane-Bolton

Have you planned for future health and home changes? | Photo via pexels.com

 

There is no way to get aging “right”…

 

…But it does help to plan.

Something is happening each and every day across New Jersey. Across the United States. Across the entirety of the planet.

We are all getting older.

Like it or not, each and every one of us is on a journey of aging. From the moment we are born until the moment we die, we are aging.

We tend to think of aging as being something saved for an arbitrary age, like 50, 60, 65,…etc. We could list off the ages at which society (for one reason or another) has decided we’ve hit a certain benchmark in aging. Whether it’s Social Security benefits, Medicare enrollment, retirement, “senior citizen” discounts, or a screening your doctor now wants you to undergo, we tend to have these changes attached to specific ages or with “being of a certain age.” We think of them as being times in our life when a monumental change has occurred, a mark of “aging.”

But the truth is, regardless of what arbitrary number might be assigned to program enrollments or coupons, we don’t age in random, sudden leaps. We age constantly and gradually. While this might make it tempting to wait to plan for your later years, you should plan now. No one wants to be caught unawares by changes as you age or a sudden health crisis, so it makes sense to plan for your later years as early as possible. Think of planning now as training for becoming an older adult.

What if you already consider yourself an older adult? That’s not to say this blog doesn’t apply to you too! It absolutely does—no matter where you are or where you consider yourself to be in your path of aging, it makes sense to plan now for the road ahead, whether that road is two days or twenty years from now!

Having plans in place will mitigate much stress and bad decision-making in emergency situations. Much heartache and avoidable stressed is caused by being forced to make difficult decisions in the heat of the moment; time spent worrying about what the best decision is and then wondering if the right decision is the one you made.

What are some priorities to focus on? We’re so glad you asked. In this three-part series we’ll cover different aspects of how-to age well as we lead up to our 21st Annual Conference. If you’d like to register for the conference but haven’t yet, go to www.njfoundationforaging.org for more information.

This week we’ll cover: home, health, and “after I’m gone.”

 

Home

Wherever you live, there are changes you can make today for a better home tomorrow. A home that’s better suited to your future self.

Area rugs may be soft on your feet, but they can be a major trip hazard. Remove area rugs to prevent falls and cut down on your number of tripping hazards. If you still want something soft for your feet, consider installing carpets—these aren’t as trip-free as hard floors, but better than area rugs. Also, stay in the habit of wearing secure shoes instead of open-toed sandals or loose slippers around your home.

Although we covered many changes that may be needed due to mobility changes in the first part of this blog series (How to Age Well: Planning Your Path, Part 1), it’s also worth considering what changes you may want to make for your own comfort or peace of mind.

If your home is too large for you to comfortably handle, you may want to consider downsizing. Constant upkeep and cleaning of rooms that aren’t being used can take a toll on your energy and your money. If you’re concerned about having rooms available for visiting friends and family, let them stay at nearby hotels, motels, or Airbnb listings while they’re visiting. Not having to pay for extra heat, air conditioning and electricity, or regularly clean an infrequently used room, will make the visits more fun for everyone.

And if you missed it in the first part in our series, we have a link to help you find an aging-in-place specialist in your area: Living in Place.

 

Health

Whether or not you consider yourself to be in good health now, chances are that sooner or later you’ll have to face potential health issues. And even if you’re blessed with good health for the rest of your life, it’s a good idea to plan for a potential emergency. Whether it’s the diagnosis of a long-term illness or a broken ankle after a tumble on a running trail, illnesses and accidents happen—it’s best to be prepared.

First, learn your family medical history as best as you can and share this information with your medical providers. Is there a family history of cancer? Heart disease? Glaucoma or cataracts? Dementia or Alzheimer’s? Have you been previously diagnosed with any conditions or illnesses? Your medical provider should be alerted to any family or personal health history you have—this isn’t a guarantee you’ll have the same conditions, but a way for your physician to know what they should pay special attention to and screenings or treatments that could best benefit you. And remember that routine screenings and hygiene appointments, such as dental exams and cleanings, should be done regardless of age.

Interview your medical providers. If they don’t have a good understanding of aging in medicine or make you uncomfortable, look for a provider better suited to your needs. Many in the community of aging professionals now recognize the benefit of annual screenings for changes in cognitive abilities for early detection of possible dementia and Alzheimer’s—ask your provider if they do such screenings and any other screenings you have concerns about. Stay on top of changes in your health and don’t delay bringing them up with your provider; bring any questions you may have to your provider and make sure you get answers for each question. Bring your list with you and something to write on and with (don’t trust you remember everything when you get home) or ask your provider to send you home with additional information materials or resources. If your provider is unwilling to answer your questions, they are probably not the right provider for you.

