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Helping Santa Barbara Residents Prevent Fraud

Santa Barbara residents have recently seen a sharp increase in numbers of financial fraudulent cases lately, a trend that tragically seems to affect the rest of the country as well. Fraud perpetrators are criminals, scheme artists who prey on human vulnerabilities common to most of us. They specially target seniors and those living with any sort of cognitive impairment. Most frequently reported schemes include identity theft, telemarketing fraud, mail and internet fraud, home improvement fraud, mortgage fraud, investment fraud, and caregiver fraud.

Once the fraud is committed and funds change hands it is very difficult to recover the loss. In most cases victims are left with the great burden of financial responsibility and emotional distress caused by such schemes. In some extreme cases, victims are left in dire financial need and never recover, having seen a lifetime of hard work, savings, and sacrifices disappear.

The best way of combating fraud is to prevent it from happening in the first place. In order to provide our residents with the most relevant fraud preventing information, the Santa Barbara County District Attorney and the Elder & Dependent Adult Abuse Prevention Council have partnered to form Communities Against Senior Exploitation (CASE).

The following fraud preventative strategies, which every family such take in consideration to avoid becoming victim of fraud, have been presented by CASE:

Identity Theft

Identity thieves steal purses, wallets, checkbooks, credit cards and other information. They rummage through trash looking for account numbers. They look for checks, credit card ‘convenience checks’, pre-approved credit card applications, and statements in your mail box. They contact you through “phishy” e-mails or phone calls asking you to verify account numbers by impersonating a bank or credit card company representative.

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Warning Signs Preventative Steps
  • Your purse or wallet is stolen.
  • Your bank account is overdrawn or there is unusual activity on your credit card.
  • Mail you are expecting does not arrive, especially related to financial matters.
  • Bills you paid are still showing due.
  • You apply for a credit card or loan and are denied.

 

  • Carry a close-fitting or hidden pouch instead of a purse, or carry a wallet in your front pocket.
  • Reduce the items you carry in public such as extra credit cards, Social Security card, and checkbooks.
  • Consider carrying a photocopy of your Medicare card with all but the last four digits blackened out.
  • Shred, tear into small pieces, or cut up all mail and documents that contain Social Security, bank, and credit card numbers.
  • Mail bills to be paid from the Post Office. Ask that new boxes of checks be held at your bank or credit union rather than mailed to you.

 

Telemarketing Fraud

Unscrupulous telemarketers know that older adults can be manipulated due to characteristics shared by most victims. They may be lonely, alone, or independent to a fault. They may not seek advice from others, and keep the phone calls ‘our secret.’ They may be overly trusting and willing to believe the telemarketer is telling the truth. They may believe that they need more money, or would like to have a higher retirement income. They may have some memory loss or dementia. They may be timid and afraid of the consequences if they don’t do what the telemarketer says. The phone is a telemarketing crook’s weapon – don’t be a target. Hang up!.

Warning Signs Preventative Steps
  • You live alone and enjoy talking to anyone calling.
  • You believe it’s rude to interrupt a caller or to hang up.
  • You must pay money up front for taxes or fees to participate.
  • You must make an immediate decision before the call ends, or the offer will be rescinded.
  • You are called more and more frequently by a multiplying variety of telephone solicitors.
  • Never talk to strangers on the telephone. They are not calling to wish you well. They are invading your privacy, as though they have walked into your home.
  • Use an answering machine, voice mail or Caller 10 to screen calls.
  • Never, under any circumstances, give any portion of your credit card, bank account, or Social Security numbers to a caller.
  • Sign up for the National DO NOT CALL Registry for both your home and cell phones at

 1 (888) 382-1222 or donotcall.gov.

 

 

Mail and Internet Fraud

Federal law prohibits mailing payments to purchase any ticket, share or chance in any foreign lottery. Canadian and other foreign crooks have conned thousands of older Americans into sending millions of dollars in payments for “taxes” on phony Canadian, Jamaican, Australian, etc. lottery winnings·. When you play sweepstakes, your name is frequently put on marketing lists bought and sold by other direct marketers. Eventually, your name can end up on fraudulent telemarketing lists, also known as ‘sucker’ or ‘mooch’ lists..

Warning Signs Preventative Steps
  • You play sweepstakes daily because you think you need extra money, holding out hope you will win a big prize someday.
  • You believe that because your mail is delivered by the U.S. Postal Service, it must be legitimate.
  • You open and read all of your mail because many pieces look like official government documents or heart-felt solicitations for charity.
  • You are getting the same offers through e-mail that you used to receive through the mail. 
  • Even though it may be fun or give you something to do, stop participating in sweepstakes, lottery, and contest offers.
  • If you were to truly win something, you would NEVER have to pay any fees, taxes, or costs of ANY kind before receiving your winnings – that’s the law!
  • Do not give temptation a chance. If you receive a mailing/e-mail that meets any of the following criteria, throw the envelope away or delete the e-mail without opening it:
    • Promotes sweepstakes, lotteries, charities, credit repair, or work-at-home offers;
    • Suggests you can make money by assisting a wealthy African; or
    • Requests verification of account numbers.

