The Billings Outpost

Antibiotics may be making us even sicker

FLASH IN THE PAN

By ARI LeVAUX - @arilevaux

Antibiotics used in livestock are making us even sicker than we thought. For decades, livestock producers have used low doses of antibiotics to expedite animal growth. The practice, dubbed sub-therapeutic antibiotic therapy (STAT), lowers feed costs while increasing meat production, and nearly 80 percent of the antibiotics used in the United States are for this purpose.

Because STAT can encourage the growth of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs,” it’s banned in many countries, but remains common in the U.S. - despite recent public pleas to stop it by two former U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioners.

Although STAT has been in use since the 1950s, how it works has long been a mystery. But evidence is mounting that it might be due to antibiotics killing microorganisms that populate animals’ guts.

If so, antibiotics could do the same thing to humans. In support of this idea, a paper published last year in Nature identifies a correlation between diversity of gut microflora and human obesity.

A nine-year study, led by Dr. S. Dusko Ehrlich of France’s National Institute for Agricultural Research, compared microbiotas – the 100-trillion-member microbial ecosystems that populate the body – of slim and obese people. The team found obese people have lower microbial diversity in their bellies. This is consistent with earlier research in mice, as well as a paper published last year in Journal of Obesity that found a strong correlation between young children’s exposure to antibiotics and later obesity.

Perhaps more significantly, the team behind the Nature study found a correlation between low microbial diversity and heart disease, diabetes and cancer, regardless of weight. “Even lean people who are poor in bacterial species have a higher risk of developing these pathologies,” Ehrlich told NPR.

Our understanding of human microbiota is in its infancy, but the possible implications of such research are profound. Could our frequent use of antibiotics, both to treat human sickness and to encourage animal growth, be having unintended consequences on our health?

There are strict limits on the amount of antibiotic residues allowed in commercial meat, and according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, violations of these limits are extremely rare. But this could be interpreted in two ways: maybe there isn’t much antibiotic residue in meat, or maybe the legal thresholds are set too high.

Research published last year in the journal of the American Society for Microbiology found that legal amounts of antibiotic residues in cured meats can still be high enough to kill bacteria that sausage manufacturers intentionally apply to their products.

Sausage is treated with lactic acid-producing microbes to make it more acidic, which kills dangerous microbes like salmonella and E. coli. The researchers found that while legal levels of antibiotic residues in meat don’t kill the pathogenic microbes, they can kill the acidifying microbes intended to keep the “bad” bugs at bay.

The growing recognition of the importance of gut flora has spawned an industry valued at $8.7 billion, according to Carl Zimmer at National Geographic’s Phenomena blog.

Currently, the retail products of that industry are regulated as food and cosmetics, not as medicine.

Zimmer notes: “It’s possible that the bottle of probiotics you buy in the drug store really will help your digestion, or your immune system, or your bad breath. But it’s also possible that the bacteria you’re buying will get annihilated in the ruthless jungle that is your body. A lot of species you’ll find in probiotic products do not actually belong to the dominant groups of species in the human microbiome. Stop eating them, and they’ll disappear from your body.”

That said, the Nature study did identify eight species of bacteria generally missing from underpopulated guts, and there is talk of putting those in a probiotic. But until such a product is available, there are other promising approaches to managing your microflora.

Another article by Ehrlich’s team, in the same issue of Nature, reports putting overweight people on low-calorie diets quickly increased their gut diversity. Together, the two studies suggest eating less could help enrich your gut flora, which could help you stay lean, in turn reducing your risk of associated diseases.

Another option is to consume microbe-rich fermented foods. In a recent New York Times article about the human microbiota, Michael Pollan wrote that several researchers he’d spoken to had added fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut to their diets, as well as having cut back on processed foods.

“In general they seemed to place less faith in probiotics (which few of them used) than in prebiotics – foods likely to encourage the growth of ‘good bacteria’ already present,” Pollan wrote.

South Korea, the land of kimchi, has one of the lowest obesity rates in the developed world. It may be a leap to connect that with richer gut flora, but it’s not inconsistent with the recent Nature papers.

