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July 1, 2009 > Learn How to Protect Yourself from Financial Scams

Learn How to Protect Yourself from Financial Scams

Upcoming Seminar Will Discuss How You Can Avoid Becoming a Victim


You have just won the national Transylvania Lottery! To claim your winnings of $15 million, just send $8,000 via Western Union or Money Gram to the address below to cover processing costs and taxes that cannot be deducted from lottery proceeds. You will receive your lottery winnings within 10 business days after the money is wired.

Who wouldn't want to be a millionaire? And doesn't $8,000 sound like a bargain in exchange for such lavish wealth?

But what if you haven't even heard of the Transylvania Lottery, let alone bought a ticket for it? Unfortunately, far too many innocent victims - particularly seniors - fall for fraudulent scams like this every day.

"Scam artists target the elderly for the same reason that bank robbers target banks - that's where the money is, or at least that's where scammers perceive the money to be," says Deputy District Attorney Eileen McAndrew, who works in the Consumer and Environmental Protection Division of the Alameda County District Attorney's Office.

"Many seniors are more likely to have financial assets than younger people," she explains. "Seniors may have their home paid off. They no longer have children in college. They have savings accounts or mutual funds. But that doesn't mean they can't be tempted by the promise of 'easy money,' just like anyone else."

Seniors also can be at risk for physical harm at the hands of fraudulent solicitors.

"People impersonating utility company employees or fraudulent home-repair contractors often show up unannounced at a victim's home and claim some type of emergency or make a 'limited time offer' for a fantastic deal on a repair project," says Detective Brian Ancona of the Fremont Police Department.

"Say, for example, that someone comes to your door and claims that he needs to check your water pipes in the back yard," he posits. "While you are out there with the supposed water company employee, other people come in and ransack your house. That would be bad enough. But should you happen to re-enter the house too soon and interrupt the criminals, there is a very real chance you could suffer physical harm."

To help senior citizens and their family members learn how to protect themselves from potential con artists and swindlers, McAndrew and Ancona will be presenting a special seminar on Tuesday, July 14 from 10 a.m. to noon. The seminar, sponsored by Washington Senior Care, will be held in the Conrad E. Anderson Auditoriums in the Washington West Building located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont.

"It seems as if there is a new scam launched every day," McAndrew notes. "In addition to lottery scams and home-construction scams, we also see a lot of financial crimes committed against the elderly by family members who are abusing the elder's sense of trust or misusing a power of attorney. To avoid such intra-family scams, we advise seniors to set up a trust or estate plan and build checks and balances into the system. For example, you should designate more than one person to help you handle financial decisions and require two people to sign for checks over a certain amount. Also, don't be too proud to ask for advice from a trusted attorney or bank officer."

Ancona notes that scam artists take advantage of the fact that elderly people sometimes have a diminished mental capacity. "Sometimes seniors do not process information as rapidly as they used to, and scammers just keep talking until they wear the victim down," he says.

"Scammers might use religious references, quoting scripture, to make you believe they have good intentions," Ancona adds. "They might even be perpetrating a scam by asking you to contribute to fake charities. Seniors need to stand up for themselves and not let solicitors rush them into any quick decisions. Don't jump in. Take the time to consult people in your family, financial professionals or law enforcement."

McAndrew and Ancona offer a number of other tips for avoiding fraudulent scams and identity theft, such as:

* Don't make financial decisions on the spot. If someone says the deal is a "secret" or a "limited time offer," you are being groomed to be ripped off.

* Recognize that people will lie to you to get your money. Don't rely on salespeople to watch out for your interests.

* Do your homework and check out charities and businesses before making contributions or hiring a contractor.

* Many unlicensed contractors will give you a fake license, which can be checked online by visiting the Contractor State License Board Web site at and clicking on "check a license." Contractor license numbers in California do not contain any alphabet characters - they are simply an eight-digit number.

* Seek multiple bids for any home-improvement or repair work, and ask all contractors for proof of liability insurance and references from previous customers.

* Monitor your finances carefully and be diligent in reviewing your checking and credit card account statements for any suspicious entries.

* Shred any sensitive documents - such as those containing your Social Security number or account numbers - before discarding them.

* Don't carry your Social Security card with you.

* "Opt out" of mailing lists for credit card offers by visiting, a Web site supported by the Federal Trade Commission.

"Any time you suspect a scam, you should call the police," McAndrew emphasizes. "The police can help direct you to variety of resources for fighting scams. Many senior centers also have resources available."

Alameda County Adult Protective Services (APS) also offers a toll-free number to record a report of financial abuse at 866-CALLAPS (866-225-5277). Local callers also may dial (510) 577-3500. All calls are confidential and are reviewed by APS intake workers, with responses generally provided the same day.

For more information about the upcoming seminar at Washington Hospital, or to register to attend, please call (800) 963-7070.

Learn More About Financial Scams on InHealth Channel 78
In the coming weeks, InHealth, a Washington Hospital Channel will air a new television program that focuses attention on financial scams and how you can avoid becoming a victim. Eileen McAndrews and Brian Ancona will both be featured in: "Your Concerns InHealth: Senior Scam Protection" hosted by Dr. Barbara Kostick. In the program, McAndrews and Ancona will discuss several potential scam scenarios and share their expertise on a number of issues. InHealth airs throughout Fremont, Newark and Union City on Comcast 78. Visit InHealth online at

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