Posts Tagged ‘money’

Scams and Tech, Part 2: Sweetheart Scams

Thursday, 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

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. 

MEDICARE OPEN ENROLLMENT

Wednesday, October 25th, 2017

MEDICARE OPEN ENROLLMENT

ARE YOU AWARE OF YOUR CHOICES?

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

 

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

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

Beneficiaries have these choices:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Why change Part D plans?

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

Compare plans each year.

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Income Taxes and Your Social Security Benefits

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

Income Taxes and Your Social Security Benefits

David Vinokurov, District Manager, Trenton, NJ, Social Security Administration

With tax season upon us, many of you have asked about Income Taxes And Your Social Security Benefits. Some people have to pay federal income taxes on their Social Security benefits. This usually happens only if you have other substantial income (such as wages, self-employment, interest, dividends and other taxable income that must be reported on your tax return) in addition to your benefits.

Note: No one pays federal income tax on more than 85 percent of his or her Social Security benefits based on Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules. If you:

  • file a federal tax return as an “individual” and your combined income* is
  • between $25,000 and $34,000, you may have to pay income tax on up to 50 percent of your benefits.
  • more than $34,000, up to 85 percent of your benefits may be taxable.
  • file a joint return, and you and your spouse have a combined income* that is
  • between $32,000 and $44,000, you may have to pay income tax on up to 50 percent of your benefits
  • more than $44,000, up to 85 percent of your benefits may be taxable.
  • are married and file a separate tax return, you probably will pay taxes on your benefits.

 

How can I get a form SSA-1099/1042S, Social Security Benefit Statement?

An SSA-1099 is a tax form we mail each year in January to people who receive Social Security benefits. It shows the total amount of benefits you received from Social Security in the previous year so you know how much Social Security income to report to IRS on your tax return.

If you are a noncitizen who lives outside of the United States and you received or repaid Social Security benefits last year, we will send you form SSA-1042S instead.

Note: The forms SSA-1099 and SSA-1042S are not available for people who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

If you currently live in the United States and you need a replacement form SSA-1099 or SSA-1042S, we have a new way for you to get an instant replacement quickly and easily beginning February 1st by:

Withholding Income Tax From Your Social Security Benefits

 

You can ask us to withhold federal taxes from your Social Security when you apply for benefits.

If you are already receiving benefits or if you want to change or stop your withholding, you’ll need a form W-4V from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

You can download the form, or call the IRS toll-free number 1-800-829-3676 and ask for Form W-4V, Voluntary Withholding Request. (If you are deaf or hard of hearing, call the IRS TTY number, 1-800-829-4059.)

When you complete the form, you will need to select the percentage of your monthly benefit amount you want withheld. You can have 7%, 10%, 15% or 25% of your monthly benefit withheld for taxes.

Note: Only these percentages can be withheld. Flat dollar amounts are not accepted.

 

Sign the form and return it to your local Social Security office by mail or in person.

If you need more information

If you need more information about tax withholding, read IRS Publication 554, Tax Guide for Seniors, and Publication 915, Social Security and Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits.

If you have questions about your tax liability or want to request a Form W-4V, you can also call the IRS at 1-800-829-3676 (TTY 1-800-829-4059).

 

The New Medicare Cards

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

The New Medicare Cards

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

In 2015, Congress passed the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act. This law requires the removal of the social security numbers from all Medicare cards by April 2019. This new initiative is referred to as the Social Security Number Removal Initiative (SSNRI.) A new randomly generated Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI) will replace the social security number. When the initiative gets underway all Medicare beneficiaries will be assigned a new MBI and be sent a new Medicare card.

The primary goal of the initiative is to decrease Medicare beneficiaries’ vulnerability to identity theft by removing the social security number from their Medicare cards and replacing it with a new Medicare MBI which does not contain any other personal information.

The new MBI will have the following characteristics:

i. The same number of characters as the current Medicare number, but will be visibly distinguishable from the Medicare number

ii. Contain uppercase alphabetic and numeric characters throughout the new MBI

iii. For providers, the new MBI will occupy the same field as the Medicare number on transactions

iv. Be unique to each beneficiary (e.g. husband and wife will have their own MBI)

v. Be easy to read and limit the possibility of letters being interpreted as numbers (e.g. alphabetic characters are upper case only and will exclude S, L, O, I, B, Z)

vi. Not contain any embedded intelligence or special characters

vii. Not contain inappropriate combinations of numbers or strings that may be offensive

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the agency that oversees Medicare, has established a transition period during which the Medicare number or MBI will be accepted from providers, beneficiaries, plans, and others. CMS expects the transition period to run from April 2018 through December 31, 2019. After the transition period only the MBI will be used.