 

 

 

Home Improvement Fraud

You may be happy, but the building inspector and suppliers may not be. Getting a contractor to come back to bring a job up to code may be difficult, and suppliers and employees can place a lien on your home if they have not been paid. Never make final payment until the job has passed building inspection, and you have verified the contractor’s suppliers and employees have been paid (request a ‘lien waiver.’).

Warning Signs Preventative Steps
  • A contractor solicits you at your door, insisting you have a problem which must be repaired right away.
  • A contractor offers a bargain price or claims to have materials left over from a previous job.
  • A contractor requires a substantial payment in advance, or charges significantly more after the work is completed.
  • An inspector appears at your door, claiming to work for the city or a utility company and must come into your home to inspect your water heater, furnace, or backyard.
  • DO NOT do business with someone who comes to your door offering a bargain, or claims to have materials left over from a previous job.
  • BEWARE door-to-door contractors who use high-pressure or scare tactics to get an immediate decision.
  • Get at least 3 written bids.
  • DO NOT always select the lowest bidder – you get what you pay for!
  • Require the contractor to use a written contract that lists materials, costs, and the completion date.
  • Don’t allow any stranger into your home, no matter who they claim to be.
  • City inspectors do not go door to door!

 

 

Mortgage Fraud

ALL advance-fee loan and credit repair offers are illegal or fraudulent at the least. If you pay to receive a loan, you will not get it and you will end up losing your advance fee. No one can help you magically erase bad credit: it takes time. However, there are many legitimate non-profit agencies that can help you at no charge..

Warning Signs Preventative Steps
  • You have fallen behind in your mortgage payments, or you are already in foreclosure.
  • You have been getting phone calls and visits from companies offering to help pay your debts.
  • Do not sign any forms or papers without reading and understanding what you are signing. If you are uneasy or are feeling pressured, get advice from a lawyer or other advisor.
  • You have been receiving numerous fliers in the mail or on your door offering low interest cash loans.
  • A friend, advisor or relative asks you to sign some forms – you do, without reading them.
  • You trust that the information on mortgage loan document is accurate, and do not read it thoroughly.
  • Beware of companies who contact you in person or by fliers offering a foreclosure relief service.
  • Do not deed your property to anyone. First consult an attorney, a knowledgeable family member, or someone else you trust completely. Once you sign legal papers, it can be difficult or even impossible to reverse the action.

 

Investment Fraud

The majority of investment fraud cases involve financial advisors who have had long-term, trusting relationships with their victims. The perpetrators use trust-and sometimes faith -as their weapons. No matter how long you’ve known or trusted someone, never make an investment decision without seeking advice from a lawyer, accountant, and/or your state’s securities administrator..

Warning Signs Preventative Steps
  • High pressure sales tactics with an insistence on an immediate decision.Unwillingness to let you discuss the deal with another advisor or get a second opinion.
  • A guaranteed investment with “no risk”.
  • Unwillingness to provide written information, including state securities registrations and verifiable references.
  • A suggestion that you invest on the basis of trust or faith.
  • The “free lunch” seminar, offering “free” financial advice with a free meal.
  • Pressure to purchase a complex insurance product that you do not understand.
  • Surround yourself with several advisors – do not become solely dependent on one financial advisor or consultant.
  • Thoroughly check out any offer – do not rush into making a hasty decision.
  • Contact the State Securities Administrator at 1 (866) 275-2677 or the State Department of Insurance at 1 (213) 897-8921 with questions.
  • Carefully review your financial statements and look for signs of unauthorized or excessive trading.
  • Periodically check your account online or by phone with the fund managers.
  • If you have trouble retrieving your funds, do not let a false sense of trust keep you from demanding a return on your investment.

 

Caregiver Fraud

In most cases of theft by family members, trusted advisors, and Powers of Attorney, victims have given up total control to others and did not review financial statements. Perpetrators took advantage of the victim’s trust. In addition to your own review of accounts, surround yourself with several advisors and caregivers who can provide a system of checks and balances so that no one person has total control over your finances..

Warning Signs Preventative Steps
  • Unusual activity in bank and credit card accounts.
  • Caregiver tries to isolate the victim who comes to rely solely on the caregiver.
  • Caregiver has total control over finances and has all financial statements mailed to him or her.
  • New acquaintances appear on the scene, and the adult is either completely charmed or is fearful of the caregiver.

