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Your Health
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Rona Barrett: Seniors the ‘Perfect Victims’ for Scam Artists

“So, how much should I write my check for?” I heard my aging father whisper.

“What check?!” I said as I grabbed the phone and heard the other end quickly hang up.

It turned out it was a lottery scam. If my dad sent them a check for $150 he would get back $1 million.

Now, years later, the same scenario: I swear my friend was a pharmacist in another life. In her late 80s, she is so smitten with ordering vitamins that her home looks like the inside of a local drugstore! Thankfully, after my constant harping to her about not being a vitamin scam victim, she has finally learned to not B-1 and hang up on scam artists.

You probably know of a senior with a scam horror story. In California, one in five seniors fall victim to scams. That’s because seniors are the “perfect victims,” as one professional con artist revealed in the book Outsmarting the Scam Artists.

“[Seniors] are easier to scam because their emotional needs are closer to the surface," the con artist wrote. "They aren't afraid to tell people [anything and everything]. They aren't afraid to share their fears ... These fears are real. And every one of them is a bullet for my gun.”

To combat the ever-increasing number of senior scams, the Contractors State License Board recently conducted 14 stings.

Among the 105 arrested in 14 cities up and down our state: 101 may face charges for contracting without a license; 92 may be charged with illegal advertising; 10 others may be charged with requesting an excessive down payment; seven failed to carry required insurance; three were using another contractor’s license number; and 12 had felonious criminal records!

The CSLB is inviting us to one of its popular “Senior Scam Stopper” seminars. The soonest and closest to us is being supported by state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson in Camarillo on Thursday, Aug. 6. Contact her office at 916.651.4019 for further information. And/or contact the Contractors State License Board by clicking here for its valuable guidelines.

But please, don’t sign anything until you and someone else you trust understand the terms — someone who will prevent you from making a decision when you are, as the con artist calls it, “under the ether” — when your emotions are stirred up, you’re pressured and can’t think straight.

You may be saying to yourself, “I’m not stupid. This will never happen to me.”

“I didn't want to talk to stupid people,” the professional con artist wrote. “Stupid people don't have $50,000 lying around to give me. You would be amazed at how many doctors, lawyers, engineers and college professors I ripped off. The bottom line is, fraud is a crime that can happen to anyone, given the right con man and a victim with the right set of circumstances.”

I wish this advice had been around when my dad was still alive. After two years of arguing and more than $1,000 lost to scam artists, he finally said to me, “You win! I won’t ever answer the phone if you’re not here.” He then handed me his checkbook.

Until next time … keep thinking the good thoughts.

— For more than 30 years, Rona Barrett was a pioneering entertainment reporter, commentator and producer. Since 2000, she has focused her attention and career on the growing crisis of housing and support for our aging population. She is the founder and CEO of the Rona Barrett Foundation, the catalyst behind Santa Ynez Valley’s first affordable senior housing, the Golden Inn & Village. Contact her at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are her own.

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