Starting around April 2018, CMS will start mailing new Medicare cards. There are approximately 60 million beneficiaries in Medicare. So, CMS will probably mail the cards in phases over a period of time. Remember, as a beneficiary you can still use your current Medicare number during the transition period if it takes awhile to receive your new Medicare card. If a beneficiary is new to Medicare after April 2018 and Medicare has started issuing the new cards, the beneficiary will receive the new MBI. Therefore, healthcare providers must be able accept the new MBIs by April 2018.

Fraud and the new Medicare cards.

The Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey (SMP) wants all Medicare beneficiaries to be aware of possible fraud and scams relating to the new Medicare cards. Remember, CMS and Medicare will never contact you by phone or email to ask for personal information relating to the issuance of the new Medicare cards. Any such contact is a scam. Don’t be taken in. Also, there will be no charge for the issuance of the new Medicare cards. Anyone seeking to have a beneficiary pay money for the new card is a scammer. Be especially careful of anyone seeking to have access to your checking account to pay any fee for the new card. Beneficiaries are especially vulnerable if they are isolated, frail or may have cognitive loss. Caregivers should be on the alert for these kinds of scams. The SMP is currently educating beneficiaries at its outreach events of the issuance of the new Medicare cards. CMS will also be conducting intensive education and outreach to beneficiaries to help them prepare for this change.

The issuance of the new Medicare card is a significant change. If a beneficiary or caregiver has any questions about the SSNRI, please don‚Äôt hesitate to call the SMP at 1-877-SMP-4359 (1-877-767-4359) or 732-777-1940. A beneficiary or caregiver can also email me at [email protected].

Preventing Falls at Home

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

Preventing Falls at Home

Falls are not inevitable; it isn’t something that just happens as you get older. Falls are linked to a specific cause.  It could be that more than one underlying cause or risk factor is involved in a fall.

Falls can be linked to a person’s physical condition or a medical problem, such as a chronic disease. Other causes could be safety hazards in the person’s home or community environment.

What are some Risk Factors for falls?

  • Muscle weakness, especially in the legs, is one of the most important risk factors. People with weak muscles are more likely to fall than are those who maintain their muscle strength, as well as their flexibility and endurance.
  • Your balance and your gait — how you walk — are other key factors. Older adults who have poor balance or difficulty walking are more likely than others to fall. These problems may be linked to a lack of exercise or to a neurological cause, arthritis, or other medical conditions and their treatments.
  • Blood pressure that drops after you have been lying down or sitting can increase your chance of falling. This condition — called postural hypotension — might result from dehydration, or certain medications. It might also be linked to diabetes, neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, or an infection.
  • Your reflexes may also be slower than when you were younger. The increased amount of time it takes you to react may make it harder to catch your balance if you start to fall.
  • Foot problems that cause painful feet, and wearing unsafe footwear can increase your chance of falling. Backless shoes and slippers, high-heeled shoes, and shoes with smooth leather soles are examples of unsafe footwear that could cause a fall.
  • Sensory problems can cause falls, too. If your senses don’t work well, you might be less aware of your environment. For instance, having numbness in your feet may mean you don’t sense where you are stepping.
  • Not seeing well or other vision problems can also result in falls. It may take a while for your eyes to adjust to see clearly when you move between darkness and light. Other vision problems contributing to falls include poor depth perception, cataracts, and glaucoma. Having poor lighting around your home can also lead to falls.
  • Confusion, even for a short while, can sometimes lead to falls. For example, if you wake up in an unfamiliar environment, you might feel unsure of where you are. If you feel confused, wait for your mind to clear or until someone comes to help you before trying to get up and walk around.
  • Some medications can increase a person’s risk of falling because they cause side effects like dizziness or confusion. The health problems for which the person takes the medications may also contribute to the risk of falls.

Most Falls Happen at Home

Although falls can happen anywhere, well over half of all falls happen at home. Falls at home often happen while a person is doing normal daily activities. Some of these falls are caused by factors in the person’s living environment. For instance, a slick floor or a poorly lit stairway may lead to a fall.

Other factors that can lead to falls at home include

  • loose rugs
  • clutter on the floor or stairs
  • carrying heavy or bulky things up or down stairs
  • not having stair railings
  • not having grab bars in the bathroom

Simple changes can help make your home safer.

If you do fall, what should you do?

