December 17, 2014

Scams and The Elderly: Signs To Watch For

A few months ago I wrote about hackers and their ability to make our life difficult. Another concern is the assault on the elderly by those perpetuating scams of various types. As is often the case the most vulnerable are the most likely targets.

The folllowing information was supplied by TrueLink, a service that helps protect folks from this type of indignity. I found the list worth presenting to you.

Red Flags That Your Aging Relative is Suffering from Financial Exploitation

1. Missing funds – This is the obvious one. If mom is a victim of elder financial exploitation – whether it's by a family member, a fraud ring, or a predatory marketing scheme – she's going to have less money as a result. Watch for unpaid bills or extra credit cards lying around, and keep an eye on the gifts being given during the holidays. If she’s giving dramatically less or dramatically more this year compared to last year, it could be time to have a conversation and check out her finances.

2. Lots of phone calls from telemarketers – Telemarketers know that older adults are particularly vulnerable to their tactics. And once they discover a viable target the calls can come nonstop, even if your parent is on a Do Not Call list. Take note of how many calls come during your visit. You may be surprised to find out that telemarketers call your parent more often than you or the grandkids do. Every one of those calls is a financial mishap waiting to happen.

3. New friends – All too often these senior entrapment schemes rely on the perception that the senior is susceptible, isolated, or even lonely. This is a tactic used by con artists, malicious caregivers, predatory telemarketers, and deceptive infomercial offers alike – "Just get the senior talking!" The more they build a trusting relationship, the more likely they are to get their money. If someone is suddenly spending a lot of time with mom or dad, get to know who the person is and what the nature of the relationship is. It might be a good time to do a quick review of their bank accounts and credit cards.

4. Small clues in conversations – Sometimes if dad says something that doesn't quite make sense, you just brush over it. He mentions a grandson's trip to Mexico and you think to yourself "oh, he must mean Florida and got confused." However, he could be talking about falling victim to the grandparent scam, in which someone posing as a relative in a tough situation cons the elderly person into wiring money abroad.

5. Unusual gifts - Family is often the most important thing to a senior, and so “gifts for family members” are often used as bait for financial entrapment by deceptive merchants. They might offer four for the price of one as part of a misleading sales pitch, and then the other three become gifts for family members. Or a sweepstakes or lottery winnings fraud will claim that a senior is going to get to take their family on an exciting trip abroad.

6. Secrecy – Seniors suffering from financial entrapment often feel fear or shame about the situation they are in. If mom or dad suddenly doesn't want to talk about money anymore, that's exactly the time when maybe you should be having a conversation about money.

“Family caregivers know best when something just doesn’t seem right,” says Kai Stinchcombe, whose company, True Link ( offers a service that prevents such financial exploitation. True Link offers a Visa debit card that allows caregivers to set spending limits for specific vendors, receive alerts about unusual purchases, or block suspicious purchases all together."

Satisfying Retirement presents this information for informational purposes only and has no connection to TrueLink nor is the publication an implied endorsement of their services. Satisfying Retirement has received no compensation for this post

December 13, 2014

Sun City Festival: A Retirement Community Treats Us Well

A major force in the retirement landscape in the Phoenix area is the Del Webb company. It is best known for Sun City, the nation's first planned retirement community that opened on January 1, 1960 in the desert west of Phoenix. Since then three more Sun City communities have opened nearby, just part of 50 communities in 21 different markets.

The newest, Sun City Festival, invited Betty and me for a weekend stay in one of their villas. We were invited to use the facilities, talk with local residents, interview marketing folks, and write about our experiences for Satisfying Retirement.

If your image of a retirement community in the sunbelt is just people spending all their days golfing, you need to readjust your mental picture. This  community is home to quite a few non-retired folks, or those who work at a second career or capacity. Yes, there is a beautiful 18 hole golf course, but so much more to keep the not-quite retired and those done with their working lives busy and productive.

At last count there are 42 clubs featuring all sorts of activities, everything from wine tasting and dancing to pickleball, bridge, and quilting. A life-long learning center affiliated with Arizona State University offers classes to keep one's mind sharp. Betty and I sampled the fitness center, ate several meals at the on-site restaurant, and even enjoyed a happy hour. We spent a very pleasant evening on an outside patio overlooking an enormous pool and spa complex.

Friday night was the community's Holiday desserts party that featured an excellent choral group as entertainment for the 200 or so folks in attendance. In front of the activity center were a few brightly lit cars and golf carts.

 On Saturday we were invited to visit the 9,000 square foot pottery and glass studio along with a huge woodworking shop. Always the artist, Betty fell in love with these facilities. She says they are absolutely on par with anything she has ever seen. Hundreds of residents learn and practice their artistic skills in this state of the art facility.

Linda - instructor at pottery studio

Clyde and Barbara at glass kilns

Jacque Petroulakis, Corprate Communication spokesperson for the Pulte Group (owner of Del Webb) notes that one of the most important approaches the company takes is to actively research the wants of today's home buyers. Last year they actually built prototype models inside large warehouses and asked potential customers to walk through and critique the designs and layouts.

