OAKHURST — Has anyone ever called and told you the IRS was coming after you for back taxes, or that you would have your power shut off if you didn’t send money right now for a delinquent PG&E bill?
With all the scammers out there preying on our senior citizens, Oakhurst CHP Commander Jason Daughrity organized an event to provide them with answers and tools to avoid becoming a victim. It was standing room only as over 70 seniors turned out on June 10 to learn more about those who are making them targets of a variety of scams.
“You have to be your own advocate,” Sheriff Jay Varney warned, citing financial crimes and identity theft as major problems for seniors. “Elderly Americans are scammed out of $2.9 billion each year, and that number is rising as the population increases and people live longer.”
Cmdr. Daughrity was joined on the panel for this event by 8th District Senator Tom Berryhill, Madera County Sheriff Jay Varney, 5th District Assemblyman Frank Bigelow, District 5 Madera County Superviror Tom Wheeler, and Madera County Sheriff’s Detective Neil Cuthbert.
Det. Cuthbert started the morning’s presentation with the sad fact that many seniors are fleeced by caregivers, people they trust, family members, and those they hire to do work around their homes. They are also easy prey for the phone scam.
High on the list is the ever-popular, “You have won a prize!” scam. They are asked to pay a “fee” in order to have the money released. The victim then turns over their personal information or even back account numbers for phony deposits, which of course, never come.
“Never do business with someone who calls out of the blue,” warns Cuthbert. “Hang up. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from a bank or other institution with which you do business, hang up and call that company back to verify that it’s indeed your bank, and that they are attempting to contact you.
Another big scam is a distraction scenario. You’re sitting at home and someone knocks on the door.
“I’ve got material left over from a fence repair job I just finished down the street. I must have ordered too much material, and my boss will kill me if I go back with all this extra,” the nice young man at the door tells you. “I see your fence needs repair, and I’ll do it really cheap, really fast.”
While you go out to the back yard to inspect the potential repair job, his partner goes in the front door and robs your house.
Or perhaps he says he’ll paint your shutters if you’ll just go to the store with him to pick out the paint. Again, while you’re away, your house is being robbed.
Next is the “you owe the IRS money, pay or you’ll go to jail” ploy. Always remember — the IRS doesn’t call people to demand immediate payment, nor will they call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill. They will not ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone, or threaten to sic law enforcement on you for not paying. Scammers can make their phone numbers show up on your caller ID as the IRS. Don’t even pick up the phone. Contact the IRS directly if you think you have an outstanding bill.
Computer tech scams are everywhere. The criminals will call or email and say they’ve detected a virus and need your user name and password to clean up the problem. Once you turn over that information, you’ve just given them access to everything on your computer. Just tell them you don’t talk to people you haven’t reached out to and that there’s nothing wrong with your computer.
Another favorite is the threat that you’ll be arrested for not showing up for jury duty, or not paying your PG&E bill. They’ll likely ask you to wire money to a Green Dot card. Just load in the money, they say, and they’ll call you back. Of course they never do — they already have your cash. Always call the agency or business directly to find out if you do indeed owe them money.
This one comes in to email inboxes across the world every day — “We need to verify your information, click here to update/verify.” Do not click. Never give your information to anyone who contacts you out of the blue.
The Grandparent scam has become a favorite of the bad guys. Someone calls and says, “Grandma?” And Grandma answers, “Eric?” (Josh, Scott… whatever her grandson’s name is). “I’m in trouble,” the caller says. “I got arrested but I didn’t do anything wrong. I need bail money/ attorney fees/ court costs.” You can see where this is going. Call family members and see if, indeed, someone is in trouble and needs help.
Then there’s the scam where they play on your heart strings — The Romance scam. An elderly widow tries out the online dating world. A handsome contractor is working somewhere overseas and needs to pay taxes or tarriffs, or deal with any number of governmental roadbocks that are barring his return to the States, and the welcoming arms of his new paramour. She sends money, often many times, but things are still not working out with his problems. So he teaches her to do digital banking, and gains access to her bank accounts. Now he has those numbers and can start printing checks. He never stops taking until she stops giving, often after all her resources have been depleted.
Seniors are also cautioned that when mailing a check, they should take it to the post office, not put it out in a roadside mailbox for pickup. Mailboxes are broken into on a regular basis, and all your banking information is right there on that check.
Also, using a credit card is better than a debit card when it comes to getting reimbursed if someone steals your card information and runs up charges, says Cuthbert. You should also have your bank or credit card company set up your account so that it is frozen if there are a number of charges out of your area, or unusual activity. You can always notify them if you plan to travel and increase your normal purchasing patterns.
“You have to be the first line of defense,” said Det. Cuthbert, who advises seniors not to be ashamed to report any of these scams to law enforcement. “People are often afraid to tell their family or friends, because they fear losing their independence, or because they’re embarrassed to have been taken advantage of. Don’t be. We’re are all targets.”
Sheriff Varney left the group with this one last bit of wisdom — “Vigilance is the key. The days of people looking out for you are over. It may not be a comfortable way to live, but it’s reality.”
If you have been the victim of a scam, do not hesitate to report it to Detective Neil Cuthbert at the Oakhurst Madera County Sheriff’s Substation at 559-642-3201. The Substation is located behind Kaiser at