Reverse mortgage scam targets seniors

Experts think the nation’s deepening economic crisis is creating a whole new universe of potential scam victims every day.

Be aware of a green post card from “National Data Research” with its bold headline, “New Government Program for Seniors Over 62.” The unsolicited mailing offers some welcome promises in these tough economic times: the chance to pay off existing mortgages and credit card debt, make home repairs and renovations, even the ability to “enhance your lifestyle.”

They want you to just sign the postage-paid card, list your phone number and your age and your spouse’s, and you’ll receive “free information about how much money you qualify for.” After all, the card notes, “It is your Legal Right as a United States Taxpayer to receive all the Information available to you.”

The real intent is to collect your contact information so it can be sold to vendors of reverse mortgages. And from there, it could be sold to other salesmen, resulting in unwanted mail and telephone solicitations. Although there is nothing illegal about selling reverse mortgages, which let property owners collect money borrowed against equity they’ve acquired in their homes, this recent mailing is another example of correspondence that masquerades as official government offerings when it’s anything but.

In this case, National Data Research is another official-sounding name used by Acc-U-Lead, a Texas-based company with a long history of mailing what authorities call deceptive mailings that target older citizens. Earlier this decade, Acc-U-Lead was among several companies all operating at one address that were fined $200,000 by federal officials and ordered to cease similar mailings. “By falsely promising additional Social Security payments, the anonymous mailings tricked [citizens] into parting with coveted personal information,” according to a report from the Social Security Administration. The report noted that one company sharing the Acc-U-Lead address was United States Senior Services, the same name used in another Acc-U-Lead mailing that triggered a cease-and-desist order by the Oregon insurance commissioner for illegally hawking insurance to older people.

In another instance, the Texas attorney general took action against Acc-U-Lead’s owner, Ronald Morgan, for misleading older property owners by illegally offering an “elderly tax freeze” for a fee — again, using “misleading correspondence that appeared to be official government business.” In that ruse, Morgan’s mailings were sent by the “State and County Tax Redemption Center” and generated some 1,600 consumer complaints in one Texas county before a restraining order was issued against him. Morgan was reportedly out of the country when Scam Alert called his Acc-U-Lead office for comment on the latest mailings.

Another company official, Chris Taylor, denies that Acc-U-Lead’s mailings are designed to confuse consumers into thinking they are from government agencies. “We use the name National Data Research because we are mailing data nationally,” he says. Taylor further claims that his company’s nationally distributed mailing was updated to accurately reflect that it is to offer information about reverse mortgages. “We clearly spell that out,” he says. On its Web site, Acc-U-Lead claims its for-sale leads are “legitimate requests from senior homeowners who want to know more about reverse mortgages.” Yet the post card forwarded to Scam Alert in December, soon after arriving at the home of a Virginia retiree, mentions nothing about reverse mortgages, only the vague promise of government money. (AARP offers accurate information on reverse mortgages and how they work.)

“It’s unfortunate that these companies take advantage of the gullibility of large numbers of senior citizens by masquerading as a U.S. government agency,” notes the resident who received that mailing. “I knew it was a scam. But I didn’t know it was about reverse mortgages. No one would, based on that letter.” The bottom line: Don’t let an official-sounding name fool you, in letters, e-mails or phone calls. A bona fide government entity can easily be checked with an online search, and these copycats are likely to be scammers who ask for upfront fees for “free government money.” Or, like Acc-U-Lead, they may be businesses that make money from selling your personal information to others. “We’ve sued lead-card companies numerous times, but we need consumers to file complaints with our office,” notes Tom Kelley of the Texas Attorney General’s Office. “And the same applies to residents of other states: Contact your attorney general if you receive them. It’s a cookie cutter scam; these companies try to trick people into thinking they’ll get some kind of special information. We urge people not to respond.”

The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse offers tips on how to remove yourself from mailing lists. And the Federal Trade Commission offers advice on how to recognize phone scams that purport to offer grant money or other government incentives.

— Courtesy AARP.

Medicare Health Plans open enrollment

Are you baffled by the many decisions you are faced with regarding your Medicare these days? The decisions you need to make as you approach your 65th birthday can be overwhelming. Keeping up with the information you need regarding Part A (hospitalization), Part B (physicians visits), Part C (Medicare Advantage Plans), Part D (prescription drugs) can be a full time job! Did you know lower income individuals may be entitled to lower premiums and lower cost prescriptions? There’s a lot to consider!

The State Health Insurance Assistance Program through the State of Colorado Division of Insurance, or SHIPS, helps beneficiaries identify and understand programs and plans, including Medicare prescription drug coverage, Medicare Advantage plans, Medicare supplemental insurance policies, Medicare Savings programs, long-term care insurance and financing, and other public and private health insurance coverage options. SHIPs also assist eligible participants in enrolling in these programs and plans, all services are provided free charge at the Silver Foxes Den — a cultural center for older adults.

