The phone rings one evening and the voice on the line enthusiastically proclaims that you that you have won the lottery! To claim your $30 million prize, all you have to do is send a check for $1,500 to the following address. If this sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is. Unfortunately each year in California tens of thousands of innocent victims fall prey to this and countless other scams designed to extort financial assets from unsuspecting people. Not surprisingly, many of the people victimized are seniors. The prospect of winning large sums of money, with relatively little investment, is very tempting. Couple this with the fact that seniors by nature are very trusting, making them extremely vulnerable to these types of scams.
Once the caller has the interest of the victim they continue to extract as much personal information from that person as possible. Mrs. Jones you live at 123 Apple Orchard Lane in San Mateo, is that correct? When you answer; “no I live at 456 Watermelon Ave.” you have just unknowingly given the caller your correct address. Once you mail a check to the caller you have provided them with your bank account number. Things tend to snowball very rapidly from here until the caller has access to enough information to literally change your phone number, order new credit cards and access funds in your bank account. The good news is that there are things you can do to avoid being drawn into one of these telephone scams.
Recognize the signs of telemarketing fraud:
• Be suspicious of the caller if you don’t know them;
• The caller announces that you have won a prize;
• The prize is from another country;
• The caller claims to be a government official; and
• The caller asks you to keep the prize a secret.
Secondly, never give out personal information to a caller you do not know. Request their name and phone number and call the person back. Never wire or mail money to someone that you don’t know. If the caller tells you not to tell anyone else about their request for money, chances are that this is a scam. If the caller identifies themselves as a police officer, an FBI agent or even the IRS, be aware that these people do not call you on the phone. If they have business with you they will always come to your house in person.
Finally, if you have a caregiver helping you in your home, always use a reputable agency that hires employees, rather than independent contractors. This will ensure that the caregiver has gone through a rigorous hiring process that includes the following:
• Reference checks;
• Criminal background and DMV screening;
• Liability Insurance and bonding;
• Workers’ Compensation Insurance; and
• Supervised by a professional office staff.
A caregiver provided by an agency using this type of process will have your best interests in mind. The caregiver will be trained to be on the lookout for unusual or suspicious activity by people who intend to abuse seniors. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t be afraid to say no and hang up on the caller.
If you believe that you are the victim of senior financial abuse ask for help. The following agencies can help:
• San Mateo County Adult Protective Services — (800) 675-8437.
• California State Attorney General (24 hour hotline) — (800) 952-5225.
• San Mateo (or your local) Police Department — (650) 522-7700.
Steve Zimmerman is the owner of Senior Helpers of San Mateo, part of a national franchise providing in-home, non-medical care for seniors. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.