And finally, no discussion of microbiota enrichment would be complete without mention of the fecal transplant, a medical procedure wherein fecal matter from a person with healthy microbiota is used as a suppository to seed the intestinal flora of a sick person. Fecal transplants are proving incredibly effective at treating some diseases.

In her Wired blog, Superbug, Maryn McKenna described recent research comparing fecal transplants with antibiotics in the treatment of a chronic, potentially deadly form of diarrhea caused by Clostridium difficile, or C. diff. The fecal transplants proved so much more effective that the trial was ended early, for ethical reasons.

Ninety-four percent of sufferers treated with fecal transplants recovered from the disease after two treatments, while just 32 percent recovered on antibiotics. The researchers determined they could not, in good conscience, continue treating C. diff patients with antibiotics.

Some researchers are now contemplating probiotics made from the patients’ own feces, collected earlier in their lives, before whatever health problem may have emerged, and stored cryogenically until needed. Transplanting one’s own feces makes sense, given how distinct each person’s microbiota is. And it’s slightly less icky, arguably. If you wish to freeze your own microbiota sample, we recommend labeling that package really well.

But a more preventative approach would be to avoid unnecessary antibiotics, and antibiotic-laced meats.

Last Updated on Thursday, 17 April 2014 16:30

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1955 snowfall set record that still stands

By ED KEMMICK - Last Best News

If you live in Billings and think the recent run of heavy snowfall was bad, you should have been here in 1955.

We’ve seen use of the terms “snowpocalypse” and “snowtravaganza” to describe the recent storms, but these hardly begin to compare with the storms of early April 1955.

And fortunately for anyone with an interest in Billings history, that whole record-breaking storm was caught on film by a local chiropractor, the late Allan Downs.

He must have had great faith in the weather forecasts, because Downs started filming the storm in its early stages, then stuck with it until the snow finally stopped falling three days later.

The 14-minute color film, complete with narration by Downs and a musical score that is alternately ominous and dramatic, is an artistic and historical treasure.

In it he refers to “what was to be the worst snowstorm in recorded weather history in Billings.” Fifty-nine years later, it still holds that title.

Newspaper accounts at the time said the storm dropped 42½ inches of snow on Billings between April 2 and April 5, 1955. Tom Humphrey, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Billings, said the figure is very nearly accurate.

According to weather service records, he said, the total was actually 42.3 inches, and 39.1 inches fell in just two days, April 3 and 4.

Asked if that was a record snowfall for Billings, Humphrey said, “Oh, yes, yes. That’s going to be very hard to dethrone.”

The recent storms in Billings lasted twice as long as the ’55 storms, from Feb. 22 to March 1, and dropped a total of 26.4 inches of snow. Even more telling is the water content of the 1955 storms. In four days, Humphrey said, the 1955 storms dumped 4.15 inches of water on the city. The recent snowfalls, by contrast, contained just 1.39 inches of water.

All that wet, heavy snow in 1955 virtually shut down the city and collapsed the roofs on three downtown businesses.

There are contemporary echoes in the documentary filmed by Downs. Early in the storm, he narrates, “A few optimists like myself even cleared their walks, expecting the snowfall to end.” And “parking without chains usually meant abandoning the car right on the spot.”

He also tells how “walls of snow and ice divided lanes of traffic in the business district.” This winter, for the first time in decades, the city of Billings is once again plowing snow to the center line on many streets, then picking up the snow at a later date. The documentary also refers to the “slow and immense task of removing snow from the metropolitan area.”

The film contains many recognizable locations, including the Babcock Theatre and Northern Hotel, familiar houses on North 32nd Street and a shot looking up North 30th Street, which was then bisected by a park-like median.

All that snow, however, didn’t stick around long. Then as now, Billings was subject to thawing chinooks and rapid temperature swings. As the Billings Gazette reported on April 5, the last day of the storm, the weather service had warned that “if warming occurs as expected during the next couple of days, rapid runoff is likely to produce a flooding problem.”

Downs says at the end of the documentary, however, that the ground had thawed sufficiently to absorb the melting snow, and there was no local flooding.

