The Watchdog: How much do you know about protecting seniors?

Think about Grandma or Grandpa. Or your elderly dad or mom. Or maybe even you, getting older. Do you know the rights of older Texans? Do you know ways to protect them?

Let’s take The Watchdog’s Elder Care Knowledge Quiz.

The late Jack Cook of Southlake, TX.

The late Jack Cook of Southlake, TX. Dave’s favorite senior.

1. When a senior has a problem, a quick and reliable way to find professionals who can provide help is to:

a) dial the Texas 211 help line, which helps Texans connect with services they need.

b) check for pros on


c) stand on a street corner with a sign.

2. State agencies that help seniors include all of these except:

a) Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services.

b) Texas Adult Protective Services.

c) Texas attorney general.

d) Texas Department of Scam Protection.

3. The Department of Aging and Disability Services is responsible for catching violations of state and federal laws in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and home health care agencies.

True or false?

4. Which of these is a violation in a nursing home?

a) a resident not kept dressed, well groomed and clean at all times

b) treatments or care given in public, not private

c) treating a resident with disrespect

d) all of these

5. Which of these acts is considered abuse of an older person?

a) placing them in seclusion

b) humiliating and embarrassing them

c) using disparaging or derogatory terms

d) all of these

6. A door-to-door salesman comes to your door to sell a product. What is the chance that he’s telling the truth when he offers a great product for a low price that easily can’t be beat elsewhere?

a) He’s telling the truth.

b) He’s telling a lie as big as the hole in his conscience.

7. Seniors are favorite targets for scammers. Which of these are not vulnerabilities to be on the lookout for?

a) someone who wants to pave a homeowner’s driveway

b) garage door repair companies that don’t have a physical address in the area

c) financial advisers who guarantee double-digit rates of return

d) sellers of Girl Scout cookies

8. When an older adult has been scammed, the correct response is:

a) overcome initial embarrassment.

b) call the police.

c) tell relatives.

d) all of these.

9. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services does not take complaints about seniors who have been:

a) abused.

b) neglected.

c) financially exploited.

d) overcharged on electricity bills.

10. One easy way a senior can save money is to assume that most car repair diagnoses that are high-dollar recommendations deserve a second opinion elsewhere.

True or false?

11. Someone who calls and says he is from Microsoft and wants to fix a virus in your computer is:

a) correct, so give him your credit card.

b) a lying thief because Microsoft never makes calls such as this.

12. A grandchild calls on the phone and says he is in a foreign country and needs money wired immediately to him but he doesn’t want his parents to know. The correct action is to:

a) wire the money immediately because grandkids are the best.

b) call the parents and check on their child’s whereabouts.

c) make travel reservations to that foreign country.

13. A relative who gains access to an older person’s checkbook without his or her permission and spends money is:

a) a relative who will probably pay it back if someone finds out.

b) breaking the law, and the police could be called and charges filed.

14. It’s smart to be suspicious of investment opportunities offered by family members, friends and friends of friends no matter how good they sound.

True or false?

15. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott states on his website that investing in annuities “may be inappropriate for seniors because of the lengthy horizon before they begin to pay off. Sale of annuities to seniors may be unethical.”

True or false?

16. If a family member makes an official complaint about a nursing home and nursing home administrators retaliate against the resident or the family, the family should:

a) file a complaint with state regulators because that’s a violation of law.

b) accept things as they are and keep quiet.

17. When unexpected phone calls arrive from salespeople, the best defense is:

a) tape the call.

b) hang up.

c) talk to them as long as possible to learn who they are.

d) pretend you’re nuts.

18. The way to cancel a door-to-door sale is to:

a) make a phone call within 30 days of the sale to say you have changed your mind.

b) write “notice of cancellation” on a receipt and mail it back to the seller within three days (and keep a copy).

19. A senior facing a problem involving federal benefits such as Social Security or Medicare should get help by:

a) creating a petition on

b) making a funny YouTube video.

c) contacting his or her Congress member’s constituent services office.

20. When going to a seminar about a financial investment, it’s smart to make a decision going in that no matter what happens, an on-the-spot purchase won’t be made that day.

True or false?

