Slam the Door on Scammers

Kevin Sauls
By Kevin Sauls December 15, 2014 11:10

Joan Richardson escaped a scammer’s snare

Top 10 senior scams

1.   Health care and insurance fraud

2.   Counterfeit prescription drugs

3.   Funeral and cemetery scams

4.   Fraudulent anti-aging products

5.   Telemarketing scams and fraud

6.   Internet fraud

7.   Investment schemes

8.   Homeowner and reverse mortgage scams

9.   Sweepstakes and lottery scams

10. Grandparent scam

Source: National Council on Aging

By Kevin Sauls

As owner of a popular Sonora boutique, Joan Richardson is a successful businesswoman.

And yet she was nearly taken in by a telephone scammer posing as a PG&E representative. He called her cell phone after obtaining the number from an unsuspecting coworker.

“He said I hadn’t paid my bill, and they were going to shut off my service,” says Richardson, 70. “Like an idiot, I didn’t call PG&E. He sounded so legitimate.”

Richardson knew she had not received a delinquent notice from the utility, but nonetheless “went into panic mode … my heart was beating out of my chest.”

The scammer advised Richardson to get a PayPal card at Rite Aid and submit $450. If she had already paid her bill, the scammer promised, she would be reimbursed.

Richardson says the scammer provided her with a Pay Pal account number and a phone number for “PG&E Disconnect.” She hesitated and the scammer called her back to ask, “Are you having trouble getting the money?”

Richardson went to make the transfer. “I’m so thankful to the girls at Rite Aid. They said, ‘That’s a scam.’  I would have fallen for it.”

Richardson is embarrassed by the experience, but glad to share it as a cautionary tale.

“It’s absolutely a good warning,” she says. “I hope it helps someone.”

According to, Richardson is not alone. “Older adults are prime targets for financial exploitation both by persons they know and trust and by strangers.”

Studies show that older Americans are bilked out of roughly $3 billion per year by what the website deems “a broad spectrum of perpetrators” preying on an ever-increasing base of likely targets, most often by phone and Internet. According to, persons 65 and older will number around 60 million by 2020 and will be approaching 100 million by 2050.

Law enforcement officials warn that scammers know their targets and can be clever and persuasive.

“They’re very good,” says Sgt. Anthony Eberhardt of the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Department. “They’re going to tell you anything you want to believe.”

“They change their methods and ideas,” adds Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Lt. Neil Evans. “Anytime we put something out there (scam alerts), they come up with something else.”

Because they often have money, are less social-media savvy and are more trusting than their younger counterparts, seniors are particularly vulnerable.

“They put their faith in people and feel like, ‘Why would they lie to me?’ ” Eberhardt says. “They have old-fashioned values and believe people won’t take advantage of them.”

The telephone has proven a particularly effective weapon in the hands of con artists.

“Seniors are more trusting of phone-to-phone dealings; they’re more amenable to traditional means of communication,” says Mark Leyes, director of communications for the California Department of Business Oversight, which protects consumers engaged in financial transactions.

Many scams are prevalent (see info box), and one that is particularly cruel is the grandparent scam.  Here a scammer posing as a grandchild in trouble will call a senior and ask for money.

“Sometimes they’ll say they went to Mexico for spring break, they’re in jail and need $2,000 to get out,” Evans says. “They’ll say, ‘Don’t tell Mom and Dad … they’ll kill me. I’m supposed to be at a friend’s house in San Diego. I need the money right away.’ ”

Grandparents like to think they would know that the caller’s voice is not their grandchild’s, but fear and panic tend to overcome logic and reason.

“So they call Western Union and wire the money,” says Evans, “and pretty soon the scammer will call back and say they need more.”

Evans says seniors are as amazed as anyone that such scams can work. “When you sit down and talk to victims, they say ‘How did I ever fall for that?’ ”

Private caregivers also can be involved in fraud, as they often are given access to credit cards and bank accounts for shopping, paying bills and running errands. Eberhardt advises families to hire caregivers from reputable companies.

Ron Rockett, a retired Amador County deputy who still works financial crimes, says another common ploy is for a scammer, posing as a credit card company rep, to call and claim a payment is overdue and that arrest is imminent if the cash is not forthcoming.

Scammers typically mine websites, social media platforms and magazine subscription records for information on their victims. Also, in what is called affinity fraud, seniors sometimes prey on fellow seniors by chatting them up at community centers and other gathering places.

The best defense? Be wary and use common sense. “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” Evans says.

“Don’t be nice!” and “Hang up the phone!” advises the Department of Business Oversight’s anti-fraud website ( The DBO also offers a handful of ways to spot a con artist (see box below).

Seniors should also jealously guard credit card, personal identification and bank account numbers, take great care in granting power of attorney, ask questions and make calls to check the validity of suspicious callers.

Suspected scams and fraud can be reported to sheriff’s offices in Tuolumne (533-5815), Calaveras (754-6500) and Amador (223-6500) counties and to the DBO (866-275-2677). The Tuolumne Sheriff’s Community Service Unit uses reports to prepare presentations aimed at making seniors aware of new scams.

But don’t expect arrests. “There’s not a darn thing we can do to these people because we can never find them,” says Evans.

Scammers can work their frauds from anywhere in the world, with multiple electronic barriers – not to mention state and international borders – between themselves and law enforcement.

“We can’t chase scammers all over the country, let alone all around the world,” Evans says. “Even the FBI will not follow cases until they involve major dollars.”

His advice? Learn the signs and try to avoid becoming a victim in the first place.

How to spot a con artist

  • Promises high reward or return with no risk
  • Uses high-pressure sales techniques
  • Furnishes written material with spelling and
  • grammatical errors
  • Claims offer is only for you or a “select group”
  • Pressures you for an immediate response
  • Requires advance payment
  • Requires “cash only” or checks made out personally
  • Promises to provide paperwork “later”
  • Asks you to sign forms or blank documents
  • Gives no means to contact independent company representative
  • Discourages you from contacting regulators
  • Extends offers that are too good to be true

Source: California Department of Business Oversight’s anti-fraud website,

Copyright © 2015 Friends and Neighbors Magazine
Kevin Sauls
By Kevin Sauls December 15, 2014 11:10
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