Thieves are constantly coming up with ways to separate seniors from their money. But free services are available to help them spot a scam and fight back, if they do become a victim.
Experts on Elder Abuse, Identity Theft, plus Insurance and Real Estate fraud, shared heart-wrenching stories and prevention advice at a recent Consumer Education Fair at the Altadena Senior Center.
Every year, 200, 000 seniors in California are victims of physical, emotional, verbal or financial abuse, said Vahik Javadian, a social worker with L.A. County's Adult Protective Services. Javadian told the audience that banks are now mandated to make financial abuse reports if they detect suspicious activity involving a senior's account, like the closing of a trust or sudden, large withdrawals.
"Watch out for those TV commercials on Reverse Mortgages. "Don't let a commercial make the decision for you" said Esther Yamashiro, with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). She advised seniors to check out "HECM" – "Home Equity Conversion Mortgage". That's the Federal Housing Administration's (FHA) version of a Reverse Mortgage. A key feature of "HECM" is that the borrower has no personal liability for payment of the mortgage balance.
"Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the country", said Alejandra Zepeda, Investigator with the Department of Consumer Affairs. She said sometimes bank account and credit card numbers are sold online. And one of the best defenses against identity theft is to be "shredder happy." Shred anything that has your address, account numbers or other personal information, before you put it in the trash.
Beware of what experts call "Foreclosure Rescue" scams. If you're facing foreclosure, the Department of Consumer Affairs offers free counseling and investigates complaints.
Are you "over-insured?" The California Department of Insurance regulates Agencies and brokers. It says insurance scams are increasing. Before you buy a policy, make sure it's right for you.
And finally, this advice from the L.A. County Assessors Office: learn the tax ramifications before you do anything with your property.
[Reva Hicks is a freelance writer/news producer in Los Angeles. She worked at Channel 4 for more than 30 years.]