Ever get one of those annoying "solicitation" calls or worse yet, a call that sounds like it is from a creditor almost demanding that a payment be made today?
Well, with the current recession impacting so many people, more fraudulent activity is increasing. This is why the California Department of Corporations alerts and educates citizens through its Seniors Against Investment Fraud Program. (SAIF)
Training local volunteers from respected and reputable senior and retirement associations, SAIF is able to reach out to hundreds and thousands of people each year helping them to protect themselves from scams, swindles and phony schemes designed to steal money or assets from unsuspecting and vulnerable citizens.
This past April 30, Sandra Meyer, a SAIF volunteer talked to the members of the Sunset Heights Association of Responsible People about the many ways schemes and scams are fooling people into parting with their hard-earned money. "Frauds of all kinds run the gamut," said Meyer who holds a Masters of Arts degree in gerontology. Meyer has worked with seniors and their issues for many years, she is very honored to be serving the community as a SAIF volunteer in this capacity, informing and raising the awareness of the community of this type of menace.
"It is scary," she told the SHARP audience that Monday evening. "And, more of it is happening," she said. She noted the impact of the current recession economy as bringing out the worst in some situations. Officer Kirk Yin of Taraval Station was also present at the meeting that evening to also talk about crime in the Sunset neighborhood area and he noted that people must keep vigilant and be aware.
"I admire SAIF and the outreach they do," he said. Local law enforcement has so much to do and having a dedicated and trained group like SAIF really helps local police and law enforcement in their never-ending work of combating crime. Yin noted that people should not be afraid to question or be a little suspicious of something that in effect "sounds to good to be true," when an offer or call emerges unexpectedly.
One woman in the audience talked about a recent experience she had with a representative who called by phone saying that "Microsoft needs to do an urgent virus check on your computer."
The voice on the other end of the phone sounded official and very convincing and urged the woman to follow through with giving out her personal information and a credit card number. "I felt so embarrassed soon after that because I realized later I might have been taken," she said.
And, yes as it turns out she was. Officer Yin explained, "we have been getting word of these types of fake calls lately and we encourage everyone who has had this type of call or think that a caller might be a phony to not be afraid to contact us," he said.
The SFPD fraud unit will respond to all complaints and inquiries. But as Officer Yin explained further, "those who have actually suffered a loss will take priority over those who simply report a suspicion of fraud," he said. Yet he reiterated "we encourage everyone to report all attempts at fraud."
Meyer gave an overview of the current types of fraud that is out there. Those seemingly most prevalent are ones occurring over the phone or via the Internet through email. An email claiming to be a relative in another country, who is in trouble and needs money immediately, is phony. "Phishing emails" - those that appear to be coming from someone you know but are actually being generated by a schemer who has hacked into your friend or family member's email directory. These are fake. Usually, there is nothing written in the subject line or it appears friendly, but upon closer inspection it is rather vague.
These also can be known as "Area Code 809" scams in which the unsuspecting citizen is urged to call a phone number with the area code 809. The message is usually urgent or claims that an emergency has happened and that a response is required immediately.
"Slamming and Cramming" - the switching of phone service to another company without full realization of it, "Jury Duty" scams, home repair, sweepstakes and lottery winners, "good luck restoration cures" Bonus CD account returns, Insurance products, "wrong number stock tip" from a caller who leaves a message urging investment in a particular stock, etc. The list goes on.
Yet for Meyer and those who work with seniors any scheme or fraud that preys upon the vulnerability of the elderly is most despicable. "Medicare Fraud, "Care-giver Fraud, "Sweetheart or special friend swindles" and anything having to do with mortgages, loans or finances are particularly aimed at elderly people," she said.
Mark Leyes, communications officer for the Dept. of Corporations, SAIF program agreed as he talked to this reporter later by phone. "Some of the most innovative minds are at work to defraud people of their money." He considered most of the schemes as "unfortunate, in that such minds should be at work doing good things instead of being involved in scheming criminal activities."
This is why Meyer sees her volunteer outreach as very important. "This is something that everyone should be concerned and aware about not only the elderly," she said. "Because it impacts everyone."
To safeguard oneself, Mayer reminded everyone in the audience to "not give out any crucial information such as Social Security numbers, bank account information, etc. "Anything that might allow that caller or unknown individual to gain access to your identity or personal property or financial information."
Meyer urged the audience not to be afraid to say "no" to the caller or to simply hang up. And most of all, Do not to be afraid to question and seek verification from official and authentic sources. This includes any contracts or the signing of any documents. Get all details and go over the fine print.
Taking a moment to step back and question something is a smart way to help safeguard oneself from fraud and scams. To learn more about frauds and scams, to get updates and how to protect oneself, visit the California Dept. of Corporations web site or call 1-866-275-2677.