Credential Confusion: Senior Helper or Senior Scammer?

If you’re caring for elderly loved ones, it’s important to know that the senior market is large and growing, which represents a lucrative revenue-generation opportunity for companies with shady business practices.

What are the most common schemes? According to Bryan Adler, a Certified Elder Law Attorney with Rothkoff Law Group, a Life Care Planning Law Firm with offices in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, one of the biggest problems involves salespeople misusing titles and certifications for financial gain.

One ploy involves misrepresenting certifications in order to dupe seniors. For example, when an elderly parent needs nursing home care, the family caregiver may be approached by a person who claims to be certified in one way or another. Instead of being trained to assess the elder’s needs and recommend an impartial solution, the person is trained to sell a product in order to earn a commission. “These so-called certifications are an abuse of the public trust,” Bryan cautions. “I can only imagine how many thousands of consumers are being deceived because of it.”

That’s not the only certification with the potential to cause problems for consumers. Another is non-attorneys claiming to be certified in Medicaid planning or holding themselves out as experts in Medicaid planning. “I've received marketing emails about this one,” Bryan notes. “It appears that you need not be an attorney to qualify, and it doesn’t appear to be an accredited certification by a legitimate accrediting agency such as the National Elder Law Foundation, state Supreme Court or Bar Association.”

For a certification to mean anything, it needs to be backed by an accrediting body. The Certified Elder Law Attorney designation, a credential that Bryan holds, is a good example of an accredited certification. “I'm a board-certified elder law attorney, which is an accreditation from the National Elder Law Foundation, as approved by the American Bar Association and the Pennsylvania and New Jersey Supreme Courts.”

Researching a person’s credentials to verify that a certification was bestowed by an accrediting body is one way to separate the legitimate experts from the shady sales reps. However, many family caregivers don’t have the time, desire or inclination to do any digging. Many people don’t see the need to check out certification because they trust what they’re being told. “We're dealing with a population that is inexperienced in the business of elder care, which makes them ripe for exploitation,” Bryan admits. “Caring for an elderly loved one isn't like buying a house. There's no institutional knowledge. When you ask a friend, ‘Hey, I'm buying a house. What do I do?’ it’s easy for the friend to respond with the basic process. ‘Get a realtor,’ a friend might say. Get a mortgage. Get the house inspected.’ These are established steps that everyone understands. These steps don’t exist for elder care planning. There’s no way to verify whether the person is a true professional, like an attorney, a certified elder care coordinator, a licensed social worker, a Certified Elder Law Attorney, a Medicare counselor, a Medicare SHIP advisor, and so on.”

Bryan finds the situation infuriating. “People are being wildly taken advantage of and they don't realize it until it's too late,” he notes. “It's like buying a car from the corner used car lot. You turn the ignition and the engine runs. You drive off the lot and it's fine. But then two weeks down the road, the wheels fall off and it's too late. That’s what’s happening to many families when they encounter these so-called experts who are using fake credentials to exploit seniors.”