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DA Summer Stephan: Prevent financial elder abuse

As your District Attorney, I’m committed to increasing communication and accessibility between the DA’s Office and you, the community.

One way I hope to do that is through this new monthly column, where I’ll be providing information and tips on how you can stay safe. I’ll also keep you updated on current trends and topics in the criminal justice system.

Since June is Elder Abuse Awareness Month, I’d like to bring your attention to important tips we give to seniors so they don’t become the victim of financial abuse.

Shame often prevents a senior citizen from reporting they have been a victim and we want to stop that mindset in its tracks.

Every phone should have caller I.D.

Even with caller I.D., scammers use fake phone numbers to make it appear as if the call is local. If you don’t know the phone number calling, don’t answer. If the call is important, they will leave a voicemail and you can return the call if you determine it is safe.

Government agencies or utility companies do not call with threats of fines or jail

If you receive a call demanding payment from someone claiming to be from Social Security, law enforcement, the court or the utility company, hang up. This is a common scam in which fraudsters will try to convince you to pay or risk fines or jail time.

Gift cards are for giving, not making payments

Never purchase gift cards at the direction of someone you don’t know. Scammers obtain money from elderly victims by asking them to purchase gift cards through iTunes, Amazon, Google or from large retail stores.

Choose a caregiver with caution

Never assume that a caregiver has been through a criminal background check even if hired through a reputable agency. Ask the agency directly or request that your caregiver submit to a background check.

Protect mail and use a shredder

Never allow incoming or outgoing mail to sit in an unsecured mailbox where the public has access. Shred discarded mail or financial statements containing identifying information.

 News that you won a foreign lottery or sweepstakes is a scam

Don’t be fooled by a caller or email saying you have won a foreign lottery or sweepstakes, but that to claim the money you need to pay taxes up front. These are scams.

Don’t give in to hard-tactic sales pressures for a loan

If you are offered services, repairs or a solar system by a drop-in sales person, do not sign paperwork the same day. Ask for a copy and take time to review it, first. Door-to-door sales people may not disclose the associated costs or consequences of signing up for their services, products or loans.  A reputable business will happily give you time to make a decision without pressure.

Don’t send money to a love interest you have not met in person

Romance scams are prolific and result in significant financial loss. It’s common for elderly victims to meet romantic interests online based on phony photos. Eventually the phony love interest will ask for money and describe an emergency situation. If you meet someone online, arrange a safe, public place to meet before becoming too invested in the relationship. Also, never send money.

Bonus tip: your grandchild is not in jail in a foreign country

One of the most popular scams is the grandparent scam. This is when you get a call that your grandchild is in peril. If you receive a phone call from someone saying your grandchild needs bail money to get out of a jail in a foreign country, hang up. This is a scam. Call your loved one directly to confirm.

I’m committed to holding accountable those who would take advantage of our elders, but I also know that if we raise awareness in the community we can prevent crime from happening in the first place. If you have been the victim of elder abuse, report it to Adult Protective Services: (800) 339-4661.

District Attorney Summer Stephan has dedicated nearly 30 years to serving justice and victims of crime as prosecutor. She is a national leader in fighting sex crimes and human trafficking and in creating smart and fair criminal justice solutions and restorative justice practices that treat the underlying causes of addiction and mental illness and that keep young people from being incarcerated.