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Elder Abuse: Stay Alert for Scams

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Ensuring the safety of our senior citizens entails not only protection from physical and emotional abuse, but also an effective defense against fraud and exploitation. Elder abuse takes many forms, and scams perpetrated against seniors are unfortunately as common as they are unconscionable. According to a 2010 study conducted by the Investor Protection Trust, at least one out of five seniors have been victims of some form of elder financial abuse. So how can Californians spot the red flags and stop a predator in their tracks?

To keep seniors and their families alert to potential scams and other types of financial exploitation, let's outline some typical tricks that fraudsters frequently employ. Reporter Erin Rhoda has helpfully compiled a list:

  • Relative in Distress: Scammers will call up a senior, claiming to be a relative (often a grandchild) or a police/jail official. The fake relative will be in a desperate situation - in jail in another state or stranded in a foreign country. They request that you wire money for bail or travel home.
  • Craigslist "Great Deal": Scammers will pay for an item sold on Craigslist or another forum with a bad check written for a greater amount than the price. They ask you to send the difference back. Now you've sent them money and must pay for their rubber check at the bank.
  • Walmart Secret Shopper: Fraudsters will send a senior a fake check, usually for several thousand dollars, as part of a bogus "secret shopper program" at Wal-Mart or elsewhere. After depositing the money, you send back the difference from your own funds and also have to pay for the bad check.
  • Stamp Licker Scam: You sign up to lick stamps and stuff envelopes. You're paid with a phony check for more work than actually you do, which requires you to return the difference. You end up paying for the bad check in addition to having your money stolen.
  • Home "Services": Fraudsters will come by your house and offer to perform yard work or maintenance services, or maybe they'll even "help" without asking. You're charged an unreasonable amount of money. In such cases, do not write a check - call the police.
  • Antivirus: Someone calls, telling you that there's a virus on your computer. They'll come fix it for a fee. There is no virus on your computer, though the scammer might install one in order to steal your identity.
  • "Prize" Winnings: You'll receive amazing news informing you that you've won big in a phony sweepstakes or other contest. In order to claim your "prize," all you have to do is pay "taxes," "shipping," or other fees. Your bank account data and social security number may also be requested. Sometimes the scammers will also ask that you deposit a bad check and send you money back.

As we can see, the "too good to be true" rule applies to all of the above scams. If your family member is a senior, keep an eye out for these red flags. You have the power to stop predators and prevent elder abuse.

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