So, maybe you’re saying to yourself, “Sure it was snowier in 1955, but this winter has been hideously cold, too.”

OK, but consider the winter of 1936. This February was unusually cold in Billings, Humphrey said, with an average daily temperature of  18.7 degrees. In February 1936, the average temperature was 2.7 degrees — 27.7 degrees below the normal average.

If you still feel inclined to complain, maybe all you have to do is wait. We could still set records. Three of the worst storms in our history, in 1917, 1941 and 1955, all came in April.

Allan Downs was an enthusiastic amateur filmmaker who also recorded memorable days of music at the Skyline Club and the Elmo Club. Those films, plus a film about Christmas 1956 in Billings and Downs’ account of the 1955 storm, were donated to the Western Heritage Center by his friend, Steve Hovis.

All four films were put on a DVD, which can be purchased from the Western Heritage Center. Call 256-6809 for more information.

Last Updated on Thursday, 17 April 2014 16:29

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Fish, Wildlife Commission backs U.S. Heritage Act

By DEBORAH COURSON SMITH - Big Sky Connection

HELENA – Support for the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act was unanimous last Thursday at the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission. 

The commission voted to endorse the act, noting that the area offers some of the best wildlife habitat in Montana, as well as being home to working cattle ranches. 

Nick Gevock, conservation director at the Montana Wildlife Federation, says his group brought the resolution to the commission.

“This unanimous support speaks to the tremendous wildlife values of the Rocky Mountain Front,” Gevock says. “It also speaks to the bipartisan effort on this bill.”

The act would add new acres to the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area and designate more than 200,000 acres along the Front as a conservation management area, keeping it open for existing motorized access and grazing.

Gevock says the Front has long been known for high-quality backcountry hunting. 

It’s home to elk, bighorn sheep, grizzly bears, mule deer and white-tailed deer - as well as non-game mammals and songbirds.

“In a state that values wildlife as much as Montana, our Fish and Wildlife Commission recognized that this is the right thing to do for wildlife and our hunting heritage,” he points out.

Another section of the act that Gevock says commissioners found attractive was a focus on limiting the spread of noxious weeds, which aren’t good for wildlife or cattle. 

U.S. Sen. Max Baucus of Montana first introduced the bill. Now it is sponsored by Sens. John Walsh and Jon Tester.

Last Updated on Thursday, 17 April 2014 16:28

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More funds coming for national parks?

By DEBORAH COURSON SMITH - Big Sky Connection

HELENA – Fans of Montana’s national parks are watching carefully as Congress puts President Obama’s budget under the microscope this month. The president is proposing an increase of $55 million in the National Park Service budget for 2015, including $10 million as a “Centennial Initiative” to get the parks ready for the agency’s 100th anniversary celebration in 2016. 

According to John Garder, budget and appropriations director for the National Parks Conservation Association, it’s a promising start after years of budget-trimming have taken a toll on park maintenance and staffing.

“It’s a modest increase over last year,” he said. “It doesn’t get parks back to where they were just a few years ago, before damaging cuts, to ensure that people can have a really inspiring and a safe experience out in our parks.”

Garder said additional park funding is much needed, for a system that has put off about $12 billion worth of maintenance in recent years. From historic resources to water and sewer systems, visitor centers, roads and trails, he said, many things are in disrepair.

“The main cause for the growth of the deferred-maintenance backlog is the decline in Congress’ investment in the construction account, which creates so many jobs,” Garder said. “In today’s dollars, the construction account for the National Park Service has been cut nearly in half, just in the last four years.”

According to the Interior Department, Glacier National Park attracts more than 2 million visitors a year, and puts more than $170 million into communities near the park.

Last Updated on Thursday, 17 April 2014 16:26

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Bison meeting canceled

Fish, Wildlife and Parks

State wildlife officials canceled a planned discussion that was to take place in Lewistown last week on a bison conservation and management plan for Montana.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks had invited a diverse group of interests and a number of state and community leaders to continue to participate in a facilitated public discussion in Lewistown on April 15-16. That gathering, which would have been the second since September, was canceled.