Medicare Health Plans — Part C

These plans are approved by Medicare and run by private companies. When you join one of these plans, you are still in Medicare. Some of these plans require referrals to see specialists. They provide all of your Part A (hospital) and Part B (medical) coverage. They generally offer extra benefits, and many include prescription drug coverage. These plans often have networks which mean you may have to see a doctor who belongs to the plan or go to certain hospitals to get covered services. In many cases, your costs for services can be lower than in the Original Medicare Plan, but it is important to check with the plan because the costs for services will vary. To learn more about these plans, visit www.medicare.gov and click on Medicare Health Plans-2009 Data or schedule an appointment at The Den.

Open enrollment for Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage plans) is through March 31, appointments fill quickly, call 264-2167 for information or an appointment.

Special events

Southwest Center of Independence. On Monday, March 23 at 12:30 p.m., Executive Director Ian Engle of Southwest Center for Independence will be presenting information about the independent living programs and projects available for seniors and people with disabilities. Housing, personal care, transportation, social/recreational opportunities, medical care, finances and benefits enrollments, Social Security, health departments and Department of Social Services are just a few topics he will be covering.

Victoria Liljenquist. Join us Wednesday, March 25 at 12:30 p.m., for a special Award Winning Film: “Encounters with Angels, UFOs and Divine Messages.” Witness amazing phenomena, which Victoria Liljenquist, producer and contactee of angels and heavenly vehicles, has captured on Film.  Group participation is encouraged for questions and answers.  A local Pagosa resident, Victoria is excited to learn about the group’s experiences and sightings. Serving in the healing arts for 30 years, Victoria has dedicated her talents as a therapist to assist individuals to find greater wholeness for mind, body and spirit.  Having had a near death experience, she will share her joyful experience, visions, and her original heavenly music featured in the film. Featured on international TV and radio, Victoria’s message is one of peace on earth and in the universe.  An event you will not want to miss.

Rummage sale, Archuleta Seniors Inc. Saturday, April 4. Please donate new or gently-used items to benefit Archuleta Seniors, Inc. You may bring your items to the membership desk at the senior center on Tuesday or Fridays, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., during the month of March. Suggested items: kitchen items, art work, electronics (working), ceramics, tapes, CDs, musical instruments, exercise equipment, baskets, jewelry, and household items. Please, no clothing or shoes. If you have any questions, or for pickups, call Doris Whitcomb at 731-1346.

Health boost — volunteering

Did you know studies show that people who volunteer one to two hours a week are healthier, live longer and are more satisfied with their lives? We’re looking for outgoing, friendly volunteers to help at our front desk by answering phones, checking people in and welcoming everyone to The Den. If you’re interested in working three to four hours a day for two to four days a week, contact Julia at 264-2167 or stop in at The Den. This opportunity will begin in April.

Weekly activities

Friday, March 20 — Geezers, 9: a.m.; Tai Chi for Arthritis, 9:30-10:30 a.m.; gym walk, 11:15 a.m.; Healthier Living, 12:45 p.m.

Monday, March 23 — Gym walk, 11:15 a.m.; Southwest Center for Independence; Canasta, 1 p.m.

Tuesday, March 24 — Blood pressure check, 11 a.m.; gym walk, 11:15 a.m.; Tuesday’s topic, 12:30 p.m.; Meditation for healing, 1 p.m.;

Wednesday, March 25 — Dance for health, 10 a.m.; Encounters with Angels, UFO’s and Divine messages-Victoria Liljenquist.

Thursday, March 26 — Administrative day.

Friday, March 27 ­— Geezers, 9 a.m.; Tai Chi for Arthritis, 9:30-10:30 a.m.; book club, 10:30 a.m.; gym walk, 11:15 a.m.; birthday celebration, noon; Healthier Living, 12:45 p.m.

Medical expense assistance

 The Silver Foxes Den, in cooperation with Archuleta Seniors, Inc. (ASI) may be able to help with excess medical expenses.  Items covered might be prescription copays, eyeglasses, hearing aids, and dental care. Qualifying amounts are based on income and need. Recipients must be current members of ASI. Dues are $5 per year. For more information about how we might help you or your family, please contact Musetta at 264-2167.

Menu

Suggested donation for older adults age 60-plus is $3, kids 12 and under and guests $6. Our meal program is partially funded through the Older Americans Act, United Way, and Archuleta County, Town of Pagosa Springs and other contributions and grants. These funds help support the cost of the meal which is approximately $9.75. Please note our menu is subject to change. The salad bar opens at 11:30 a.m. with lunch served at noon.

Friday, March 20 — Ham and potato omelet, green beans, oven potatoes, fruit.

Monday, March 23 — Chicken parmesan, brown rice, squash, cooked apples, mixed fruit.

Tuesday, March 24 — Goulash, corn o’ brain, mandarin orange, oatmeal raisin muffin.

Wednesday, March 25 — Arroz con Pollo, salad, asparagus, fruit, roll.

Thursday, March 26 — Administrative day.

Friday, March 27 — Clam chowder, crackers, veggie medley, cottage cheese and pineapple, fruit, roll.

Please note: Archuleta County Cultural Center Newsletter is available on Archuleta County’s Web site: www.archuletacounty.org/Seniors/seniors.asp.