Plan too for future caregiving needs and needed adaptations to changes. If you need caregiving, who will provide it and how? Will it be a nurse or a friend or family member? Will you need to pay this person? How often will you need help? You can ask your provider what insight they might have into your future needs, but also plan to have these discussions with spouses/partners, family, and yourself.

In addition to these concerns, you may think about bringing someone with you to your medical appointments—especially if you find yourself getting overwhelmed during exams or need some assistance in understanding procedures or doctor recommendations. If you have a caregiver or think it would be beneficial to have someone in the exam room with you, bring this up with your provider. Ask them if you could have a trusted person or caregiver with you.

As long as you’re planning, you should also plan what you would like in your medical care and end-of-life care. Seriously consider creating an Advance Directive and POLST form (Practitioner Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment). You can learn more about these and fill the forms here NJ Advance Directive and POLST. Having an Advance Directive or POLST form often makes people uncomfortable because they believe the form is only for declining further medical care. This is not true. These forms allow individuals to express, in writing, when they are mentally and physically capable of making decisions, what they would like their medical care to be. Individuals can choose to have as many OR as few life-saving measures they would like to be taken in the event they are not conscious to tell doctors or loved ones their wishes. The POLST form also travels from doctor to doctor, allowing individuals to make their wishes known without having to fill out the form over and over again.

 

“After I’m Gone”

A former co-worker of mine, a planned giving attorney, used to use the phrase “If I get hit by an asteroid crossing the street tomorrow…” when talking about all the things we’d need to know if he died suddenly (he liked it as opposed to, “If I get hit by a bus,” because it seemed so much less likely!). In his line of work he was constantly discussing wills and estates with the organization’s supporters. This wasn’t as morbid as it may sound—the conservations were much less about death than a way for these supporters to tell my co-worker how they wanted to be remembered.

We don’t need to necessarily dwell on death with morbidity, but it’s healthy to recognize it will, inevitably, happen to us all. Whether or not we’re planning to give away money or large assets when we die, it’s not only wise, but necessary to plan what will happen with ourselves, our loved ones, and our things before and after we’re gone.

If you’re an adult, you should have a will. Regardless of how many assets you have or don’t have, whether you own a car or a house, a pet, or you have only the clothes on your back, it makes sense to dictate who will get what in a will. You can make this will as secret or as public as you’d like, give it all away to a favorite school or organization, or pass it along to family and friends, but you should make a will. Make sure you also have your will and wishes reviewed by an attorney to ensure your wishes can be carried out.

Even though most of us may be reluctant to discuss our own deaths, it’s worth remembering that our loved ones will have to process taking on additional household and/or financial responsibilities in addition to processing the emotional toll of our deaths. To make things easier for loved ones, it’s wise to write a list of passwords for bank accounts, utility accounts, etc., and to create other lists, such as where household objects are stored, how to maintain appliances or accounts, and other useful information your spouse/partner or loved ones might want to have access to.

Also consider having conversations with your loved ones about how you would like to have your death recognized. Let your loved ones know if you have religious/spiritual or personal practices that you would like incorporated into any kind of memorial service, song or story requests you may have, and any other details about your preferred type of service. If you face reluctance from loved ones in discussing matters of death, try to gently and compassionately remind them that these conversations are going to make things easier and are, ultimately, about love.

 

As we said in the first in our series, there is no one solution to deciding how you will cope with your home, health, or end-of-life decisions. Just as your life changes, so may the appropriate solution—having a plan, or even considering your current or future needs, is the first step to aging well.

 

Stay tuned for our next blog post, the third and last part in our “Planning to Age Well,” series: money and retirement.


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. 

How to Age Well: Planning Your Path, Part 1: Mobility and Transportation

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2019

By Mason Crane-Bolton

Where will you go? How will you get there? | Photo via pexels.com

 

There is no way to get aging “right”…But it does help to plan.

 

Something is happening each and every day across New Jersey. Across the United States. Across the entirety of the planet. We are all getting older.

 

Like it or not, each and every one of us is on a journey of aging. From the moment we are born until the moment we die, we are aging. We tend to think of aging as being something saved for an arbitrary age, like 50, 60, 65,…etc. We could list off the ages at which society (for one reason or another) has decided we’ve hit a certain benchmark in aging. Whether it’s Social Security benefits, Medicare enrollment, retirement, “senior citizen” discounts, or a screening your doctor now wants you to undergo, we tend to have these changes attached (or attach ourselves) to specific ages or with “being of a certain age.” We think of them as being times in our life when a monumental change has occurred, a mark of “aging.”

 

But the truth is, regardless of what arbitrary number might be assigned to program enrollments or coupons, we don’t age in random, sudden leaps. We age constantly and gradually. While this might make it tempting to wait to plan for your later years, you should plan now. No one wants to be caught unawares by changes as you age or a sudden health crisis, so it makes sense to plan for your later years as early as possible. Think of planning now as training for becoming an older adult.