Answers: 1-a; 2-d; 3-True; 4-d; 5-d; 6-b; 7-d; 8-d; 9-d; 10-True; 11-b; 12-b; 13-b; 14-True; 15-True; 16-a; 17-b; 18-b; 19-c; 20-True.

If you scored higher than 75 percent (15 of 20 correct) you know your stuff. Spread the word.

Staff writer Marina Trahan Martinez contributed to this report.

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Dave Lieber book that won two national awards for social change.\

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Oldest citizen of Watchdog Nation passes away

From Watchdog Nation founder Dave Lieber:

I always told Ruth Wingfield of Arlington that she was the oldest citizen of my Watchdog Nation.

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong

I met her when she was 98. She accidentally wrote a check to her insurance company for $480 when she meant to write $4.80. The company was in no hurry to give her money back. Read that Watchdog Nation report here.

I taught her what to tell banks and insurance companies when they hurt her. Forever after, she shouted into her phone: “Who regulates you? I’m going to file a complaint.”

At her 100th birthday party, I took this video of Ruth Wingfield. Please watch. She’s so wonderful. Here’s a report of her 100th birthday party, too.

She died on Sept. 3, 2011 at age 101.

She always called me Dogpatch Guy.

I always called her my favorite.

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong

Ruth Wingfield, at her 100th birthday party, and the dude she called "Dogpatch Guy"

Are you tired of fighting the bank, the credit card company, the electric company and the phone company? They can be worse than scammers the way they treat customers. A popular book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, shows you how to fight back — and win! The book is available at as a hardcover, CD audio book, e-book and hey, what else do you need? The author is The Watchdog columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Visit our store. Now revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber

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Protect your elderly parents from financial exploitation

Her father is 91 and still sharp, she says. He didn’t retire until a year ago. Then Nannette Samuelson and her brothers and sisters took control of his and their mother’s finances.

They didn’t like what they found.

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong helps people save money

An alarm salesman had pressured their dad, who lives in Fort Worth, Tx., into signing a contract he didn’t want. Hucksters seeking investors pursued him like prey. And then there was the credit card bill with 200 percent interest and an identity theft service he didn’t know he had bought.

Samuelson contacted me about the interest. She had recently studied interest rates in school and the 200 percent surprised her. After raising her children, she is earning a Master of Business Administration.

As more Americans take control of elderly parents’ finances, they are often surprised to learn how many face a barrage of unsavory financial opportunities and come-ons.

The alarm salesman showed up at her father’s door around dinnertime. He wouldn’t leave until the older man had signed a contract. As soon as he had, a team waiting outside installed the system.

The couple’s children later called the company to complain. It backed off and removed the alarm. “We got the money back, and now we have holes in the wall,” she says.

The ones who seek money for investments “call him up and hound him,” the daughter says. “And then a FedEx truck arrives at his house with forms. ‘Sign here and give us a check for this amount,’ and the FedEx guy takes it back.”

The couple’s children have tried to get some of the investments refunded. They hired a lawyer to write demand letters. Usually, there’s no response.

The daughter, embarrassed to reveal the actual amount, says more than $10,000 has been lost.

I was curious about the 200 percent interest rate on the year-old Shell gas credit card bill. The card is issued by Citi Cards, and a spokeswoman told me what happened. The bill had two monthly charges of $6.95 for the ID protection. Add to that a $2 monthly minimum finance charge. So the charge and the regular interest rate combined for 200 percent, the spokeswoman said.

As of July, credit card rules approved by the Federal Reserve require that bills show only the regular annual percentage rate, without added fees or charges. The bill must show additional fees in a separate box. Previously, the annual percentage rate included any additional fees.

The Federal Reserve made the change after asking consumers how to make credit card statements easier to understand. By separating fees from the listed interest rate — instead of combining them — Fed leaders hoped that the change would help.

But Samuelson says: “The change went the opposite way of being transparent. They’re not really charging you 15 percent interest if they charge you $2 on $13.90.”

She made sure her father’s monthly ID protection package was removed. She’s now on the lookout for the next trouble spot.

“In my MBA classes, they talk about ethical behavior and how to bring value to your customer,” she says, laughing. “And I come home and see these companies that prey on elderly people. It’s kind of the opposite of what I’m learning in the classes I’m taking.”