“We worked to gather a large group of fundamentally different interests and constituencies, but there remained serious questions about intent and representation that are difficult to resolve,” said Jeff Hagener, director of FWP in Helena. “The gathering was designed to review issues and possible alternatives for bison conservation and management, but at this point it would be counterproductive to proceed with the discussion.”

The discussion group included conservation and agricultural representatives.

, state and federal agencies, county commissioners, and state legislators and members of the Montana Fish & Wildlife Commission.

Hagener thanked the citizens who agreed to participate in the planned conversation and said FWP will attempt to reconsider existing and emerging concerns on Montana’s bison management alternatives.

Last Updated on Thursday, 17 April 2014 16:25

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Prescribed burns slated

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Billings Field Office is planning several prescribed burning operations on BLM-managed land in Yellowstone County during the upcoming spring months.

The prescribed burns will reduce hazardous fuel levels under controlled and prescriptive conditions. This proactive approach during cool, wet spring conditions will help reduce the threat of wildfire spreading from public lands onto private property, a news release said.

Burning will occur at Pompeys Pillar National Monument, located 25 miles east of Billings, and at the Sundance Lodge Recreation Area, about two miles southeast of Laurel. Burning is also scheduled for the Mill Creek area located approximately 17 miles north of Pompeys Pillar.

During prescribed burn activity, visitors need to use caution accessing these areas for their safety, as well as the safety of the firefighters conducting operations. Some smoke maybe visible in the areas. All prescribed burns depend on weather and fuels conditions that will be monitored closely by firefighters.

For more information about prescribed burning or to get advice about maintaining defensible space in wildland-urban areas, call the Billings Interagency Dispatch Center at (406) 896-2900.

Last Updated on Thursday, 17 April 2014 16:23

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3 myths about senior living communities

By DWAYNE J. CLARK

It’s difficult to overcome stereotypes of senior living communities. Despite the fact that the level of available care and amenities, and the choice and type of facilities, have evolved significantly over the past several decades, people still tend to think of senior housing as the “old folks’ homes” of the past: antiseptic, white-walled, linoleum-lined institutions with cold nurses, hot temperatures, and nasty food. It’s no wonder then that the majority of people continue to buy into three myths about senior living institutions that are not only flat-out wrong but can actually be detrimental to the well-being of their aging loved ones. The three myths of senior living communities are:

1. All senior housing options are the same. The reality is that today’s senior living industry is similar to the hotel industry with a range of choices for every lifestyle, need and budget. You can find low-end chains that offer only the very basic in care and amenities, similar to a Motel 6. There are family-run operations, set up in residential homes, not unlike bed-and-breakfasts. And then there are high-end luxury options, comparable to a Four Seasons hotel. Too often, family members and seniors avoid even considering senior living options out of fear of the unknown and a misunderstanding of what present-day senior communities are all about. They are, unfortunately, relying on outdated childhood memories of when a grandparent or a great-aunt went off to a nursing home and never came back.

This does not have to be the case. At the higher end, senior living communities can provide lifestyle activity coordinators instead of program directors, and employ chefs instead of dieticians. They can offer on-site spas and appropriately equipped gyms, massage therapy services, manicures and pedicures, movie theaters, outdoor gardens, and gourmet dinners with wine on the menu. One new site even has a “man cave,” complete with pool tables and beer taps.

2. Entering a senior living community actually hastens the end of someone’s life. Assuming that a senior is better off “aging at home” can result in unnecessary suffering and even tragedy. Many seniors who could benefit from just a little added care are often found living alone, far away from family, largely isolated and devoid of much human interaction, and typically at high risk of physical falls, malnourishment, and depression. These seniors are perfect candidates for an assisted living community because, once they are living in a place where they have access to medical care, personal assistance, medication management, good nutrition, opportunities for mental and physical activity, and a chance to make friends and socialize, they truly thrive. In fact, several new studies show that not only does a move to an assisted living community not hasten a resident’s demise but, in fact, it can actually ensure a greater quantity — and a better quality — of life.