The results are obvious. Today's models have elevated dishwashers and lower microwaves. The entrance from the garage does not involve any steps up or down, doorways are wider, and showers can include a place to sit.

If there is a downside, it is Sun City Festival's location. Since only a gas station and mini mart are located here and being 12 miles west of the nearest town, trips for groceries, additional dining options, or medical appointments are bit of a jaunt  But, residents we talked to didn't see this as a problem. In fact, several mentioned they like the quiet and lack of city lights.  A fire department, police, and EMT operation in town means one is not far from immediate emergency help. The nearest full service hospital is about 25 minutes away.

Sun City Festival is designed for active folks who want to live independently. There is no provision to provide assisted living or nursing care at this time. But, community representatives told me when the time approaches for more help with daily living, residents are likely to move to Sun City Grand or Sun City West, both of which offer such services.

Thanks to the folks at the Pulte group and Del Webb for inviting us to spend some time at Sun City Festival. It was a much needed break for Betty and me, and a perfect chance to see the changing face of retirement communities. The residents we talked to were very happy with where they live and extremely friendly. We didn't meet anyone who didn't welcome us with open arms.

Our villa home - very comfortable

Note: Betty and I were provided with free lodging, dining credit, and facility use during our stay. Sun City Festival did not have control over or prior approval of the content of this post.

December 11, 2014

Take Out The Trash That Clutters and Restricts

From three years ago this post still rings very true for me. As I review the list of "trash" that needs to be put by the curb I am reminded how much is still part of my life, and how much work I still have to do.

One chore we are all familiar with is taking out the trash. While it may not be fun, it is necessary. The stuff will not walk itself to the curb for pickup. Holding on to it serves no purpose but to clutter up our lives.

I suggest the same requirement exists in our personal lives. A satisfying retirement is going to require getting rid of things on a regular basis that no longer serve a purpose or just clutter up your life. A life accumulates various types of  "trash" that is best dumped.

Self-imposed Limits. I'm hard pressed to think of anything more destructive to our personal development and growth than limits we put on ourselves. We think we aren't very creative so we never explore that part of us. We have been told by someone in the past we aren't very smart or strong or productive or capable or.....(fill in your externally imposed limits). We have internalized that judgment of part of us by accepting someone else's view of our abilities as true. So, we no longer try.

We have failed at a previous attempt to form a meaningful relationship, start a business, write a book, learn to play tennis, grow vegetables in the back yard....whatever...and so we are afraid. We eliminate the chance of failure by refusing to try. Actually, we eliminate the chance of success.

Self-imposed limits are part of the trash of our life that must be disposed of on a regular basis. These limits will limit your happiness and your satisfaction. These limits will make it impossible for you to grow to your potential. Label these self-imposed limits for what they are: garbage that needs to go. 

Habits that no longer serve a purpose. We all have them. They could be habits we know aren't good for us but are tough to dump. They could be habits that affect our interaction with others. The list is long and the causes are complicated. I tried to quit smoking at least five times before it actually stuck back in the late 80's.

In this case, though, I'm referring to habits, or patterns of behavior, that once served us well, but no longer do. Previous posts have talked about how I fell into a routine of reading two newspapers every morning, until I realized I was wasting my most productive time of the day on something that could be done later (or eventually dropped completely). Maybe we have always answered every e-mail the second it hits our inbox, until we realize that is amazingly unproductive.

Going out to eat several nights a week is an easy habit to develop. Cooking after a full day of work is not something everyone looks forward to. But, now that you are retired, the pattern of eating most dinners at a restaurant no longer serves the same purpose. Also, it is probably putting a major dent in your retirement budget. I used to buy lots of books from Amazon, until I ran out of bookshelf space. Now, the library, with the purchase of an occasional book I really want to read is a much better match to my lifestyle.

We are resistant to change and comfortable with our routines. In fact, for many of us, our routines comfort us to the point where even the simplest change takes effort. But, are the routines and habits still serving a purpose? Do some of them need to be taken to the curb?

Grudges and Past Hurts. Here is a tough one. Doesn't it feel good to dislike someone who did you wrong all those years ago. It is easy to work up a towering inferno or rage and anger...until you stop to remember what caused the problem in the first place, and can't. Or, you review where the grudge came from and now, years later, it seems so petty and silly.

Holding on to an insult, or unkind action is never very helpful. It may feel good for a moment to zing someone back, but rarely does it solve the problem. Even worse is to allow a past hurt to fester for years, preventing you from moving on.

Taking out the trash every week helps keep your house free of clutter and unpleasant smells. Getting rid of the trash in your life is more complicated, but every bit as important to your satisfying retirement.


December 8, 2014

The Travel Itch Begins Again: Plans for 2015

The New Year is fast approaching and with it comes a need to firm up our travel and vacation plans. This year has been a blast, highlighted by the two month RV trip to the upper Midwest. What does 2015 hold?

The first jaunt has actually been on our calendar since last spring: The Palm Springs Film Festival. This January event attracts thousands of film fans, movie stars, and desert lovers for a long weekend of events. Mike and Tamara Reddy have been before and thought it would be fun if the four of us experienced it together. So, the tickets are purchased and the RV slots selected.

