California law provides additional, enhanced protections to senior citizens (defined as individuals who are 65 years of age or older). This guide provides practical advice to for elders to avoid becoming victimized in the first place.
Get and Stay Educated.
Get and stay educated. Fraudsters and scam artists are always improving their techniques and creating new and innovative methods to trick and confuse elders into costly financial losses. That means you cannot afford to sit on your laurels. Read up on this subject routinely (at least once a month) and keep abreast of new developments and make sure your elderly loved ones are kept informed and aware of scam warning signs.
Protect Your Personal Information.
Protect the secrecy of personal information at all costs. This includes social security numbers, driver's license numbers, bank account numbers, login and password information, and dates of birth. Leaving these out in the open (i,.e., written down, but not locked away) is a perfect opportunity for hired help, third-party caregivers and even family members to steal your identity, take out credit in your name, and even take your hard earned assets.
Read and Understand What You're Signing or Get Help First.
Never sign any agreement unless you fully understand exactly what it provides. If you need assistance, retain a reliable, well rated and independent attorney to review the agreement and advise you. Avoid the pitfall of being penny wise and pound foolish.
Even if you're on a fixed budget and cannot afford to retain a lawyer, research free (or discounted) legal services online. One California legal assistance directory to start with can be found at http://lawhelpca.org/find-legal-help . One of many reliable free or reduced rate legal aid foundations for those who cannot afford to retain an attorney themselves is Bet Tzedek.
Never Allow Yourself to Be Rushed Into a Transaction.
Never allow anyone, including family members, caregivers or strangers, to rush you into any transaction. Insist that the person provide you with all relevant details in writing and for the opportunity to review and discuss the proposed transaction with trusted advisors (e.g., attorney, CPA, reliable and knowledgeable family member) before closing the deal. If the person persists and demands that you move quickly or refuses to provide written details for you to mull over at your leisure, this is a serious red flag warning of a potential fraud or scam in progress.
Keep Strangers Out of Your Home.
This may seem obvious, but never let a stranger into your home. This includes door to door sales persons. In addition to the obvious risk of assault or robbery (which is admittedly rare), the problem with allowing strangers in is that you are risking two types of theft of your: (a) belongings or cash (moderate risk); and (b) personal and confidential information, including bank account statements, credit card information and identity information (e.g., social security number, driver's license number, date of birth). Most people, especially the elderly, feel safe in their own homes and fail to lock away valuables and confidential documents while they are present. Letting a stranger in is a perfect opportunity for that person to take a quick picture of an important document while you are distracted.
Cultivate Healthy Relationships with Trusted and Knowledgeable Advisors.
Cultivate strong, healthy and appropriately open relationships with your personal banker, certified public accountant, attorney and reliable, trustworthy family members and also ingratiate yourself with your community and trusted family members. Why? First, studies show that financial exploitation is much more likely to happen to isolated, depressed and lonely elderly folks versus those who are socially well connected and active. Fraudsters target lonely elders and play on their need for attention to squeeze out assets for their own profit. Also, trusted advisors and family members can help watch out for your best interests and flag potential risks for you. Community, relationships and healthy social relationships with appropriate boundaries can go a long way to protecting you from exploitation.
Never Pay Up Front to Collect on a Winning.
Never pay anyone up front in furtherance of collecting on a sweepstakes or lottery "winning." Sometimes scam artists will call seniors and tell them that they have won and all they need to do is wire over a payment to cover the taxes on the earnings. This is almost always a trap designed to make you part ways with your hard earned cash. Either hang up the phone or, if you're not inclined to give up, ask the person to send you over written paperwork to support their claims.
Be Wary of Paid Caretakers Who Share Their Personal Problems With You.
Be wary whenever a caretaker starts to share personal financial difficulties he or she is experiencing. This is often a ruse designed to tug at your heartstrings and get you to offer to help out by peeling off a few hundreds. Sometimes this progresses into a long term fleecing scam.
Routinely Obtain and Review Your Credit Report (or Seek Help Doing So).
Obtain and review your credit report at least one time per year. You may want to seek assistance with this process in order to properly decode the information on your credit report. Ask a trusted family member, an accountant/CPA or your attorney for help.
Credit reports can reveal new accounts that have been opened up in your name, helping you to discover if your identity has been stolen. Protecting yourself depends on how fast you can identify a theft and get help to fix the problem.
You are entitled to get a free copy of your report from www.annualcreditreport.com once every 12 months. If you need or want to check it more often than that or also invest in "insurance" products that may help resolve problems on your behalf, there are credit monitoring services you can utilize (e.g., www.lifelock.com ) which, for a fee, will allow you to check things out and keep an eye out for suspicious activity on a more frequent basis than just one time per year. Costco offers reduced price credit monitoring and identity protection services through Complete ID (related to Experian) for around $15 per month for adults.
Swiftly Report Suspected Abuse to Authorities.
If you or a loved one suspects that abuse is occurring, the name of the game is speed in reporting the problem. The sooner the matter is brought to the attention of authorities, the more likely it is that the problem can be resolved without snowballing out of control. In California, all suspected elder abuse issues should be reported to the Bureau of MediCal Fraud and Elder Abuse at (800) 722-0432. You should also report the matter to Adult Protective Services for your county.
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