Well, be sure to talk with your doctor if you fall. A fall could be a sign of a new medical problem that needs attention, such as an infection or a cardiovascular disorder. It could also suggest that a treatment for a chronic ailment, such as Parkinson’s disease or dementia, needs to be changed.

For the time immediately after a fall, here are some tips:

While you are still on the ground:

  1. Take several deep breaths to try to relax.
  2. Remain still on the floor or ground for a few moments. This will help you get over the shock of falling.
  3. Decide if you’re hurt before getting up. Getting up too quickly or in the wrong way could make an injury worse.

Once you are ready to get up:

  1. If you think you can get up safely without help, roll over onto your side.
  2. Rest again while your body and blood pressure adjust. Slowly get up on your hands and knees, and crawl to a sturdy chair.
  3. Put your hands on the chair seat and slide one foot forward so that it is flat on the floor. Keep the other leg bent so the knee is on the floor.
  4. From this kneeling position, slowly rise and turn your body to sit in the chair.

If you’re hurt or can’t get up, ask someone for help or call 911. If you’re alone, try to get into a comfortable position and wait for help to arrive.

For more information and resources, visit the NJ Dept of Human Services website: http://www.state.nj.us/humanservices/doas/services/fallprev/

 

Take the American Medicine Chest 5 Step Challenge

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016

Prescription Drug Safety and Disposal

Take the American Medicine Chest 5 Step Challenge

By: Angelo M. Valente

The American Medicine Chest Challenge (AMCC) is a community based public health initiative, with law enforcement partnership, designed to raise awareness about the dangers of prescription drug abuse and provide a nationwide day of disposal – at a collection site or in the home – of unused, unwanted, and expired medicine. AMCC provides a unified national, statewide, and local focus on the issue of children and teens abusing prescription medicine. It is designed to generate unprecedented media attention and challenge all Americans to take the 5 Step American Chest Challenge.

It is important for households across the state of New Jersey to understand how easy it is for children and teens to abuse prescription drugs. “AMCC encourages families throughout the state of New Jersey to take the 5-Step Challenge,” said AMCC CEO, Angelo M. Valente. “We have come so far and so much has been achieved – hundreds of permanent disposal sites have been installed and thousands of tons of prescription drugs have been collected. Yet, we are still in the midst of an opiate abuse epidemic and the need for this initiative has continued to expand ever since New Jersey held the first statewide day of disposal in the nation.”

“When AMCC began addressing this issue several years ago, the answer seemed simple, dispose of the unused medicine in your home and prevent it from being diverted and abused by the young people in your life. Safe disposal opportunities have expanded in New Jersey, and now, residents in over 200 communities from across our state have safe and convenient access to a medicine disposal location,” said Valente. “The DEA recently reinstated their Drug-Take Back Day to provide additional opportunities, and the partners we have in the media are working hard to get the message out about the dangers of abusing prescription drugs. We still know that these efforts are key steps in preventing prescription drug abuse, but now we must address the epidemic of opioid abuse on all fronts. Heroin overdoses are on the rise across the country and New Jersey is ground zero.”

According to a report released in 2015 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heroin use has increased across the US among men and women, most age groups, and all income levels. The report found that the strongest risk factor for heroin use is a history of prescription drug abuse. The greatest increases in heroin abuse have occurred in groups with historically lower rates of heroin use, including women, people with private insurance and higher incomes.

New Jersey has worked to address the issue in a 21 bill package, introduced by Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee Chairman, Joseph F. Vitale, to tackle the heroin and prescription drug epidemic that is sweeping our state. One measure requires practitioners to have a conversation with their patient about the risks of developing a physical or psychological dependence before prescribing. Another, which is now law, requires physicians to utilize the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.

There are many ways we can work together to prevent opiate abuse, and stem the tide of this epidemic; we can start in our own homes. “Please encourage all of those in your community, workplace, family, and home to take the 5-Step Challenge,” said Valente.

  1. Take inventory of your prescription and over-the-counter medicine.
  2. Secure your medicine.
  3. Dispose of your unused, unwanted, and expired medicine at an American Medicine Chest Challenge Disposal site.
  4. Take your medicine(s) exactly as prescribed.
  5. Talk to your children about the dangers of prescription drug abuse… they are listening.

Information on locations to safely dispose of unused, unwanted, and expired medicine can be found on the American Medicine Chest Challenge website: www.americanmedicinechest.com or by downloading the AMCC Rx Drop mobile app.

This initiative is provided without cost to any community, government, or law enforcement agency in the country.