A month later I have booked an RV space for a three nights at a pretty county park just east of Phoenix, not far from the Superstition Mountains. Usery Park is nicely maintained with plenty of hiking trails for us and Bailey. 

We will be close enough to explore some the nearby lakes and maybe check out the Lost Dutchman State Park just down the road. The camping sites are quiet and have beautiful views of the mountains and city lights.

In April it will be time to head to Show Low in the White Mountains of Arizona for several days. Fools Hollow State Park has become one of our favorite spots. Our campsite overlooks a beautiful lake. There are kyacks and row boats to rent, dozens of miles to hike, and the smell of pine trees to make every day a delight. At that time of year night time lows are still not far above freezing so a blazing fire pit and roasted marshmallows will be part of each evening.

Come June we will be flying to Pittsburgh and then making our way south into West Virginia. Betty has put together a family reunion that will be the first time she has seen some of these folks in years. Arrangements have been made to rent a large cottage at a lake resort for the weekend. Then, back to Pittsburgh to spend time with her brother before we fly home.

South Park Blocks in Portland
Two weeks later, the RV heads north for a two month trip through Utah and Idaho to Portland. We will spend a month in one of our favorite cities before slowly driving down the Oregon and California coast, with a detour to wine country near Paso Robles to meet friends. A few days later we will arrive home just in time for Labor Day and two more months of blazing summer heat.

Oregon Coast

Wine country near Paso Robles

Last year we drove over 5,000 miles during the summer RV trip; next year the total to and from Portland is half that amount. Not only will substantially less gas will be needed but the wear and tear on the driver (me!) will be appreciated.

It sounds like another fun year of blending time at home with family and friends and on the road in the RV. 

Portland International Rose Gardens

December 5, 2014 What Was Our Experience This Time?

A little over a year ago I wrote about our experiences with, the Marketplace health site. As everyone knows, the launch was a disaster. The system crashed and kept crashing for almost the entire enrollment period. I was able to get a policy to carry me from January until Medicare started in May without too many problems.

Betty was another matter. Her application and data were so messed up we finally had to fight our way through to the Resolution Center to resolve her situation. That is not easy to do. Those folks are protected from "customers" like the gold in Fort Knox. You can read about that fun time by clicking here.

So, billions of dollars and thousands of man hours later, what happened this year? Betty's insurance company was not offering the policy she finally got last year, so she had to go through the application process again. Certainly, things would zip right along, right?

Wrong. We got into the same mess this time around. The web site continually crashed the first two days it was opened, and only functioned sporadically after that for at least two more days. Betty's incorrect information from a year ago continued to haunt our attempts to complete an application. Her application was complete, then incomplete, then verified, then needed to be verified....exactly like before.

The folks on the phone can't do a thing: they use the same web site that anyone uses, so when it is in the toilet they are powerless. When it finally works, they are unable to fix something that is causing problems. Calling the 800 number only increases your frustration and does not solve a problem.

Like last year we tried the Advanced Resolution Center but the protective walls are even higher this time around. Those golden men and women who can fix a problem cannot be reached by mere mortals.

We were just about to give up and buy insurance through the health insurance company's web site, losing out on hundreds of dollars in tax credits, when Betty discovered a sheet of paper from last year's battle that included a user name and password that had been given to us by the nice lady who finally helped us.

With nothing to lose, I entered those precious letters and - we were in! Suddenly I was sailing through a new application and 20 minutes later we had signed her up for a new policy, with a small but welcome tax credit. 

Not so fast. Two weeks later and the health insurance company had not received the proper paperwork from the Marketplace. The fine folks at the end of the 800 number said they would have their technical people look at the problem but it could take up to 30 days. With the deadline for coverage only 2 week away that was a non-starter.

With time running out, we decided to skip the whole screwed up system and buy a policy directly from the company web site. Our costs will be substantially more than last year for Betty's policy, with less coverage and more financial risks to us (silver instead of gold). But, at least we won't face bankruptcy over a serious health problem.

The Bottom line: National news reports indicate things went much more smoothly than in 2013. A half a million people were able to go through the process and sign up in the first week.

But, that isn't true for everyone. Once your application gets fouled up by software glitches, you are in trouble. With only 30 days this year to get things done before it is too late to get coverage starting January 1st, there is no margin for error.

The call center people told me that at times the software was performing no better than one year ago. If you had told me that we would have exactly the same experience as 14 months ago after all the money, the effort, and the promises, I would have not believed you. But, for us, that was what happened.

Guess what: Betty has 4 more years before she qualifies for Medicare. Do you want to bet we will go through this same minefield four more times? Or, simply pay whatever the insurance companies want and skip the whole gut-churning experience?

Of course, if the Supreme Court decides tax credits are illegal then the whole for-profit healthcare system as it is now set up will collapse in 2016 under the weight of huge premium increases and no tax help for those not well-off. Betty will become one of an estimated 80 million Americans without health insurance. 

Won't that be something. 

Update: December 11th and Betty finally has coverage directly from the health insurance company...3 days before the deadline.