# # #

Read previous Watchdog Nation reports on senior scams:

Fighting financial exploitation of the elderly

Company that preyed on senior citizens forced to make restitution

An indictment for him, and a turning point for me

# # #

Dave Lieber, The Watchdog columnist for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is the founder of Watchdog Nation. The new 2010 edition of his book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, is out. Revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards in 2009 for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber

Dave Lieber book that won two national awards for social change.

Watchdog Nation’s oldest citizen celebrates her 100th birthday

Of all the people Watchdog Nation has tried to help in the past several years, Ruth Wingfield is our favorite.

Today, she celebrates her 100th birthday. That officially makes her the oldest citizen of Watchdog Nation in the world today.

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong

I know she’s a citizen of Watchdog Nation because whenever she gets angry at someone trying to rip her off, her first instinct, after calling me, is to demand: “WHO REGULATES YOU? I’M GOING TO FILE A COMPLAINT.”

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong

I met her in 2008 when Cigna, her health insurance company, did her a big bowl of wrong. She wrote a $4.80 check she owed them. But then, at 98 years old, she put the decimal point in the wrong place. She wrote the check for $480. And when she complained later, the company refused to give her the money back. They said it could take a month or more.

Here’s the story I told earlier of how she got her back money.

At the time, she couldn’t remember my name was Watchdog, so she called me “Dogpatch Guy” — and I put that in the story.  For weeks afterward,  people called me “Dogpatch Guy.”

“I put you on the map,” she jokes.

Anyway, she’s been ripped off before, and she doesn’t like it. Somebody cashed out one of her insurance policies years ago (without her knowledge), and the agent involved was fired. She also got angry after she received a free cell phone but later learned she had to pay large bills. She also bought a phone for hard-of-hearing adults that turned out to be a dud, too. So she’s real suspicious.

Maybe that’s why she’s lived to be 100.

In the video box at the top of this post, shot on her birthday, she tells about her latest escapade.

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong

Ruth Wingfield, 100, and the dude she calls "Dogpatch Guy"

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Final note: Wingfield was an outstanding semi-pro women’s basketball player in the 1930s. She played with the legendary Hazel Scott. Last week, Nancy Lieberman, probably the greatest American woman’s basketball player alive today, presented Wingfield with a cake and an autographed basketball.

# # #

Dave Lieber, The Watchdog columnist for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is the founder of Watchdog Nation. The new 2010 edition of his book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, is out. Revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards in 2009 for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber

Dave Lieber book that won two national awards for social change.

Fighting financial exploitation of elderly

I keep meeting older adults who have lost money in exploitative financial investments.

There was the financial adviser who convinced his clients to invest $50,000 in a life settlements, but the company they invested in was put out of business by state regulators. Read that here.

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong helps people save money

There was the 79-year-old man who lost $20,000 to an ex-convict in a home foundation scam. Read that here.

There were the retired teachers getting hit with postcards enticing them to invest in financial instruments that are loaded with excess fees. Read that here.

As I continue to research why the elderly are so vulnerable, I receive troubling letters from adult children of older adults.

Christine writes me that her father fell for a Jamaican prize scam and lost $50,000. “He is so upset with the final realization that he lost all of his money that he won’t let me help him,” she writes.

Annette writes that her father lives alone and is inundated with mail announcing that he has won lotteries, sweepstakes and other contests. All he has to do is send money to claim the rest of the prize. “He believes the windfall of money will land in his mailbox,” she writes. “This encompasses his daily life. It’s all he talks about, the money he is waiting for.” But it never comes.

There’s a name for this: elder investment fraud and financial exploitation. Although the problem is expected to get worse as more Americans grow older, initial signs are that one possible solution is coming out of Texas.

A pilot program originated by Baylor College of Medicine in Houston looks at how older adults may lose some mental abilities that helped them avoid risky situations. The medical term is cognitive impairment, and one-third of all adults older than 71 show some signs of it.

Couple that with a strong desire for more money, as shown by Christine’s and Annette’s fathers, and you’ve got the making of a financial catastrophe.

The Baylor program trains Texas doctors to detect warning signs of mental impairment that may make people susceptible to fraud. The doctors are shown how to report what they find to authorities such as the Texas State Securities Board and Adult Protective Services.