 

  • If your caregiver, financial Power of Attorney, relative, neighbor, or anyone else suggests you make a change in your assets, your investments or insurance, always get two or three other opinions from other relatives or advisors. Only a potential crook will not want you to discuss the change with others.
  • No matter how much you know, love or trust someone, never sign documents you have not read or do not understand.
  • Even if you have a representative payee, Power of Attorney or other advisor who manages your finances, insist on receiving and reviewing copies of all bank and financial statements.

 

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Power against Fraud Prevention checklist

Use a close-fitting pouch and/or hidden wallet, instead of a purse.

Do not carry your Social Security card, remove Social Security numbers from ID/health cards, and consider carrying a photocopy of your Medicare card with all but the last four digits blackened out.

Deposit all outgoing mail inside the Post Office rather than placing in your mailbox or blue postal box for carrier pick-up.

Get a free copy of your credit report once a year.

Sign up for the National DO NOT CALL Registry.

Send a letter to the Mail Preference Service.

Get 3 written bids before contracting for home improvement, research contractors with the Better Business Bureau, and never do business with door-to-door contractors.

Use a cross-cut shredder on all financial mail and documents.

Do not talk to strangers on the phone, at your door, or on the street.

Request that those with whom you have established business relationships put you on their “Do Not Call” and “Opt Out” lists.

Make an annual charitable giving plan, and do not give to charities who solicit by telephone or door-to-door.

Never sign a contract/document or make an investment without getting a second opinion from a trusted advisor.

Consult with an attorney to discuss advance directives, and set up checks/balances so that no one person has total control over you.

 

Remove your Information from marketing lists

  1. Do not play direct mail sweepstakes or talk to telemarketers.
  2. Sign up for the National DO NOT CALL Registry for both your home and cell phones by calling 1 (888) 382-1222, or visiting www.donotcall.gov online.
  3. Ask phone companies and others with whom you do business to put you on their “DO NOT CALL” lists.
  4. “OPT OUT” of credit reporting agencies’ credit card solicitation marketing lists by calling 1 (888) 567-8688, or visiting www.optoutprescreen.com online.
  5. Call your credit card(s) customer service number(s) to “OPT OUT” of marketing programs, including “convenience checks.”
  6. “OPT OUT” of financial institution and insurance companies’ marketing programs through which your name may be shared.
  7. Reduce e-mail/postal mail through the Direct Marketing Association by visiting www.dmachoice.org online, or by completing and sending in the form on the next page.

 

Important Resources

DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE

If you need assistance with any of the fraud prevention steps in this handbook or need assistance in reporting a crime, contact:

Vicki Johnson
Elder Advocacy and Outreach Program
1112 Santa Barbara Street
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Fraud reporting line: (805) 568-2442

NATIONAL DO NOT CALL REGISTRY

To reduce phone calls, sign up for DO NOT CALL. Exceptions include charities, politicians, and companies with whom you already have an established relationship. The call is free and there is no charge.

Call 1 (888) 382-1222 or visit www.donotcall.gov.

 

CREDIT CARD OFFER “OPT OUT” LINE

Stop credit card offers and unwanted credit cards from credit reporting agencies’ marketing lists. The call is free and there is no charge for this service. It is safe to give your Social Security Number.

Call 1 (888) 567-8688 or visit www.optoutprescreen.com.

 

BUSINESS AND CHARITY RELIABILITY REPORTS

To receive a reliability report on a business or charity before buying or giving, contact the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

Call the Santa Barbara BBB at (805) 963-8657 or visit www.bbb.org.

For charities, visit www.give.org and www.charitynavigator.org.

 

INVESTMENT OFFERS

To inquire about the legitimacy of any investment offer that you don’t understand or that seems unusual, call your State Securities Administrator. Make this call before you invest any money.

 

CREDIT REPORTING AGENCIES

To receive a FREE copy of your credit report each year to help ensure that there is no inaccurate information or unusual activity, contact the following. It is safe to give your Social Security Number.

Website:    www.annualcreditreport.com
(DO NOT use www.freecreditreport.com)

Telephone: 1 (877) 322-8228

You can also download a copy of the Annual Credit Request Form at the following website: www.annualcreditreport.com. Mail the form to:

Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281

To report theft or unauthorized use of your credit card or Social Security Number, immediately call:

Name of Credit Agency Telephone Number Website
Equifax 1 (800) 525-6285 www.equifax.com
Experian 1 (888) 397-3742 www.experian.com
Trans Union 1 (800) 680-7289 www.transunion.com

 

Publication information

Acknowledgments:                                                       
This information has been provided by the CASE Partnership. CASE is a partnership between the Santa Barbara County District Attorney and the Elder & Dependent Adult Abuse Prevention Council.

Letters of Support:                                                       
Your letter of support for the District Attorney’s CASE Partnership is appreciated. Please send letters to:

Vicki Johnson
DA Elder Advocacy and Outreach Program
1112 Santa Barbara Street

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