The following was written by Avery Yang
“How many people have been victims of identity theft?” San Marino Police Detective Brian Wong inquired.
A handful, but not nearly a majority, of the people on hand at the Crowell Public Library raised their hands.
“Those of you who didn’t raise your hands,” Wong said, “are the ones who don’t know that you’re victims of identity theft.”
That was just one of the messages of a Senior Scams talk presented at the library last week. Speakers sought to raise awareness about the myriad techniques criminals use to defraud citizens — and primarily the elderly.
The speakers also included local Assemblyman Ed Chau, a representative from the office of state Sen. Carol Liu, Police Chief John Incontro, and representatives from the state Bureau of Real Estate, the U.S. Postal Service and the Contractors State License Board.
The speakers brought to light a litany of examples of the predatory scams that criminals have used against senior citizens, 8.3% of whom are victims of some kind of consumer fraud, according to a study by the National Center on Elder Abuse in Washington, D.C.
“In 2010 alone, Americans over the age of 60 lost about $2.9 billion due to financial abuse,” Chau said. “Fifty percent of that kind of fraud was perpetrated by complete strangers, and 34% of these abuse cases were incurred by family members, neighbors and the like. And that’s really staggering.”
Chau, who also serves as the chair of the Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection, went on to discuss a piece of legislation that he introduced, AB381, which seeks to help elderly victims of financial exploitation to recoup attorney and other fees from their perpetrators, thus incentivizing these victims to pursue their offenders.
According to Chau, only one in 44 cases of elder financial abuse is being reported, as older adult victims are less likely to report their cases.
Phil Ihde from the state Bureau of Real Estate presented a common example of fraud used against the elderly: contractor home improvement scams that, at the outset, are free, but eventually result in steep fees.
“There was one woman in her 70s,” Ivy said, “who was contacted by a contractor [who offered] to install four windows and a sliding patio door that was energy-efficient. He also put in 1,000 square feet of lawn for her. … He then charged her $33,000 for the job.
This met with gasps from the audience.
Ihde continued: “The entire time, the contractor insisted that she not worry about it because ‘a government program will pay it for you.’ What happened was, a year from then, when she got her tax bill, it used to be $185 twice a year; it was now $1,600.”
Ihde implored thsoe who are contacted by contractors to seek at least three estimates on the price.
This example was offered as one of many that criminals use to defraud the elderly, including telephone solicitation, digital identity theft and contractor scams.
“The best way to avoid falling victim to some of these deceptive and dishonest schemes,” Chau said, “is by raising awareness and taking specific safety measures.”