CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA (June 13, 2023) — Shirley Lin knows too well the hardship caused by scammers and those pushing fraudulent schemes that prey on seniors. And the Rossmoor resident’s advice is simple: To avoid being a victim, be proactive.
Her thoughts were spot on to the guidance offered by attorney Emily Milstein, representing Contra Costa Senior Legal Services, who recently talked to Rossmoor residents about identity theft and scams that target seniors. The Federal Trade Commission reports that consumers lost more than $3 billion to fraud in 2022, double the 2021 amount.
When confronted with an inquiry that seems suspicious, whether in person, email, over the phone or through the mail, Milstein says the key is to slow down.
“If you think something’s not right, you don’t have to engage with them. Hang up,” she said. “You don’t have to be polite with them.”
“You are your own gatekeeper to either take action or be victimized,” Lin noted.
Milstein specializes in preventing and pursuing elder abuse and elder financial abuse cases. She began her presentation by spotlighting the most common scams, such as romance, tech support, fake refunds and mortgage-relief schemes. Seniors are drawn in and become victims of perpetrators who may or may not be known, or who even may be impersonating somebody else.
Making matters worse, many victims never report that they have fallen prey to unscrupulous individuals or organizations. Many seniors are embarrassed, Milstein said. “They don’t want to tell their family, because they are worried they will take away their independence.”
She emphasized that is the furthest thing from the truth. A person need not be afraid to report crimes and seek help.
Fraud victims can report scams to organizations such as the Federal Trade Commission at www.identitytheft.gov, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau at www.consumerfinance.gov.
Residents also can share information directly to local enforcement or their own financial institutions.
Suggestions for protecting personal information include updating the software on personal devices and apps and reviewing one’s credit report at least once a year to ensure that it doesn’t include accounts that the person did not open. (Order a free credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com.)
Loneliness plays a part in leading a person to engage with those who have the worst intentions. Milstein suggested reaching out to Covia Well Connected at 1-925-956-7400 for groups and classes on a range of topics, or the Friendship Line that provides emotional support for those 60 and older at 1-800-971-0016.
One resident’s warning to her peers underscored the day’s overriding message to be wary of potential scammers before money is lost: “They are trying to get you upset so you are not using your brain.”
For a variety of resources related to needs of senior citizens, visit Contra Costa Senior Legal Services at www.ccsls.org and click on Resources under the menu bars at the top of the page. Then scroll down to the section titled Consumer Protection for items related to fraud, scams and identify theft.
Editor’s Note: This is a version of an article that originally appeared in the Rossmoor News. Reprint with permission.
David Scholz is back in journalism as a freelance writer and photographer after nearly two decades in education. Prior to moving into teaching in 2000, he worked as a full-time journalist since 1988 for rural community and small daily newspapers in Central Ohio and Northern Nevada, and later in California with The Business Journal in Fresno and dailies in the Bay Area, including The Oakland Tribune and The San Francisco Chronicle. More recently Scholz also worked in an editing, writing, and page layout role with the Rossmoor News.