Income Taxes and Your Social Security Benefits

Monday, March 7th, 2016

It’s tax season, perhaps you know this because there is an accountant in your life who just got super busy or you’ve seen the increase in TV ads for Turbo Tax. Either way, we thought this timely information from our friends at the Social Security Administration might be useful.

Income Taxes and Your Social Security Benefits

Join the Millions! Create your own my Social Security account

at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.

With tax season upon us, many of you have asked about Income Taxes And Your Social Security Benefits. Some people have to pay federal income taxes on their Social Security benefits. This usually happens only if you have other substantial income (such as wages, self-employment, interest, dividends and other taxable income that must be reported on your tax return) in addition to your benefits.

Note: No one pays federal income tax on more than 85 percent of his or her Social Security benefits based on Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules. If you:

  • file a federal tax return as an “individual” and your combined income* is
  • between $25,000 and $34,000, you may have to pay income tax on up to 50 percent of your benefits.
  • more than $34,000, up to 85 percent of your benefits may be taxable.
  • file a joint return, and you and your spouse have a combined income* that is
  • between $32,000 and $44,000, you may have to pay income tax on up to 50 percent of your benefits
  • more than $44,000, up to 85 percent of your benefits may be taxable.
  • are married and file a separate tax return, you probably will pay taxes on your benefits.
  • Each January you will receive a Social Security Benefit Statement (Form SSA-1099) showing the amount of benefits you received in the previous year. You can use this Benefit Statement when you complete your federal income tax return to find out if your benefits are subject to tax.
  • If you currently live in the United States and you need a replacement form SSA-1099 or SSA-1042S, we have a new way for you to get an instant replacement quickly and easily. Using your online my Social Security account. If you don‚Äôt already have an account, you can create one online. Go to Sign In or Create an Account. Once you are logged in to your account, select the “Replacement Documents” tab.

Withholding Income Tax From Your Social Security Benefits

You can ask us to withhold federal taxes from your Social Security when you apply for benefits.

If you are already receiving benefits or if you want to change or stop your withholding, you’ll need a form W-4V from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

You can download the form, or call the IRS toll-free number 1-800-829-3676 and ask for Form W-4V, Voluntary Withholding Request. (If you are deaf or hard of hearing, call the IRS TTY number, 1-800-829-4059.)

When you complete the form, you will need to select the percentage of your monthly benefit amount you want withheld. You can have 7%, 10%, 15% or 25% of your monthly benefit withheld for taxes.

Note: Only these percentages can be withheld. Flat dollar amounts are not accepted.

Sign the form and return it to your local Social Security office by mail or in person.

If you need more information

If you need more information about tax withholding, read IRS Publication 554, Tax Guide for Seniors, and Publication 915, Social Security and Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits.

If you have questions about your tax liability or want to request a Form W-4V, you can also call the IRS at 1-800-829-3676 (TTY 1-800-829-4059).

Medicare Hospice Benefit

Monday, February 1st, 2016

Medicare Hospice Benefit

Hospice and other end of life issues are not things we often want to talk about. However, being prepared and knowing all your options is a good idea.

We should start by describing hospice. Hospice is a program of care and support for people who are terminally ill. The focus is usually on providing comfort instead of treatment. It is a choice a patient needs to make with their doctor and family. Hospice programs also offer assistance and services to family members during the process of caring for the patient.

If you have Medicare it will cover hospice services. The Medicare hospice benefit covers your care and you shouldn’t have to go outside of hospice to get care (except in very rare situations).

Once you choose hospice care, your hospice benefit should cover everything you need. All Medicare-covered services you get while in hospice care are covered under Original Medicare, even if you were previously in a Medicare Advantage Plan (like an HMO or PPO) or other Medicare health plan.

Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) covers Hospice care if you meet these conditions:

Your hospice doctor and your regular doctor certify that you’re terminally ill (with a life expectancy of 6 months or less).

You accept palliative care (for comfort) instead of care to cure your illness.

You sign a statement choosing hospice care instead of other Medicare-covered treatments for your terminal illness and related conditions.

Palliative care means that the medical team will focus on relieving the patient’s pain and any other symptoms, including mental stress. Only your hospice doctor and your regular doctor can certify that you’re terminally ill and have 6 months or less to live.

To start the process you meet with your doctor to discuss all options. Medicare covers a one-time only hospice consultation with a hospice medical director or doctor to discuss your care options and management of your pain and symptoms. This one-time consultation is available to you, even if you decide not to get hospice care.

