CALEXICO – One in five seniors have been a victim of fraud. To help lower the statistic and strengthen seniors’ self-defense, Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia in partnership with the Contractors State License Board hosted a senior scam workshop at the Calexico Community Center on Friday morning teaching seniors simple ways to avoid misfortune.
“It is pretty clear that the senior population is the most vulnerable,” said Garcia. “This is the first time we have a program like this in Imperial County. The idea was stimulated after several phone calls were received. We are hoping that with the information available today, seniors become more aware and avoid becoming a target.”
Senior Medicare Patrol Manager Sandy Morales discussed medical awareness on how to protect personal information and avoid being involved in a fraud.
“Medical fraud exists,” said Morales. “Seniors 65 and over and disabled individuals who are Medicare beneficiaries are the most common target. The most common fraud involves medical suppliers who call and promise free back braces and say all they need is their (seniors) Medicare number. People need to understand that the Medicare number contains their social security number and by releasing that number they not only risk Medicare fraud, but identity theft. People need to guard their Medicare cards.”
According to the information presented, seniors must take the following precautions: treat Medicare cards like a credit card (private); review Medicare billing statements and make sure the charges received are accurate; avoid being tempted by “free” services or equipment, if someone asks for your Medicare card or number, then the service is not “free”; Medicare never calls and never asks for bank or credit card numbers, if you receive this type of call simply hang up; if you suspect a Medicare fraud, call the Senior Medicare Patrol at 1-855-613-7080.
Calexico resident Petra Acevedo shared her experience.
“A young man called my home and said he was my most handsome nephew and said he was in need of money and asked to send it via Western Union,” said Acevedo. “I responded saying I had no nephews and after a few minutes denying any relationship with him, he hung up.”
Immediately two other attendees said they too had received similar phone calls. However no one reported the incident with the proper authorities.
Calexico Detective Albert Llanas reminded all of the importance of notifying proper authorities when one suspects a possible scam.
“We strongly recommend they contact the police department and report scam issues,” said Llanas. “Anyone can call with a sweet voice and scam someone into giving them their information.”
Llanas shared another incident of a resident whose sole source of income was Social Security benefits.
“This Calexico senior citizen received a phone call from an individual claiming he was his grandson who had been kidnapped in Mexicali and asked $1,000 be deposited into a Mexican bank account. The victim walked to Mexicali, made the deposit and upon his return home called his grandson to tell him the deposit was made. To his surprise his grandson answered and said he was in Los Angeles attending a class and was never kidnapped. This was a very unfortunate situation since the money deposited was the victim’s only source of income.”
Imperial resident Lynn Cline shared her experience involving a phone solicitor posing as a Sheriff’s office employee.
“I received a phone call from an individual who said I didn’t report to jury duty and therefore needed to pay a fine,” said Cline. “I was given a phone number to call back when with the prepaid card number. I contacted local authorities and was able recover my money after an online investigation.”
Cline went on to say that for people her age any information obtained is very helpful and much appreciated. “Once something happens to you, it’s very scary. This was really a learning lesson for me.”
Contractors State Licensing Board Outreach Coordinator Jane Kreidler reminded seniors of the necessary measures they should take prior to hiring a contractor for home repairs.
“Seniors are the number one preyed upon,” said Kreidler. “We see a lot of door to door unlicensed people who demand cash as payment who focus on seniors because of their reputation of being trusting and isolated, therefore more open to the solicitations from strangers.”
Kreidler advised the necessary precautions be taken prior to entering into any form of agreement with a contractor: hire only state licensed contractors; check a contractor’s license number online at www.cslb.ca.gov or by calling 1-800-321-2752; obtain at least three bids; get three references from each bidder and review past work in person; make sure all project expectations are in writing and only sign the contract if you completely understand the terms; confirm that the contractor has worker’ compensation insurance for employees; never pay more than 10% down or $1,000, whoever is less and don’t pay in cash; don’t let payments get ahead of the work; keep a job file of all papers relating to your project, including all payments; and don’t make the final payment until you are satisfied with the job.
“Never pay in cash so you always have a proper trail to protect yourself,” said Kreidler. “From the day you make your last payment, you have four years to file a complaint if the work is substandard.”
California Department of Insurance Associate Insurance Compliance Officer Peter Meza reminded insurance policy fraud is yet another way seniors can be taken advantage of.
“The Senior Insurance Bill of Rights is aimed to protect the elderly,” said Meza. “Be careful when signing something when you don’t understand it. Look for red flags especially when an agent asks you to sign when sections are left in blank. That is a no, no. Take time to review data before making a decision and don’t feel pressured in buying anything.”
When applying for any type of insurance, applicants are encouraged to call 1-800-927-4357, Monday thru Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. or visit www.insurance.ca.gov to verify the agent or agency is properly licensed in addition to obtaining information on any pending disciplinary actions against them.
“Every insurance agent is required to have their license number on their business card and if it does not appear then they are in violation of the law and regulation with the State of California,” said Meza.
Garcia plans to hold Senior Scam Workshops once or twice a year.