 

What if you already consider yourself an older adult? That’s not to say this blog doesn’t apply to you too! It absolutely does—no matter where you are or where you consider yourself to be in your path of aging, it makes sense to plan now for the road ahead, whether that road is two days or twenty years from now!

 

Having plans in place will mitigate much stress and bad decision-making in emergency situations. Much heartache and avoidable stressed is caused by being forced to make difficult decisions in the heat of the moment; time spent worrying about what the best decision is and then wondering if the right decision is the one you made

 

What are some priorities to focus on? We’re so glad you asked. In this three-part series we’ll cover different aspects on how-to age well as we lead up to our 21st Annual Conference. If you’d like to register for the conference but haven’t yet, go to www.njfoundationforaging.org for more information.

 

This week we’ll cover: mobility and transportation.

 

Mobility

Whether or not you anticipate needing ambulatory aids like a wheelchair, walker, or cane, or already use one, mobility is a serious consideration for all of us as we continue to age. Because it’s impossible to guess how much your mobility may be impacted in the future (either through changes in health or sudden accidents) it’s best to come up with contingency plans for different scenarios. Ask yourself the following questions for differing levels of physical ability. For instance, how comfortable would you be in your current home if walking unaided was difficult? What if you needed to use a cane, crutches, walker, or a wheelchair?

 

If you live in a home with stairs or are looking to move, consider how your living situation might need to accommodate future needs. Would you be able to fit in a chairlift? Or an elevator? Are your stairs wide enough? Too steep?

 

Stairs are one of the most common considerations, but there are many others that are often forgotten. Would you be able to get into your bathroom if you needed assistance? How about your shower? Would your cabinets be difficult to use if you had limited range of motion in your arms? Could you open your drawers or doors if you hand limited hand strength?

 

Even if you’re unable to move or implement these changes now, plan for what you’ll do in the future if the need arises. Will you need to move or will you be able to retrofit your home? If you need to move are there places in your community you could easily move to or will you need to expand your search? Will you move or make these changes at a certain date in anticipation of future needs? Having a plan in a place will help you meet your needs without making a move or renovation more stressful.

 

If you’d like to find an aging-in-place specialist, you can use this link to find one in your area: Living in Place

 

Transportation

Whether you drive or not, you’ll likely need to consider how transportation will be impacted by aging as you get older. If public transportation is or will be your continuing form of transportation some considerations you may face are: distance to public transit routes, if public transit will serve your daily transportation needs, how you will get to and from transit stations, and any access or assistance you may need.

 

If you currently drive and plan to continue driving there are different considerations you’ll need to take into account. As age may affect your eyesight, hearing, and reflexes, it’s a good idea to regularly monitor any changes in your ability to drive or operate a motor vehicle. You may also want to consider regularly scheduling road tests to determine if your driving skills still meet the state licensing standards. Finally, it’s important to be willing to give up your keys if you need to. Although this can be a scary, frustrating, and emotionally and logistically difficult process for many, if driving has become dangerous for you or others, including drivers, pedestrians, animals, or property, it’s necessary to stop driving.

 

For many another option may be formal or informal car services. Although almost everyone will already be familiar with traditional car services and taxis, there are also newer services like Uber and Lyft (or GoGo Grandparent for those who don’t feel comfortable hiring an Uber/Lyft on their own) for a fee. Or you can call your area office on aging to see what services might be available in your area (you can call 1-877-222-3737 toll-free and be connected with your county’s office). If you’re fortunate enough to have relatives, friends, or caregivers nearby who can provide you with transportation, this is of course another option. Each of these options have different pros and cons. Private car services and taxis are generally the most expensive, but may be more reliable than other services or may give the riders more peace of mind. Services like Uber and Lyft have more price ranges, making them more affordable for many older adults, and you’re likely to find a ride any time day or night, but these services and the lack of consistency and accountability may make some people uncomfortable with using them. Lastly, volunteer services or the use of relatives/friends are wonderful and the most cost-effective of these transportation options, but riders may face limited availability of rides at times—however, you might form great friendships with your drivers!

 

There is no one solution to deciding how you will cope with mobility changes or transportation needs. Just as your life changes, so many the appropriate solution for you—having a plan, or even considering your current or future needs, is the first step to aging well.

 

Stay tuned for our next blog post, the second part in our “Planning to Age Well,” series: health, home and “after I’m gone.”


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

Thursday, 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. 

Detour the Dumpster‚ A Better Approach to Overwhelming Clutter

Thursday, 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!

Monday, 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

Who is a Caregiver?

Thursday, 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.

Provided by rawpixel.com via pexels.com

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]

Provided by Pixaby via pexels.com

Aging Greatness: Great Achievements by Older Adults!