At many senior living communities there are residents who have renewed their childhood hobbies, or taken up new ones like writing, painting or billiards. There are residents who always have a dinner or coffee companion. They can enjoy on-site book groups and religious services. They can play checkers or Wii. Residents often enjoy unexpected romances and, in some cases, marriages. Family members, freed from the worry and guilt of seeing their loved ones in less-than-ideal circumstances, tend to visit more often, strengthening long-worn family ties through new opportunities for quality time and stress-free activities. 

3. Only the very wealthy, and the very poor, can afford to live in a senior living community. The fact is that retirement and assisted living communities have been consciously created by senior housing developers to be very affordable for middle-class consumers. The monthly cost of assisted living varies, but the average for a more upscale residence is between $4,200 and $6,200 a month. At first glance, that sounds like a lot of money, and many a family member immediately thinks, “There is no way my mother can afford that.”

But the cost of assisted living needs to be carefully compared with the total cost of living at home. Ongoing expenses of seniors staying in their houses might include rent or mortgage payments; property taxes and homeowners insurance; utilities, such as electricity, heating oil or propane, water, trash pickup, cable, phone and Internet service; home maintenance costs, including lawn care, snow removal, tree care; routine and major repairs to the home (and appliances and other needed home equipment like an air conditioner or furnace); car maintenance; and food and cleaning supplies.

Additionally, as a parent or sibling ages, there are likely to be new costs including outside help with laundry, housekeeping, home upkeep and meal preparation; real-time monitoring devices and medical equipment; home health care; and transportation for medical appointments and other necessities. Those expenses, when taken in their entirety, are likely to be almost as much as or equal to the flat-fee monthly cost of an assisted living community. And most people are surprised when they realize that not only can their parents afford to live at one of these communities, but they actually have leftover funds.

Some seniors, of course, won’t have quite enough monthly income to pay the total or to pay for incidentals and will have to begin to tap their financial assets, whether that means selling their home, pulling funds out of an IRA or 401K or beginning to pay down their life savings. In other cases, children or siblings will help pay for the difference. And there are other options as well. Couples can share a unit, making for a discounted overall rate. Many communities offer smaller studio apartments and two residents can share a two-bedroom suite, which helps cut the monthly cost.

What most aging seniors need is some oversight by professionals who understand their unique needs. They need to be treated with kindness and dignity, like any other person whether they’re still sharp or are prone to forgetfulness, and whether they remain physically strong or are in need of a walker. Seniors will find all of that in abundance at today’s retirement and assisted living communities. For new residents, living away from the life they’ve always known is an adjustment, but—more often than not—they quickly realize that it’s a change for the better. And their family members and other loved ones soon realize that the three myths about senior living communities are just that.

Dwayne J. Clark is the founder and CEO of Aegis Living, currently with 28 senior living communities in Washington, California, and Nevada, and the author of “My Mother, My Son.” Visit him online at www.mymothermyson.com.

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 March 2014 13:20

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Ways to make those retirement savings last

Presented by - RANDY SITZMAN - First Financial Equity Corp.

As you retire, there are variables you can’t control; investment performance and fate are certainly toward the top of the list. Your approach to withdrawing and preserving your retirement savings, however, may give you more control over your financial life. 

Drawing retirement income without draining your savings is a challenge, and the response to it varies per individual. Today’s retirees will likely need to be more flexible and look at different withdrawal methods and tax and lifestyle factors.

Should you go by the 4% rule? For decades, retirees were cautioned to withdraw no more than 4% of their retirement balances annually (adjusted north for inflation as the years went by). This “rule” still has merit (although sometimes the percentage must be increased out of necessity). T. Rowe Price has estimated that someone retiring with a typical 60 percent/40 percent stock/bond ratio in their portfolio has just a 13 percent chance of depleting retirement assets across 30 years if he or she abides by the 4 percent rule. A 7 percent initial withdrawal rate invites an 81 percent chance of outliving your retirement assets in 30 years (individual.troweprice.com/staticFiles/Retail/Shared/PDFs/retPlanGuide.pdf).

