Tips to keep seniors safe from scams

By Summer Stephan

Every year in San Diego County, senior citizens are scammed out of millions of dollars by bad actors who prey on vulnerability and the trusting nature of our elders.

No one is immune. The victims are retired military, former educators, healthcare professionals, and even retired members of law enforcement. They are our parents, grandparents, neighbors, and friends.

Although the most common scam targeting elder San Diegans is the grandparent scam, which convinces elders their grandchildren are in peril in some foreign jail and need bail money, I’d like to provide an array of tips that will help our loved ones from becoming the next victim.

Shame often prevents a senior citizen from reporting they have been a victim and we want to stop that mindset in its tracks.

Don’t Answer Unknown Calls

Scammers use fake phone numbers to make it appear as
if the call is local. If you don’t know the phone number calling, don’t answer. If the call is important, they will leave a voicemail and you can return the call if you determine it is safe.

Government agencies or utility companies do not call with threats of fines or jail. If you receive a call demanding payment from someone claiming to be from Social Security, law enforcement, the court or the utility company, hang up. This is a common scam in which fraudsters will try to convince you to pay or risk fines or jail time.

Gift cards are for giving, not making payments.

Never purchase gift cards at the direction of someone you don’t know. Scammers obtain money from elderly victims by asking them to purchase gift cards through iTunes, Amazon, Google or from large retail stores.

Choose a caregiver with caution

Never assume that a caregiver has been through a criminal background check even if hired through a reputable agency. Ask the agency directly or request that your caregiver submit to a background check.

Protect mail and use a shredder

Never allow incoming or outgoing mail to sit in an unsecured mailbox where the public has access. Shred discarded mail or financial statements containing identifying information.

News that you won a foreign lottery or sweepstakes is a scam.

Don’t be fooled by a caller or email saying you have won a foreign lottery or sweepstakes, but that to claim the money you need to pay taxes up front. These are scams.

Don’t give in to hard-tactic sales pressures for a loan If you are offered services, repairs or a solar system by a drop-in salesperson, do not sign paperwork the same day. Ask for a copy and take time to review it, first. Door-to-door salespeople may not disclose the associated costs or consequences of signing up for their services, products or loans. A reputable business will happily give you time to make a decision without pressure.

Don’t send money to a love interest you have not met in person.

Romance scams are prolific and result in significant financial loss. It’s common for elderly victims to meet romantic interests online based on phony photos. Eventually the phony love interest will ask for money and describe an emergency situation. If you meet someone online, arrange a safe, public place to meet before becoming too invested in the relationship. Also, never send money.

As your District Attorney, I’m committed to increasing communication and accessibility between the DA’s Office and the public. I hope these consumer and public safety tips have been helpful. If you have been the victim of elder abuse, report it to Adult Protective Services: (800) 339-4661.