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DA Tells of Common Elder Abuse Scams at ASC Luncheon

Senior Deputy District Attorney Vicki Johnson says the best protection is education

Santa Barbara County Senior Deputy District Attorney Vicki Johnson spoke before members of the Association for Senior Care of Santa Barbara recently, a talk that revealed many shocking ways seniors are being scammed.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Vicki Johnson
Senior Deputy District Attorney Vicki Johnson

Before a packed room at the monthly ASC meeting, Johnson explained that virtually anyone can be scammed because the criminals are getting smarter and smarter.

“In fact, I was scammed, and I’m a lawyer!” she said. “But the best protection is education.”

There are many reasons for the uptick in these crimes. Bad economic times cause desperation. Plus, adults older than age 50 own 70 percent of the nation’s wealth and tend to have more free time to talk on the phone. In addition, some seniors are very lonely. Johnson told the story of one victim who was so lonely that she was willing to write a check in exchange for 20 minutes of companionship.

Basically, financial abuse is the theft or embezzlement of money or any other property from an elder. It can be as simple as taking money from a wallet and as complex as manipulating a victim into turning over property to an abuser. This form of abuse can be devastating because an elder victim’s life savings can disappear in the blink of an eye, leaving them unable to provide for their needs and afraid of what an uncertain tomorrow will bring.

Currently, there are four scams being seen in Santa Barbara.

The Medicare and Social Security scams are similar, and both involve someone calling and claiming to be from one of those institutions. They scare the senior into providing information by saying, “We lost your information in the computer and in order for you to get your payment, we need to confirm your information.”

The credit card scam is even more frightening because the caller, pretending to be from your credit card company or bank, actually has your credit card number. They scare seniors by saying, “We have received unauthorized charges on card number ... . Please give us the security code on the back of the card to verify this is the correct account and we will make sure your account is not charged.”

Then there is the grandchild scam, where a young person calls on the phone claiming to be a grandchild who needs money right away for an emergency (jail, car accident, etc.).

There are many other scams out there, including an IRS scam and AT&T scam. And while not illegal, there are unethical companies trying to sell inappropriate annuities to seniors.

A few simple steps will help ward off the vultures.

» Protect your personal information (Social Security card, credit card numbers, etc.) like you would cash. Never give information over the phone unless you have initiated the call. If you get a call and aren’t sure whether it is a scam, do not give any information but do ask for a callback phone number. This will give you time to verify the number with the appropriate institution. Also, get help by talking with a friend or family member, or by calling the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office.

» Make a photo copy of everything in your wallet, front and back. If your wallet is stolen or lost, this will make securing your accounts easier.

» Only print the minimum amount of information on your checks. Phone numbers are not needed.

» Don’t carry your Social Security or Medicare cards in your wallet.

» Educate yourself. Additional information is available at the District Attorney’s office (805.568.2300) or the local Area Agency on Aging (805.925.9554 or

The Association for Senior Care of Santa Barbara is a group of senior services-related health-care professionals who are interested in improving the life of seniors in Santa Barbara County. The group meets monthly and offers educational programs for its members along with networking opportunities.

— Melinda Johansson is the development director for Easy Lift Transportation and chair of the Association for Senior Care of Santa Barbara’s Public Relations Committee.

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