The experiment has its roots in a revelation by former Securities and Exchange Commissioner Christopher Cox. He said a few years ago that his elderly mother, besieged by throat cancer and unable to talk, was pestered by salesmen with a barrage of annuity schemes and bad mortgage offers.

“Even though my father was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, the brokers would prey upon him as well,” Cox said.

The products horrified Cox: They included annuities with huge penalties and a low-rate 30-year mortgage with a short-term loan that had a balloon payment and a teaser rate.

“That would have cost my parents their home when it came due,” Cox said.

Robert Roush, an associate professor of geriatrics at Baylor, heard about Cox’s statements and decided to pursue the matter as a field of study.

He learned that older adults can be especially susceptible to schemes where the true penalties of the investment are hidden in fine print. As adults grow older, they may take greater risks. Cognitive impairment is found in half of all adults older than 85, some researchers say.

When baby boomers reach senior citizen status, 1 in 5 Americans will be older than 65.

“We’ve got a large, growing population that is going to roughly double in the next 20 years,” Roush said. “It will change the way this country operates.”

He wants to change the way older adults are protected, too. His project is growing. Regulators from 30 states, including the Texas State Securities Board, have joined.

The program is built around red-flag questions that a doctor can ask a patient. Samples from the project’s Clinician’s Pocket Guide include: Who manages your money day to day? How is that going? Do you regret or worry about financial decisions you’ve recently made?

In Texas, almost 70 doctors participated in the study. About half reported to state authorities that they encountered potential victims before they were hurt and, in some cases, after they lost money.

June 15 was designated World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. The Investor Protection Trust released a study that day showing that 1 in 5 Americans 65 and over has been victimized by financial fraud. That’s 7 million people.

During his research, Roush learned about older adults hurt through cellphone contracts, credit card offers, car loans and “on almost every financial transaction you can think of.”

“If there’s a hell, those scammers are the ones that will burn the hottest,” he said. “At least I hope so.”

His project, if successful, may turn up the heat on them here, too.

# # #


You run out of money by the end of the month.

You regret or worry about financial decisions.

Your bills are confusing, and you have trouble paying them.

You don’t feel confident making big decisions alone.

You don’t understand financial decisions others are making for you.

You give loans or gifts that you can’t afford.

Your children are pressuring you to give them money or change your will.

Someone is accessing your accounts, and money is disappearing.

You can’t reach your financial adviser.

Source: Baylor College of Medicine’s Texas Consortium Geriatric Education Center.

# # #


Here’s the “Pocket Guide on Elder Investment Fraud and Financial Exploitation.”

Research investment advisors at the Securities and Exchange Commission website here.

Spend some time at the National Committee for Prevention of Elder Abuse website.

Learn about the Duke University student that shows that one in three people over 70 have memory impairment

Read about the Investor Protection Trust study that showed  that one out of five Americans older than 65 have been victimized by financial fraud.

# # #

Dave Lieber, The Watchdog columnist for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is the founder of Watchdog Nation. The new 2010 edition of his book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, is out. Revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards in 2009 for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber

Dave Lieber book that won two national awards for social change.

Meet Bob. Ole stubborn Bob. No food stamps. Lots of pride.

Pholto courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Bob doesn’t want any help.

Stubborn old guy.

After I wrote about him in the Aug. 14, 2009 Dave Lieber column in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, I received calls and e-mails from several dozen people who want to give him food and money.

Bob said no. Unlike everybody else who contacts The Watchdog, Bob of Fort Worth doesn’t want my help. He only wants everyone to understand the horrible state of Texas’ food stamp program.

Bob, who doesn’t want his last name used because he is afraid of getting into a fight with the government, is 78 and lives with his wife on $500 a month from Social Security.

Two years ago, they qualified for food stamps. But the credits on his state-provided electronic debit card – worth about $200 a month – ran out in May.

So what does he do?

“Potatoes are like a dollar for 5 pounds,” he said. “So we eat a lot of potatoes. If they’ve got a sale on something – for instance, if regular lettuce is a dollar and a half a head, and they have a sale for 75 cents, we’ll make salads out of lettuce. We find the bargains on something and we’ll eat that this week.”

