Scammed, Exploited & Bled Dry
Posted by Margie - Blog Owner
I work with an elderly and/or disabled population. I grow more and more frustrated with our government’s tolerance of scams every day. The position that I have isn’t available to everyone. I work with 70 clients. The rural area in which I live has a large elderly population, so what about the others? Who helps them? I know what the answer SHOULD be–their family, but do we really see that anymore?
I want to share with you what I do, so you can know what things you can do for those who are elderly or are in a fragile state either mentally, physically, emotionally, etc. I also am going to list my top frustrations, so you can watch out for them for those in your life.
What do I do? I am a service coordinator.
What is a service coordinator? A service coordinator is someone who works with a specific population (generally low-income–mine are elderly and/or disabled) to assist them in gaining access to programs that may assist them in staying in their apartment for as long as they can safely do so alone or with assistance. The goal–to increase self-sufficiency and independence avoiding the need to go to a nursing facility.
Where do you find service coordinators? Well, we may be called different things in different locations, but mostly, you will find us in HUD subsidized, low-income housing apartment complexes; however, some locations have independent social workers who provide the same type of services as well–this is not typical.
Who benefits from such a program? Everyone. First of course, the client benefits from having someone who is able to assist them with identifying programs to help their very limited income to stretch, helps advocate for them if their family is not involved, and helps to fight off those who attempt to exploit them, which is a growing problem. Next, nursing facilities benefit. Nursing home facilities are beyond capacity which puts a strain not only on that system, but also on tax payers who assist in keeping many of them open. Finally, tax payers benefit from my position. In helping the resident remain self-sufficient and independent in their home, it helps to alleviate those stresses to the nursing facility, and we benefit in a reduction of tax dollars spent to house those who do not have a place to live and place pressure on hospitals and other medical providers.
Top frustrations. My top frustrations leave me asking the question, how do elderly or otherwise fragile people protect themselves from such things without immediate family assistance or someone who does the same type of work I do? I’m afraid the answer to that question is that they get exploited, abused, and scammed with government officials turning their head.
1. My all time frustration is automated phone systems that are so complicated to use that even someone with an advanced degree has to sit down and think their way through navigating the system. Now, once someone has reached a point where they don’t comprehend as quickly as they used to, using an automated phone system becomes an impossible task. I have had my clients sitting in my office with me after trying this on their own, and I call to sit laughing hysterically (in a crazy way not a funny way) at the result of our “following instructions.”
My all time favorite was the Georgia Department of Labor whose system had gone LOCO. Literally, they would respond in Spanish when I would spell an English name and choose English as our option. This is the kicker. THERE’S NO OTHER OPTION! You can’t speak to a representative, so what? You’re just not able to handle your business. This call took over an hour to make an address change or request a verification of income. To me, that is just ridiculous.
The IRS, oh you have to love them. I waited 45 minutes, no exaggeration, to speak with someone regarding a client’s account. While we were speaking, the call disconnected. I called back and had to wait ANOTHER 45 MINUTES! Once I received another operator, I asked if I could give them my phone number in the event we were disconnected again. Their answer? No, I would have to just call back. Guess what, the call was terminated AGAIN! We ended up just waiting for the IRS to send a written notice. Needless to say, I was a very angered taxpayer that day, AND my client felt their concern had not been resolved (indeed it had not been). I thought phone systems were supposed to make doing business…easier. (yeah…for who)
2. My next biggest frustration is legalese. When someone applies for a service like social security for example, why can’t they just get a letter than says, Congratulations, you got social security, or you did not get social security? Instead they get a multiple pages of legal speak. Blah, blah, blah…”I think it says you didn’t get social security, and if you want to appeal their response call this number (then see #1 of this frustration list).”
Medicaid works the same way. Lots of blah, blah, blah and the result is the client is completely confused and calls to ask their Medicaid worker what the document actually says. This is a great idea except for the fact that they seldom EVER answer their phone (except for one super great one here in my area–Buff–you know who you are). So what do they do? They can’t understand it. It’s literally like reading another language. Why can’t we tell lawyers that they need to write in plain English, and why can’t we get a “Press 1 for plain English” or “Press 2 if you’re a lawyer and prefer Klingon?” I have had clients in my office, crying, fearful they will lose their medical benefits when in reality, the document was actually good news. THAT’S JUST A SHAME! Why not hire a focus group to help you develop a plain, English form to use?! And before anyone starts writing me about people using Medicaid that shouldn’t, most of the people that I work with or am referring to with this post are people who need the assistance, AND Medicaid is a program you will be glad is around if you ever find yourself disabled.
