Expert panel advises group on senior-focused scams

When Jane Krieder asked the crowd at the Joslyn Center why seniors are top targets for scammers, she received a multitude of answers.

One person said they come from a nicer generation, while another claimed scammers assume they are wealthy. One bemoaned that scammers think seniors have a lack of mental capacity and are easy targets.

All  legitimate reasons why seniors become scamming victims, Ms. Krieder said.

The Senior Scam Stopper breakfast on March 23 was headed by Ms. Krieder, of the Contractors State License Board, as well as Jackie Wiley-Sistrunk of the Department of Business Oversight, Stacia Crane of the United States Postal Inspection Service and Linda Chavez of the Senior Medicare Patrol. The chat was brought to the center in conjunction with Assemblyman Chris Holden and State Senator Carol Liu.

The panel was there to inform the mostly senior crowd about the dangers of scam artists, from shoddy contractors to sketchy websites and telemarketers.

“What we’re here to do today is to scare you,” Ms. Crane said. “Now is the time to be afraid.”

Ms. Krieder spoke to the crowd about the danger of unverified contractors, especially those who are hired to do work on a person’s home. She said to shop around for the best price, ask the contractor about a specific time frame for the job and always ask for a license and make sure it checks out with the state licensing board.

She told a story about a 92-year-old woman who gave a contractor the keys to her house. He moved in and refused to leave. “We’re trying to get him out right now,” Ms. Krieder said.

Contractors can be charming in an effort to get what they want, and some widows and widowers fall prey to unscrupulous contractor’s wiles, according to Ms. Krieder.

“Some of them are really cute, but don’t fall in love,” she joked as the audience laughed.

Ms. Chavez was next to talk about Medicare fraud. She is part of the Senior Medicare Patrol—a group of 10 volunteers who go into the community to educate seniors about Medicare fraud.

She told stories about medical professionals who milk the system to get more Medicare money, including an oncologist who diagnosed people with cancer who were cancer-free and a doctor who diagnosed 240 healthy people with a degenerative spine disease, just for the extra cash.

“He felt like he deserved more money,” Ms. Chavez said of the second doctor.

Ms. Chavez warned the crowd about double billing or overcharging, something that could happen to seniors who are not checking their statements.

“Take a few minutes, make sure what you’re being charged for happened at that appointment,” she said.

Ms. Crane, who represents the US Postal Inspection Service, implored the crowd to protect their mail and to not leave it in the mailbox overnight, even if their mailbox is locked and seemingly secure. 

“People want your identity, and they can get it in lots of ways,” Ms. Crane said.

Checks can be easily forged, and it usually takes the banks up to 90 days to figure out if a check isn’t legitimate. Ms. Crane suggested using a gel ink pen to prevent thieves from taking the ink off checks.

Like Ms. Kreider mentioned before, Ms. Crane said some scammers are initially nice to their victims—even sending them flowers. “Scammers love you,” Ms. Crane said.

Fraudsters are willing to take everything from a person until there is nothing left, “All because there’s a scammer out there who thinks they deserve the money better than you do,” Ms. Crane said.

She told the crowd to reach out and check up on a member of the community who might have fallen victim of a scam. The victim may feel embarrassed and distrustful, and may retreat into their house and withdraw from the community.

Ms. Wiley-Sistrunk, who works for the Department of Business Oversight, told the crowd they should do as much homework as possible when researching a business, make sure they’re properly licensed and check if they have any disciplinary actions against them.

She warned about fake webpages that could take someone’s identity, imploring the crowd to look for “https” in the URL line to make sure the page is secure.

Don’t be so quick to verify personal information from someone claiming to be from a bank or government agency, Ms. Wiley-Sistrunk said, noting that the IRS does not call households to ask for sensitive info.

“Pump your brakes and think for a minute,” Ms. Wiley-Sistrunk said.

She also spoke about a particularly cruel kind of scam, informally dubbed the “grandma scam.”

The scam works like this: a fraudster calls an elderly person, claiming to be a grandchild or another family member who has fallen into a sticky situation, such as getting arrested or being stranded in a different country. They beg the victim to wire money, sometimes in the thousands, through Western Union or a similar wire transfer company. Once the money sent, it’s too late.

Claremont resident Rita Wodinsky said the scam happened twice to her, with both scammers claiming to be her grandchildren either stuck in the Dominican Republic or involved in an accident while leaving a funeral.

Ms. Wodinsky was about to send the money, but first called family members to confirm, revealing the scam.

“I almost fell for it,” she said.

After the meeting, Senior Program Supervisor Jason Lass praised the efforts of the panel in educating seniors about the multitude of scams they can encounter.

“If we prevent one person from being scammed, then it’s a success,” Mr. Lass said.

—Matthew Bramlett


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