Since May, Bob has been trying to get ahold of someone at the state Health and Human Services office on East Lancaster Avenue in Fort Worth to help him re-qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – a requirement to make sure recipients still need it.

“We sent all our papers, and we kept calling, and they kept putting us off. You couldn’t get anybody down there. Nobody answers the telephone. They had about a dozen people working down there helping people, checking and rechecking them.

“And a woman says, ‘Well, we’re planning on getting a new system so it will be about a week.’ And then you don’t get anything. Then finally, a week or so later, they got a recording on their phone. I guess everybody was not getting anything. The recording said, ‘If you’re really needing help, if you’re really out of food, call 211 and they’ll get you some food.’ “

The Texas 211 help-line folks told him that he could go to a food bank, but Bob, a military veteran, doesn’t want to do that: “I have to be careful what I eat. I had colon cancer and diabetes. I’m a mess.”

Nobody knows how many Bobs there are in Texas. State officials say they believe that one-third of all food stamp applications processed in July were past the 30-day limit allowed by federal law.

That’s 45,000 families like Bob’s that waited more than a month for help, for a phone call back, for a letter, anything. Bob’s wait is three months. How many more are out there waiting?

A spokeswoman for state health services, Stephanie Goodman, says the state doesn’t really know.

The computer system used to process food stamp applications is so outdated that they aren’t counted until they are actually entered into the system.

Applications “sitting on someone’s desk that we have not gotten to” are uncounted, she says.

For sure, there are tens of thousands more.

The problem is so bad that two groups filed a federal lawsuit in Austin last week demanding that the state comply with the 30-daylimit.

The lawsuit is designed to force the state to create a quick plan, says Randall Chapman, executive director of Texas Legal Services Center, which co-filed the suit on behalf of two Irving residents tired of waiting.

“Believe it or not, the two people named in that lawsuit were approved in less than 24 hours,” Chapman said. “It was just magic. Their approval letters were hand-delivered to their homes.”

Chapman offered his organization’s help to Bob. Goodman, the state official, would have checked into Bob’s case, too, had I asked her. Bob could have been fast-tracked and had food stamps hand-delivered to his door, too. But he told me not to do that. He was adamant.

Chapman said: “Some elderly people feel intimidated, or they don’t want their neighbors knowing they need help. That’s a real shame.”

The state is trying to come up with solutions, shortcuts, hiring proposals, abbreviated training procedures, anything to get food to Texans. Next month, the state will begin hiring 656 workers to process applications.

For now, however, the bureaucrats simply cannot get it done.

“We’re processing more cases than ever,” Goodman said. “We’ve got more people on the rolls. We’re just not simply keeping up with the increase in . Our staff has been working weekends and long hours, simply keeping up with the increase in demand…. It’s still not enough. We’re not keeping up.”

In Tarrant County, 150,000 people now receive food stamps, compared with 130,000 last year. There would be more if the system worked properly.

As a test, I called the phone number of the East Lancaster Avenue office where Bob keeps striking out. When you push zero for operator, you get this message: “Hi, you’ve reached the general delivery mailbox for the East Lancaster office. However, this mailbox is not set up to have return calls. Please do not leave a message. Press zero for operator so your call will be reverted to our operator. Have a nice day.”

I hit zero, and got the same message again. Did it again and again and again.

Meanwhile, Texans are eating potatoes and lettuce and waiting for phone calls and letters that never seem to come.

HAPPY ENDING: A week after this story appeared, I received the following e-mail from Bob:

Subject: Thank you for your help … Bob

Dear Dave,

You will be glad to know that I have worked it out to handle my immediate problems …  I want to thank you for your earnest concern for my situation  .  It made  me feel good …

I would appreciate if you could contact all the fine folks that offered their help to me …    I thank them one and all for being so  thoughtful  and offering their mitzvoth’ (act of human kindness) ..


I wrote back with more news:


Thanks for our note. The story we worked on together touched a lot of people.

And you’ll be interested to know that a woman I know who has cancer, no food stamps and no food and no transportation is today, right now, receiving phone calls from the people that offered to help you. I alerted them about her, so they are taking all their good will and giving it to someone else who is in desperate need right now.

So inadvertently, you helped someone else, too.


Getting help

For food stamp problems, call the ombudsman’s office at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission at 877-787-8999.