That sounds like a pretty good argument for the 4 percent rule in itself. However, while the 4 percent rule regulates your withdrawals, it doesn’t regulate portfolio performance. If the markets don’t do well, your portfolio may earn less than 4 percent, and if your investments repeatedly can’t make back the equivalent of what you withdraw, you will risk depleting your nest egg over time.

Or perhaps the portfolio percentage method? Some retirees elect to withdraw X percent of their portfolio in a year, adjusting the percentage based on how well or poorly their investments perform. As this can produce greatly varying annual income even with responsive adjustments, some retirees take a second step and set upper and lower limits on the dollar amount they withdraw annually. This approach is more flexible than the 4 percent rule, and in theory you will never outlive your money.

Or maybe the spending floor approach? That’s another approach that has its fans. You estimate the amount of money you will need to spend in a year and then arrange your portfolio to generate it. This implies a laddered income strategy, with the portfolio heavily weighted towards bonds and away from stocks. This is a more conservative approach than the two methods above: with a low equity allocation in your portfolio, only a minority of those assets are exposed to stock market volatility, and yet they can still capture some upside with a foot in the market.

Attention has to be paid to tax efficiency. Many people have amassed sizable retirement savings, yet give little thought as to the order of their withdrawals. Generally speaking, there is wisdom in taking money out of taxable accounts first, then tax-deferred accounts and lastly tax-exempt accounts. This withdrawal order gives the assets in the tax-deferred and tax-exempt accounts some additional time to grow. A smartly conceived withdrawal sequence may help your retirement savings to last several years longer than they would in its absence(online.wsj.com, March 7, 2011).

Keeping healthy might help you save more in two ways. Increasingly, people want to work until age 70, or longer. Many assume they can, but their assumption may be flawed. The 2012 Retirement Confidence Survey from the Employee Benefit Research Institute found that 50 percent of current retirees had left the workforce earlier than they planned, with personal or spousal health concerns a major factor (www.dailyfinance.com, Sept. 3, 2012).

When you eat right, exercise consistently and see a doctor regularly, you may be bolstering your earning potential as well as your constitution. Health problems can hurt your income stream and reduce your chances to get a job, and medical treatments can eat up time that you could use in other ways. Good health can mean fewer ER visits, fewer treatments and fewer hospital stays, all saving you money that might otherwise come out of your retirement fund.

Fidelity figures that a couple retiring now at age 65 will spend $240,000 (in 2012 dollars) on retirement health expenses across their remaining years. That $240,000 doesn’t even include dental, over-the-counter drug and long term care costs (and as a reminder, many eye, ear and dental care costs are not even covered under Medicare or by Medigap policies). Every year you work may mean another year of health insurance coverage as well as income (www.marketwatch.com, Dec. 6, 2012).

Randy Sitzman may be reached at 294-2811 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , www.ffec.com/billings. This material was prepared by MarketingLibrary.Net Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. Please note - investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 March 2014 13:15

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In today’s world, you can’t be too careful

Q: This question came from Dave in Bozeman:

My 72-year-old mother was almost a victim to a foreign inheritance scam. She could hardly believe her luck when an attorney in London emailed her, claiming to be relieved to have finally located her, because he was administering the will of someone who was distantly related to her and very wealthy. He said the deceased had left her a vast amount of money. After exchanging a few emails, he eventually called her at 4 in the morning asking her if she was “ready to receive the money?” He instructed her to go to Western Union and wire him $350 for the transfer fee. Fortunately she balked because she just didn’t have the money. When she told me about the incident, I had to convince her that this was a scam and she was lucky she didn’t lose any money. After she finally believed me, she was ashamed of herself. How can people protect themselves these days from unscrupulous scam artists?

A: Your mother shouldn’t be ashamed, because she is hardly alone. An estimated 10 to 15 percent of the U.S. population falls for one kind of scam or another each year, according to FTC research. Studies show that the average fraud victim is between 55 and 65 years old.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission estimates that foreign-based inheritance and lottery fraud alone bilks Americans out of literally billions of dollars a year. Moreover, the FTC estimates that more than 90 percent of lottery scams go unreported because the victims are too ashamed to file a complaint.