Thursday, October 18th, 2018

As a culture we tend to praise accomplishments as if there were an age limit. We like to focus on achievements made by people under a “certain age” as if we think “The younger, the better!” But achievements, major accomplishments, even fame and fortune, don’t have a cut-off age.

There’s nothing wrong with celebrating accomplishments and great deeds done by a specific age, but we’d like to take time here to point out that major accomplishments are achieved regardless of age. Below is just a sampling of some of the amazing things done by older adults of all ages, arranged alphabetically and in no order of greatness.


Author Harry Bernstein publishes his first book, The Invisible Wall: A Love Story that Broke Barriers—age 96

Paul C?©zanne has his first solo art exhibition‚Äîage 56

Julia Child begins the long running The French Chef program on PBS—age 51

Jack Cover invents the Taser stun gun to create a nonlethal weapon—age 50

Benjamin Franklin signs the Declaration of Independence—age 70

Cancer survivor Barbara Hillary becomes one of the oldest people, and first black woman, to reach the North Pole—age 75

Edmond Hoyle begins recording the rules of various card games, publishing A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist in 1742—age 70

Kathryn Joosten, Emmy Award-winning actress of Family Matters, Desperate Housewives, and The West Wing, begins TV-acting—age 56

Mark Jordan sets the World Record in 2015 for most pull-ups in 24 hours—age 54

Ray Kroc begins the McDonald’s franchise—age 52

Nelson Mandela is elected president of South Africa—age 75

Famed American Folk painter Anna Mary Robertson Moses, aka “Grandma Moses,” begins painting—age 76

Frank McCourt publishes Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award-winning Angela’s Ashes—age 65

Taikichiro Mori leaves academia for second career in Tokyo real estate, where he would eventually become the most successful person in the Tokyo real estate market and twice become Forbes’s “world’s richest man”—age 55

Leslie Nielsen stars in comedy-hit Airplane!—age 54

Nola Ochs graduates from Fort Hays State University and becomes the oldest person in the world to become a college graduate—age 95

James Parkinson identifies what will later be named “Parkinson’s disease”—age 62

John Pemberton invents Coca-Cola—age 55

Diana Nyad becomes the first confirmed person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage—age 64

Peter Mark Roget publishes first edition of Roget’s Thesaurus (originally titled, Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases Classified and Arranged so as to Facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary Composition)—age 73

Minoru Saito becomes the oldest person to do a solo circumnavigation of the globe without stopping at any port—age 77

Colonel Harland David Sanders begins the KFC franchise—age 65

Judge Judy Scheindlin begins the now longest-running courtroom TV show, Judy Judy—age 53

Ernestine Shepherd, former world’s oldest competitive female bodybuilder, begins bodybuilding—age 56

J.R.R. Tolkien publishes The Fellowship of the Ring, the first volume of the Lord of the Rings trilogy—age 62

Betty White becomes the first woman to win a Daytime Emmy Award in the category of Outstanding Game Show Host—age 61

Laura Ingalls Wilder publishes Little House in the Big Woods, the first of the Little House books—age 64

 


Whose major achievement are you fascinated by? What are your own accomplishments? Leave us a comment below or send us an email if you’d like us to share them! Whether it‚Äôs breaking a record, fulfilling a lifelong dream, standing out in your industry, or just doing something you‚Äôre proud of, every day is an opportunity for your own achievement‚ÄîNo matter your age!

It’s That Time of the Year‚ÄîMedicare Open Enrollment

Thursday, October 4th, 2018

This week’s guest blog is provided by Charles Clarkson, Esq. This article, originally posted in issue #21 of the New Jersey Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) newsletter¬†Advocate, will cover Medicare Open Enrollment, your options, and information about Medicare scams.


By Charles Clarkson, Esq.

Jewish Family Services of Middlesex County

Project Director, Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey

 

 

Every year between October 15 and December 7, 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 Community Living, 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.
  2. 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. Medicare has a Plan Finder on Medicare.gov which allows beneficiaries to compare plans for next year. The new Part D plans should be announced in late September or early October.
  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 2019 beneficiaries in New Jersey can expect to choose from a number of PDPs.

 

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. A word of advice:

When you realize that a scammer is calling. Just hang up. Do not be polite and just hang up. Also, let your answering machine do all the work. Never answer any call unless you recognize the number. If no message is left, you know the call is probably a scam or an unwanted solicitation. For any questions about Medicare and to report any Medicare scams, call the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey at 732-777-1940.

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

Thursday, 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 ‚ÄúP^MP2F7~HRnZ)LU‚Äù. 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 ‚ÄúSomewhere over the rainbow Way up high.‚Äù Replacing letters with numbers and/or symbols, this can become ‚Äú[email protected]!nb0w#wAyupHi!‚Äù. Or you can take just the initial characters of each word and put those together and similarly swap out some letters. This can become: ‚Äú50TrWuH!‚Äù 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.

 

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