Medicare will cover the hospice care you get for your terminal illness and related conditions, but the care you get must be from a Medicare-approved hospice program.

Hospice care is can be given in your home. Although depending on your needs and wishes, there are also inpatient programs available. That is one of the things you will discuss with the hospice program (and your loved ones). Together you will create a plan of care that can include any or all of these services:

Doctor services

Nursing care

Medical equipment (like wheelchairs or walkers)

Medical supplies (like bandages and catheters)

Prescription drugs

Hospice aide and homemaker services

Physical and occupational therapy

Speech-language pathology services

Social worker services

Dietary counseling

Grief and loss counseling for you and your family

Short-term inpatient care (for pain and symptom management)

Short-term respite care

Any other Medicare-covered services needed to manage your terminal illness and related conditions, as recommended by your hospice team

You can find out more information at medicare.gov or by calling them at 1-800-Medicare. Hospice specific information and resources are available at https://www.medicare.gov/coverage/hospice-and-respite-care.html

You can also talk to your physician about your options and care available in your area.

This information is meant to inform you of coverage available to you should you need it. Don’t be afraid to talk openly with your family about end of life decisions.

Medicare Coverage

Tuesday, January 12th, 2016

Medicare coverage

What does Medicare cover? It’s a common, but also complex question. Medicare has 2 basic parts, Part A, which is known as hospital insurance (we’ll define that in a minute) and Part B, which covers services, such as lab tests, doctor visits, etc. Part A and Part B together are known as Original Medicare.

Medicare recipients also have the choice to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan (also known as Part C) which is delivered by an HMO. This coverage differs from Original Medicare not only in the delivery of benefits but also what is covered. There are many different plan options under Medicare Advantage and you can learn more at medicare.gov

When it comes to Original Medicare, coverage works like this:

Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) covers inpatient hospital stays, care in a skilled nursing facility, hospice care, and some home health care. To sum it up, Part A covers:

  • Hospital care
  • Skilled nursing facility care or Nursing home care (as long as custodial care isn’t the only care you need)*
  • Hospice (provided by a Medicare approved program, either at home or an inpatient setting)**
  • Home health services

**Keep a look out for a blog post on Medicare Coverage of Hospice Services coming soon.

*This is where some of the complexity of Medicare comes in. When a patient is sent to a nursing home/rehab facility for rehabilitation, Medicare covers your stay on a short term basis. Medicare does not pay for “long term care” or “custodial care”. If needed, Medicare will cover your rehab stay for 20 days at 100%, on day 21 (should you still need to be there) you will be responsible for a 20% copay. The maximum amount of rehab time Medicare will pay for is 100 days, so from day 21 to day 100 you would pay 20% of the cost. If you or a loved one are in a situation where you have to be in a rehab facility for more than 20 days, you should definitely be thinking about your options and what your plan for long term care is. At that point you should have already had a meeting with the discharge planner if not an interdisciplinary team at the facility.

Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance) covers certain doctors’ services, outpatient care, medical supplies, and preventive services. Part B covers 2 types of services:

  • Medically necessary services: Services or supplies that are needed to diagnose or treat your medical condition and that meet accepted standards of medical practice.
  • Preventive services: Health care to prevent illness (like the flu) or detect it at an early stage, when treatment is most likely to work best.

Preventive services include screenings such as, mammograms, colonoscopies, bone mass measurements, and other cancer screenings, if your doctor thinks you are at risk. You also get a Welcome to Medicare visit within your first 12 months of enrollment, during this visit you can talk to your doctor about screenings and review your medical history. In addition to the Welcome to Medicare visit, you are entitled to an Annual Wellness visit. You pay nothing for most preventive services if you get the services from a health care provider who accepts assignment.

Part B covers things like:

  • Ambulance services
  • Durable medical equipment (DME)
  • Mental health
    • Inpatient
    • Outpatient
    • Partial hospitalization
  • Getting a second opinion before surgery
  • Limited outpatient prescription drugs

The fourth part of Medicare is Part D, which is prescription drug coverage. With Original Medicare prescriptions are not paid for, therefore you should obtain a separate Medicare Part D plan.

To learn more about all the parts of Medicare and to explore your options, such as, Original Medicare (Part A & B), Medicare Advantage (Part C) and Prescription Drug Coverage (Part D) visit https://www.medicare.gov/ or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).

You can also contact your local SHIP (State Health Insurance Assistance Program) through you County- find their contact information at: http://www.state.nj.us/humanservices/doas/home/sashipsite.html or call the SHIP Information Center at 1-800-792-8820.

 

medicare