Elderly people are often the target of scams because they tend to be more vulnerable. Con artists know that they are generally on fixed incomes and the offer of money makes for pretty good “bait” to lure them into a scam.

To spot and avoid scams of all types, including fraudulent lotteries, “business opportunities” and Ponzi schemes, here are 10 tips from Doug Shadel, a leading expert and author on fraudulent schemes and Senior State Director of AARP Washington:

1. If anybody ever asks you to pay a fee to collect a “prize” you have won, they are trying to scam you.

2. If anybody ever invites you to play a foreign-based lottery – or tells you that you have won such a lottery – they are trying to scam you. How do we know this? Because foreign lotteries are illegal in the U.S.

3. Fraudsters will try to get you whipped into an emotional state of excitement. It doesn’t matter if the emotion is thrill, grief, guilt or anger – getting you into the emotional state is the goal. When you are in that state, you literally cannot access the rational part of your brain.

4. Do not engage in personal conversation with people attempting to sell you an investment opportunity or “process your winnings.” They will collect personal details they can use to push you into the emotional state they need you in.

5. With investment opportunities, make sure the person trying to sell you the investment product is properly licensed and registered. In the State of Montana, you can call the Commissioner of Insurance and Securities at 1-800-332-6148 to make sure the agent is properly licensed and the  product is properly registered. Also, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) offers a Broker Check Database at BrokerCheck.FINRA.org.

Finally, beware of investments sold by friends or members of an affinity group to which you belong.

6. Before investing, investigate and fully understand what the company does to earn the return it is promising. If you don’t know how the company makes its money, it may be a Ponzi scheme.

7. All that glitters is not gold. Never buy coins (or other investment opportunities) from a telemarketer, and never put an excessive amount of your investments in one type of vehicle – like gold.

8. Even if you meet these salespeople in person and find yourself impressed with their offices and marketing materials, it could still be a scam. If you’re bilking people out of millions of dollars, you can afford to put a pretty glossy façade on it all.

9. Learn more about how scam artists work their black magic. Read “Outsmarting the Scam Artists: How to Protect Yourself from the Most Clever Cons,” a book by AARP’s Washington State director, Doug Shadel.

10. Log onto the AARP Consumer Protection Resource Center for the latest scams and schemes at http://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/

The old adage still applies today: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Do you have a question for AARP Montana? Send your question to “Ask AARP Montana” at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 30 W 14th St., Helena, MT 59601 or call our toll-free hotline at 1-866-295-7278. As we receive questions, we will consult with both internal and external experts to provide timely and valuable advice.

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 March 2014 13:13

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Share medical history

(StatePoint) Do your relatives know the facts about your personal medical history? What about your family history and their risk for disease?

A recent survey found that 96 percent of Americans believe it’s important to know their family medical history, yet only a third actually gather specifics, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

This has public health officials concerned, as a number of diseases, such as diabetes, cancer and depression, have been known to run in families. 

Family medical histories can be collected at family reunions and holidays.  Explain that you’re creating a record the whole family can use to receive better health care. Remember to speak less and listen more.

• Provide multiple choices. Some people may be more willing to share health information in face-to-face conversations, others by phone or e-mail. Let them choose.

• Speak less, listen more. Keep your questions short and neutral. Medical diseases are not moral failings, but feeling judged is likely to get your relatives to clam up. So listen without comment.

• Respect privacy. Just because this information is to be shared, there’s no need to make Uncle Jim’s prostate problems the focus of discussion at the next family barbeque.

You can keep your family medical history current by using free Web services such as the government’s Family Health Portrait Tool, available at http://familyhistory.hhs.gov. After information is collected about grandparents, parents, siblings, children, aunts, uncles and cousins, it organizes it into a diagram for health care professionals to better individualize diagnosis, treatment and prevention plans. 

To find out more about how your family history can affect your risk for diseases such as prostate cancer, visit www.pcf.org. 

Then take the opportunity to collect a family history the next time your family is together. It might just save a life.

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 March 2014 13:11

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