3. My next frustration, SCAMMERS. I despise scammers. To me, you’re a pretty low, excuse for a human if you have to con someone who is elderly, fragile, or unable to defend themselves against you. Now, there are the jerks out there who pretend to be Medicare and make their documents look just like Medicare to get the client to sign up for some type of medical plan that they don’t need, could terminate their Medicare, or just charge Medicare for supplies the client doesn’t really need (this is fraudulent on the company’s behalf), but because the form appears important claiming they need to “respond by X date or you’ll lose this benefit,” the client follows the instructions for fear they will lose their medical coverage. This type of scam will impact Medicare as a whole (including future recipients because it drains the system).
Then there are the mega-jerks who are huge, companies like phone companies, cable companies, etc, who KNOW that they can sign someone up for maximum services without them saying anything about it because they think they HAVE to have it that way. Yes, those are the ones I end up on the phone with, door closed, vocal volume increased, and blood pressure elevated, saying, THIS SURE LOOKS LIKE YOU’RE TRYING TO SCAM SOMEONE TO ME! “Oh no, it’s not a scam. They said, ‘yes’ we have it recorded.” DEEP BREATH. My next question, “Are you recording THIS call for quality assurance?” “Yes, we are.” “Excellent, because if you don’t remove all of these unnecessary items from my client’s account, I will be in contact with CNN, NBC, ABC, FOX and everyone in between not to mention I will wage a personal social media campaign against you stating that you take advantage of those who are easy to exploit!” “Ma’am, we’ll be happy to take care of whatever the problem is and even roll back the charges.”
The Cold Hard Facts
Well reader, this is all well and fine, but when I hang up with this company, I have helped one person. One starfish. And yes, it made a difference to THAT ONE, but what about all of the others? What about your grandparents? Have you seen their phone bill? Are you sure they aren’t paying $60-70/mo, when they seldom EVER make a phone call? Are you sure they aren’t signed up for unlimited long distance when everyone lives on the same block or they never make a long distance call?
Are you sure they aren’t paying for internet service when they don’t even have a computer, and couldn’t turn one on if they did have one? If they do have internet and use the service, are you sure they are signed up for a level that is appropriate for them and not some super-server that needs mega download and upload speeds? What about cable? Do they watch the weather channel 24/7 and pay for full cable when they could save a lot of money signed up for only basic cable?
The Corporate Benefit
I know it doesn’t seem like much, but do you realize that over the course of a year, these types of overages can end up equaling over $1,000 or more dollars a year and that is a conservative number. For most low-income, that is more than they get in a month and in some cases, two months. Multiply that by the MILLIONS of elderly/disabled using the service. Calculating just 1 million elderly, that could add up to be over a billion dollars in overages–CONSERVATIVELY–because we know there are more than a million people who fight with this internationally.
This list can go on and on with every company they pay money to. Everyone needs someone who cares enough about them to say, “Hey, have you checked your bill lately to see if you have only the services you need? Or have you spoken with the company to see if they’ve reduced the cost of your plan–because they won’t tell you they did. You have to call them and ask for them to review it.”
I’m all for capitalism, but I take issue with the “buyer beware” type mentality. Why can’t we be a society that says, “This is the service we provide. Let us ask you some questions to see what you need and no more.” Why do we have to be a people of leeches, sucking people dry just because they let us. To me, that is injustice. Now, I personally am able to look over my account and notice these things, but there are people who just don’t think the same way I do (and one day, my abilities may waiver). It’s not that they aren’t just as intelligent. It’s that they just don’t see things as obviously. Why should they be taken advantage of for that reason?
I save my clients money all the time by reviewing their bills and making suggestions for how they can save money. The population that I am speaking of will generally be living on less than $1,000/month. A lot of them will only get $697/month. Look at your mortgage. Now look back at their monthly living amount. I’m not asking for programs here. I’m asking for our legislators to give these people a chance to actually live on what they make. Ignoring these frustrations cause people to be confused and accept more service than they actually need. They might not need nearly as many programs if leeches wouldn’t bleed them dry.
What you can do
Have a family discussion about this topic. It’s good for everyone to be reminded to review their bills. Call your grandparents or those in your family who may have problems that would limit their ability to defend themselves against such tactics. CARE FOR THEM because the companies they owe money to most likely WON’T.
About Margie - Blog OwnerFull-time Homemaker, Cakebaker, and Phototaker. I love my life! Blessed with the birth of a son, my only child, at 40 years old, my life took a MAJOR change. In exchange for the life I had chosen for myself, God gave me a love and instant ability for baking and confections. How can I argue with that?
Posted on March 23, 2012, in Business, Elderly or disabled, Government, Health, Programs, Reading, Social, Writing and tagged ABC, at&t, automated phone systems, business, cable company, capitalism, CBS, CNN, cons, department of labor, disabled, elderly, family, FOX, gdol, government, HUD, indigent, IRS, jerks, lawyers, leeches, legalese, legislators, low-income, medcaid, medicare, money, NBC, nursing homes, phone company, poor, save money, scammers, scams, service coordination, service coordinator. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.