Senior Holiday Scams

It is November and the holiday season has begun! While this season generally brings food, family and fun, it can also expose some of the more vulnerable members of our communities to a heightened risk of scams and fraud. Senior citizens and those who care for them need to be especially vigilant against these tricks. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a great article that highlights some of the more common scams and steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Scams that target older people occur every day, but you can count on scammers to ramp up their efforts to prey on people’s generosity during the holiday season. These grinches, armed with their dirty tricks, may even tell elaborate stories to pull at your heartstrings as they slip their sticky fingers into your wallet.

During the holidays, the common scam known as the imposter or “grandparent scam” might be decorated with a special plea, a story of a relative in trouble who desperately needs money to fix a car or get out of jail and home for the holidays.

The ruse known as the IRS scam takes on a vicious new twist with a grinch on the phone threatening an elder with being arrested and spending the holidays in jail for unpaid taxes or a fake debt. And then there is the predictable increase in false or imposter charities, which sound identical to the real ones. The pitch is wrapped in sympathy inducing requests for year-end, tax-deductible holiday donations. These grinches stand ready to take your credit card or check routing information and charge you for bogus Nutcracker ballet tickets, or a holiday charity fundraising event.

These scammers may even scour the internet and social media sites looking for a special connection to your life, such as a family member or community connection, to get you to trust them so you’ll be willing to part with your hard-earned money. Some will go to great lengths to sound like they know you, or worse, your elderly parents.

Here are a few tips:

  • Before offering your help to someone who claims to be a grandchild (or other relative/friend), be sure to telephone your family to verify that the emergency or urgent request is genuine.
    • Beware of a caller who insists on secrecy. Never allow anyone to discourage you from seeking information, verification, support and counsel from family members, friends or trusted advisers prior to making any financial transaction.
  • Take the following precautions to make sure your charitable donations benefit the people and organizations you want to help. If a caller claims to be from an established organization such as a hospital, charity, or law enforcement agency, look up the number of the organization independently and verify the claim before sending money.
    • Ask for detailed information about the charity, including name, address, and telephone number.
    • Then, call the charity directly. Ask if the organization is aware of the solicitation and has authorized the use of its name. The organization’s development staff should be able to help you.
  • If you have received a letter from the IRS stating that you owe taxes, call the IRS directly at 1-800-829-1040 for information.
    • The IRS will neither call to demand immediate payment, nor call without first mailing a bill. And, the IRS does not require you to use a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card nor will they threaten you with arrest for not paying.

Share this information with your friends, parents and others in your community. For more information on identifying and preventing fraud and scams, check out Money Smart for Older Adults: Prevent Elder Financial Exploitation  guide for consumers. In addition, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office for Older Americans has produced materials that include Managing Someone Else’s Money Guides for financial caregivers. To find these materials and to learn more, go to

If you have a been a victim of a consumer scam, South Carolina Legal Services may be able to help. To see if you are eligible, call our Intake Office at 888-346-5592 or apply online at

Helping Veterans

Veterans Day is a day we celebrate those who have served in the Armed Forces. However, separation from military service can be an exciting and confusing time as veterans readjust to civilian life. At South Carolina Legal Services, we work to meet the civil legal needs of those who have served our country. In addition to receiving direct referrals from SC Serves, many of our offices regularly participate in Stand Down events for veterans across the state to provide information about the services we provide.

We provide representation to income eligible veterans in every area of law where we usually represent clients. We also have numerous attorneys throughout the state who are certified to represent veterans in Veteran’s Administration (VA) benefits cases, although most of our referrals are not directly related to military service or VA benefits such as pensions or VA disability. We most often receive referrals to represent veterans in family law (mostly custody and visitation cases).  We also receive referrals for representation in eviction cases, used car cases, and consumer law cases.

In pension and VA disability cases, there are some things a veteran can do at separation to help prevent delays in the future. Primarily, it is a good practice to obtain and keep his or her DD214 (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty). Also, veterans should obtain their OMPF (Official Military Personnel File) upon separation. It can take a while to locate these records once the veteran has left active duty service, which can cause delays in applying for benefits.

Veterans or their next of kin (defined as the un-remarried widow or widower, child, parent, or sibling of the deceased veteran) can request copies of the veteran’s military records through the National Archives’ National Personnel Record Center (NPRC). The NPRC normally responds to requests in ten working days or less. However, some requests may take much longer. Records are usually free for veterans, next-of-kin and authorized representatives.

In some circumstances, a service-related health problem may come to light shortly after discharge. If a veteran is having health problems after separation, he or she should go to a veteran clinic soon after separation. It is generally easier to argue that health problems have a service connection if the veteran has medical records showing that the issues existed within a year of separation. Seeking medical care shortly after discharge is important especially if the injury is not listed in the OMPF.

