By Jason KUROSU
Glendale Adventist Hospital hosted a Senior Scam Stopper event last Thursday afternoon, with hopes of educating seniors on the most common scams and how to avoid becoming victims of fraud. The Contractors State License Board and Glendale Adventist Hospital’s Live Well Senior Program sponsored the event and welcomed regular guest speaker Assemblymember Mike Gatto, as well as Kerri Kasem, to speak about upcoming legislation regarding financial abuse of the elderly.
Gatto and Kasem collaborated on AB 1085, which was introduced earlier this year and would provide legal recourse for adult children who are denied access to their ill or dying parents.
Kasem, the daughter of famed radio icon Casey Kasem, was thrust into such a scenario when she and her stepmother became embroiled in a long legal battle over visitation rights. Kasem said that her stepmother, Jean, prevented her and her siblings from seeing their father, who was initially diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and later on with Lewy body dementia.
“Elder abuse is a silent epidemic,” said Kasem. “I was lucky that I had a famous last name. That’s the only reason that my case became visible and that’s not fair.”
Kasem backed AB 1085 and urged seniors in the audience to document their wishes thoroughly in order to prevent disputes of estate, such as the Kasem family encountered.
“Just protect yourself. It’s so very important that you have your will and estate plans in order.”
Gatto has authored a number of bills related to elder abuse – physical, financial or otherwise – over the last few years, including AB 1085, which Gatto said was inspired by Kasem’s story.
“You’re in a hospital room somewhere and you’re wondering why your family does not come and visit, why they have abandoned you. Meanwhile, your family is wondering why they can’t get in to see you,” said Gatto. “The more we get out there, the more we learn that these stories about trying to separate someone from their money or their family are increasingly common.”
The seminar also featured two speakers from the Contractors State License Board and U.S. Postal Inspection Service, who spoke on common scams seniors encounter regarding house repair and mail.
Jane Kreidler of the Contractors State License Board said that work from unlicensed contractors is among the most prevalent scams, particularly those that allow scammers access to people’s homes.
“They want to get in your home, because once they’re in your home, they’re going to find ‘something wrong,’” said Kreidler, who recounted stories of elderly residents preyed upon by seemingly legitimate salesmen and repairmen.
One elderly man hired contractors to check his air conditioning, only for them to tell him he had mold, which required removal costs escalating to $8,000. CSLB investigators eventually found that there was no such mold but because the contractor was not licensed he could not be located, nor could the $8,000 be returned.
Another woman in her 90s and suffering from dementia was coerced into signing a $42,000 unsecured loan agreement in order to install solar panels. Unlike the first story, this contractor was licensed, giving Kreidler a bit more hope that the perpetrator can be tracked down.
“If they’re not licensed, there’s not a whole lot that anybody can do. If we can locate them, we can make them pay a fine, but that doesn’t help you,” said Kreidler.
Kreidler recommended getting as many bids as possible (preferably at least three) for a project and having the contractors show you their contractor’s license and driver’s license.
“Your home is your castle,” said Kreidler. “When you get someone to work on your home, you want to make sure they’re licensed. Even if they’re licensed, it doesn’t mean they’re ethical, but you have much more recourse.”
Stacia Krane of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service elaborated on common mail scams, most involving false promises of financial winnings and false advertising on goods purchased through the mail.
Actual examples of goods received through the mail include the “universal coat hanger,” which proved to be a 10-penny nail, and the “solar clothes stabilizer,” otherwise known as the clothespin.
But among the most prevalent scams that Krane discussed was the lottery scam, in which a resident receives mail indicating that they’ve won an enormous sum of money, this without any participation in a lottery or contest.
Krane said scammers will ask for money to pay for fees or taxes, with such fees subtracted from the prize money in an actual lottery. Once this process begins, scammers will begin separating the victim from anyone who might clue them in to the scam.
“They’re going to tell you they’re your only friend. Don’t trust your relatives because they’re just greedy. Don’t trust your friends because they’re just greedy. Don’t listen to anyone else. They alienate you from anyone you know so that you’re really relying on that phone call from them,” Krane said. “They’re telling you that they care for you because you remind them of someone, their grandparents, their mother.”
Worse yet, Krane said that the address of those who participated in a lottery scam is now being shared amongst scammers, who will sell information, including the address, to other scammers.
Krane also warned of scammers’ intimidation tactics once a victim starts refusing to pay, including threats of physical violence.
“They already have your address. They’re going to go on the internet on Google Earth and take a look at your house,” Krane warned. “They’ll call you and say ‘I’m down the street from your house. You don’t pay me, I’ll come down there and kill you.’”
Krane said scammers can create an air of legitimacy with these threats by masking their phone number to appear like a local number, even if they are actually calling from outside the country.
“Do not trust your caller I.D.,” advised Krane.
Krane identified communicating with neighbors and sharing information as effective preventive measures against future scams and a boon for residents who do not want to advertise their plight, allowing the problems to deepen.
“They feel embarrassed and don’t want to tell people, ‘I was foolish enough to fall for it.’ But we want people to tell everyone, scream it from the mountain top, because that’s only going to help the next person.”