December 17, 2017

Scam Stopper Seminar Warns Seniors of Online Fraud and Identity Theft

 

Seniors hold 70 percent of the country’s wealth and are often the easiest targets for scammers to defraud.

Scam Stopper Seminar Warns Seniors of Online Fraud and Identity Theft

Numerous scams are being committed against seniors today, among them identity theft, mail fraud, lottery fraud, healthcare fraud and abuse, financial exploitation, home repair/contractor scams, real estate fraud and long-term care abuse issues.

Corresponding with National Consumer Protection Week, a “Senior Scam Stopper” panel addressed a gathering of about 60 people, mostly seniors and caregivers, at the First United Methodist Church of Canoga Park on Friday, Mar. 8.

The event, one of many being held throughout the state, was sponsored by State Senator Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) and the Contractors State License Board (CSLB).

Following an introduction by Sen. Pavley, representatives from five agencies—California Health Advocates (CHA), L.A. County Dept. of Community & Senior Services, L.A. County Dept. of Consumer Affairs and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS)—spoke about the scams targeting seniors today.

“Seniors are the number one group targeted by unscrupulous scammers because they hold 70 percent of the wealth and tend to be more trusting,” said Jane Kreidler, Outreach Coordinator for CSLB and coordinator of the event.

Kreidler addressed issues of home repair fraud. “We license 300,000 contractors a year,” she said, cautioning that, “There are many unlicensed operators that are outbidding the licensed contractors; if a stranger calls you, mails something to you, comes to your door without being solicited that is a red flag,” Kreidler said. “Do not engage with them.”

According to panelist John Merrill of the L.A. Dept. of Community & Senior Services, financial abuse is the fastest growing form of elder abuse today in California while remaining the most underreported.

“Only half of all crimes are reported,” he said, adding that elder abuse is a crime punishable by four years in prison, a law that is attached to more severe felony penalties that can be brought to bear on a perpetrator.

In light of the problems facing the senior community today, the panel sought to arm attendees with knowledge and resources, and assurances they do not have to be conned or face devastating emotional or financial loss by scammers.

In the case of financial abuse, the perpetrators of these acts are punished under CA Penal Code 368, which covers physical abuse as a tool to commit financial abuse, abandonment, neglect, denial of food or medicine and isolation. Victims and those aware of such crimes at large can report them to Los Angeles Adult Protective Services, the largest agency of its kind in the United States.

AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION

“There is good news,” said Renee Focht of the USPIS, speaking about lottery scams: “You have to be a willing participant to be a victim.” Focht related that more than $42 million dollars were lost in the last three years by those who participated in illegal foreign lottery scams and sweepstakes. These scams are conducted via the U.S. mail, by telephone and online.

“Typically, the hook is a false claim alerting you that you have just won the foreign lottery,” said Focht. However, to claim the “prize,” the scammer will request a check for processing expenses.

Anyone who suspects they have been contacted by any party attempting to commit fraud, should contact the USPIS, who shares information directly with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The FTC also supplies a hotline known as the National Do Not Call Registry (donotcall.gov), where you may opt out of receiving unsolicited calls simply by making a request. Another suggestion when you receive unwanted calls was to tie up their line by putting the phone down without hanging up and walking away. In the case of credit cards, you may even choose to opt out of being on a list to receive “firm offers” of credit by logging on to optoutprescreen.com.

“This is a free service in connection with all four major credit bureaus,” Merrill said. “An ounce of prevention goes a long way to help maintain your home and your pension.”

Panelist Dora Hernandez of California Health Advocates noted that Medicare benefits fraud costs consumers billions of dollars and offered the following tips:

•Do not carry your Medicare card with you because most of the time it is the same number as your social security number. This information should be kept confidential for your protection.

•If someone calls and says they are with Medicare, remember: Medicare never calls you; they only use the mail system, so never engage in a conversation with someone claiming to be with Medicare.

•Always read your Medicare summary notices, which are mailed to you every three months and check them for accuracy. A dishonest healthcare provider may try to charge you for more services than they actually gave you. Call your doctor, clinic or hospital immediately if you have questions and concerns.

•If you feel overwhelmed, have questions, suspect fraud or abuse, contact the California Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP), (855) 613-7080. For further assistance with Medicare, call HICAP: (800) 434-0222. Hernandez also offered tips regarding house repairs, saying seniors can deflect contractor’s scams by paying attention to a few important pieces of information.

•Hire only state-licensed contractors, get at least three bids, at least three references and reviews of previous work done, and get everything in writing regarding project expectations.

•Confirm their worker’s compensation insurance policy, ask about liability insurance to cover any property damage, don’t let payments get ahead of the work, never pay more than 10 percent down and don’t pay the final installment unless satisfied with the job.

“If you have a home repair that costs more than $500, you are required to hire a licensed contractor,” Kreidler added.

“If you suspect a con artist is targeting you, dont’t let them succeed,” Hernandez said. “Do report it. We are in this together!”

Following the panelists’ presentations, time was allowed for questions after which panelists stayed to mingle with attendees and continued the discussion with those who stayed.

IMPORTANT REFERENCE NUMBERS

LA County Department of Consumer Affairs hotlines:

•Consumer Protection: (800) 593-8222 (inside LA County); (213) 974-1452 (outside LA County); dca.lacounty.gov

•Small Claims Advisors: (213) 974-9759

•Real Estate Fraud and Homeowner Assistance: (800) 973-3370

•Dispute Settlement Service (mediators resolving disputes out of court): (213) 974-0825

•­Identity Theft Unit: (213) 974-9459

•Senior Abuse and Fraud Protection: (213) 974-9778

•Public Information and Community Outreach: (213) 974-9699

Other Agencies:

•911

•Los Angeles Adult Protective Services: (213) 351-5401

•LA County Dept. of Community & Senior Services: (800) 520-2020; css.lacounty.gov

•National Do Not Call Registry: (888) 382-1222; https://www.donotcall.gov.

•Wise & Healthy Aging: Main Tel.: (310) 394-9871;wiseandhealthyaging.org

•24-hour Crisis Number for WISE Long-Term Care Ombudsman: (800)-334-WISE (9473);

•California Health Advocates/Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) for Medicare questions: (855) 613-7080; cahealthadvocates.org

•U.S. Postal Inspection Service: (877) 876-2455; postalinspectors.uspis.gov

•Contractors State License Board: (800) 321-CSLB (2752); cslb.ca.gov

•Senator Fran Pavley: (818) 876-3352; sd27.senate.ca.gov­­­.