It is also important to be mindful of appeal deadlines and seek legal representation (if it is desired) as soon as a denial of any benefits is received to avoid missing important deadlines and to allow the representative time to fully evaluate the case.

Race Equity Project & Community Lawyering

At the beginning of 2019 South Carolina Legal Services created the Cultural Humility Unit.  The Cultural Humility Unit is a team of South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS) staff dedicated to aiding and empowering communities impacted by systemic inequity.  Work of this unit includes but is not limited to: Race equity issues; access and equity for individuals with disabilities; the needs of individuals with limited English proficiency (those with visual/hearing impairments, individuals who cannot read and/or write, and individuals who primarily speak or write a language other than English); and the needs of LGBTQ+ community members.

In the Spring of 2019 four members of SCLS, Tiffney Love, Susan Ingles, Shinead James, and Whitney Stout, were accepted in the Shriver Center on Poverty Law’s Racial Justice Institute.  This competitive program included weekly and biweekly training sessions from May 2019 through October 2019.  The program also included a week of in-person training in Chicago in June during which the team was able to network with other Legal Aid and Legal Services organizations around the country also prioritizing equity work and obtain feedback on the Race Equity Project they would ultimately implement at SCLS.  

The proposed Race Equity Project includes implicit bias training for our staff, training on community lawyering, and the implementation of de-biasing interventions.  The project will also mobilize the Cultural Humility Unit team members to assist in examining the internal policies, procedures, and practices within the law firm to ensure the community is served and the firm aligned with the values of cultural humility and equity.

With the support of the SCLS Executive Director and Board the first step of the race equity project began with the Cultural Humility Unit receiving training on implicit bias and the steps of implementing a de-biasing protocol.  At the October 2019 Annual SCLS Statewide Training, the Unit made a presentation to all staff on cognitive bias, how patterns of behavior create structures and systems, how these systems create inequity, and how the decisions we each make in our roles at SCLS could perpetuate cycles of bias.

Cultural Humility is the process of identifying how everyone’s unique cultural identity affects the needs and challenges faced by each individual.  Going forward the Cultural Humility Unit will continue with the Race Equity Project and will also adapt the strategies learned at the Racial Justice Institute to expand our trainings to include topics related to other communities and groups experiencing systemic inequities.  Following the Statewide Conference, the Cultural Humility Unit met for an introductory training to Community Lawyering.  The Unit will use Community Lawyering tools to form relationships with community groups and leaders to ensure that we are informed of the needs and goals of our communities and are offering trainings to prepare our staff to assist with empowering our clients and communities.  Some initial community outreach plans include expanding our attendance at LGBTQ+ Pride and Latinx Community Events.

If you are interested in SCLS attending your event or providing information or training to your community, please contact Whitney Stout at    

No Benefits And No Improvements

NOTE: All the names in this article have been changed to protect their identities.

Rick Barnett had been getting social security disability benefits since 2004. The Social Security Administration (SSA) initially determined that Rick’s disability stemmed from stomach issues, back injuries and mental limitations. At the end of 2013, SSA determined that Rick was no longer disabled, and his benefits were to be terminated. Rick did not know how to explain this. He did not feel any improvement in his health. His only explanation was that he refused to have surgery on his back.  He was 52 years old with a limited education and continued to be unable to work. Rick appealed the termination of his benefits.

During the next three years, as the appeal process was ongoing, Rick made countless doctor visits, suffered several emergency hospitalizations, and was prescribed more medication than he could recount. In 2017, Rick was referred to South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS) by an administrative law judge (ALJ) who was presiding over his social security disability hearing.

Once again, the decision was that Rick had medical improvement, was no longer disabled and not eligible for social security benefits. Because we disagreed with the decision, we appealed to the Appeals Council. Unfortunately, this process can take up to 25 months and Rick’s benefits would now stop.  At this point, the only thing Rick could do was wait for a decision.  Fortunately for him, a decision came quickly. The Appeals Council reversed the judge’s decision and found that Rick remained totally disabled.

Rick’s troubles were not over yet, however. After his social security benefits were reinstated, SSA determined that he was “living in a household of another” and reduced his benefits by one-third. This was despite the fact that there was no change in Rick’s living arrangements since he was originally determined to be disabled. Rick had continued to live with his girlfriend, and to pay for his own living expenses. He had also accrued debt from the years when he was not receiving any income.

Thanks to zealous representation of Rick’s SCLS attorney, Rick’s unfavorable decision was subsequently overturned, and his full benefit amount was reinstated. Furthermore, Rick received over fifteen thousand dollars in back pay for the years when his benefits had been terminated.