by Carol Kando-Pineda
Counsel, FTC, Division of Consumer & Business Education
You may have seen reports of the fire that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard. Dozens of sailors fled the burning ship and lost all their possessions. When a distressing event like this happens, many folks look for ways to help. But you also want to make sure your money gets to the people you want to help. In this case, scammers are making that more difficult. Officials at Naval Base Coronado have sounded the alarm about fake crowdfunding pages trying to take advantage of the crisis.
Today is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. We urge people of all ages to take note of the ongoing scams affecting seniors in our communities. Typical scams targeting older Americans thrive on financial abuse and exploitation. Scams are illegal and a form of elder abuse.
Last week, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra warned residents to be cautious about scammers pretending to be coronavirus contact tracers. As more public health orders relax, counties are hiring contract tracers to track and identify outbreaks of coronavirus. There have already been numerous reports of scammers posing as contract tracers and asking for private information, such as Medicare number, Social Security number or bank account information. Contract tracers will never ask for such personal information, or banking information.
Attorney General Becerra urges residents to report such fraud to his office immediately. The California Senior Medicare Patrol also has a toll-free hotline to report scams involving private health information: 1-855-613-7080.
The IRS reported recent scams related to fake charities and phishing schemes by email, letter, text message, and internet links. 
The Federal Trade Commission reports indicate California residents age 60 and above have already reported over 4,500 scams related to Covid-19 and stimulus payments. The fraud victims in the cases lost a total of over $11.8 million.
Locally, the San Diego community saw recent variations of the popular grandparent scam.  Two residents were convinced their grandchild or family member was in legal trouble. A scammer posed as an attorney and sent someone to pick up cash from the scam victim (with promises to resolve the issue for the grandchild).
Please contact our office for legal assistance and guidance on reporting scams and protecting yourself in the future. Don’t be embarrassed to ask questions, help spread awareness about scams, and prevent further instances of elder abuse in the community.
This information is provided as a result of a generous grant from the Sahm Family Foundation.
In an effort to stop the spread of a dangerous respiratory illness called Covid-19 (coronavirus), most Californians have been staying at home more than normal in recent weeks. The coronavirus is known to be more serious in older adults, and those with underlying health issues. As a result of the pandemic, older adults have been advised to only leave their home for essential needs. Unfortunately, spending so much time at home allows seniors to be more exposed to scams.
News and information continues to change rapidly, even though most are stuck at home. While it can be difficult to keep up, it is still critical for seniors to be aware of scams.
Watch out for individuals or businesses who promise to help get stimulus money more quickly, or sell cures or medication to prevent or treat the virus. Scammers are also using old tricks like pretending to be a grandkid in trouble, or saying your Social Security is being terminated. Be cautious of anyone who requests personal information, and stay alert.
Here are a few reminders on how to keep your distance from scams:
D – Don’t let your guard down. Don’t be afraid to hang up or close the door!
I – Interact regularly with friends and family to stay in the loop.
S – Seek help from trusted sources if you are not sure what to do.
T – Take a deep breath. Anxiety and panic do not help make good decisions.
A – Always verify information, and ask for details in writing.
N – Note who is contacting you, and have a response ready.
C – Consider reporting scams to the FTC, Attorney General, police, etc.
E – Educate yourself and your neighbors, so they will stay safe too.
Stay tuned to our blog for future scam updates. Our attorneys are working remotely, and can offer legal advice to residents of San Diego and Imperial County free of charge. Let us know what scams you are seeing in your neighborhood, and stay well!
Here are a few helpful links for those who would like to read more:
Official California Covid-19 Coronavirus Response Page: https://covid19.ca.gov/
County of San Diego – Coronavirus Updates & Resources: https://www.sandiegocounty.gov/content/sdc/hhsa/programs/phs/community_epidemiology/dc/2019-nCoV.html
California Dept. of Aging Resource List: https://www.aging.ca.gov/covid19/
SDGE Utility Scam Assistance: https://www.sdge.com/residential/customer-service/assistance-help/scams
Social Security Administration Press Releases: https://www.ssa.gov/news/press/releases/
Federal Trade Commission- Scam Alerts: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/scam-alerts
2020 Census Information: https://2020census.gov/en.html
California Attorney General – Protecting Consumers: https://oag.ca.gov/consumers
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – Consumer Info Blog: https://www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/blog/?categories=info-for-consumers
I know, 60-year-olds. You’re not old. In fact, we’ve found that, when people think “old,” they think of someone about 10 years older than they are right now. But, because we’ve been warned about the effects of the Coronavirus on people 60+, listen up. Because scammers follow the headlines and know you might have this on your mind.
Right now, scammers are scuttling out of their dark corners to offer false hope (Home test kits! A cure!) and use fear (Your Social Security number is about to be revoked! Your loved one is in trouble!) – all to get your money or information. (None of those things are real, by the way.) They’re asking for your bank routing number to “help” you get your relief money – which is not how you’ll get it, by the way. They’re sending fake emails that look real, but those fake CDC or World Health Organization emails are trying to steal your personal information – or, if you click a link, put malware on your computer, tablet, or phone. Scammers are calling (and calling…and calling…), using illegal robocalls to pitch you the latest scammy thing. They’re texting, and they’re all over social media.
So, while you’re washing your hands and working to stay safe, here are a few ways you can help protect yourself – and those you love – from scammers.
- Don’t be rushed. Whatever the call, email, text, or social media post is about, remember that scammers try to rush you. Legit people don’t.
- Check it out. Before you act on something or share it – stop. Do some research. Do the facts back up the story?
- Pass it on. If you get offered something great, or you’re worried about something alarming: talk to someone you trust before you act. What do they think?
- Keep in touch with the FTC. Sign up for Consumer Alerts to help spot scams: ftc.gov/subscribe. And watch for the latest at ftc.gov/coronavirus.
- Report scams to the FTC. Go to ftc.gov/complaint. Your report can help us shut the scammers down.
Want to help even more? Pass this post on. Tell a friend. And hey, let’s be careful out there.
*This information was provided by the Federal Trade Commission
(Executive Director’s Scam Alert August 2019)
The caller identified himself as working for “card member services”, representing all of the major credit card companies. He said he could drop my interest rate on my credits cards by 1/3. He asked me to confirm my full name and home address (he had my correct address) and that I had a Visa or MasterCard. He claimed to have ‘pulled up’ my accounts and then wanted me to confirm the entire card number for one of my credit card accounts so he could verify it was really me.
Instead of giving him a credit card number, I asked him to give me the last 4 numbers of any of my accounts that he had ‘pulled up’. Things got interesting after that. We went back and forth, each demanding that the other verify the information. I explained that I am an attorney who works for a non-profit legal services organization and that I research financial scams targeting seniors. The caller was not concerned. He forcefully informed me that unless I gave him a credit card number, he would not be able to transfer me to the accounts manager who would be the one to lower my interest rate. After the call ended, I received several (unanswered) calls from similar numbers.
Don’t fall for this one! This scam has been around for a long time because it is successful in getting credit card numbers and other personal information, then stealing identities and making unauthorized credit card purchases. Instead, call your credit company and ask for an interest rate reduction yourself. It may or may not be successful, but you won’t be putting your financial future at risk.