How to avoid common scams targeting seniors


Pauline Bewernick, 80, of Alhambra, was once a target of such a scam. But she now has advice to help others in the same situation.

The scam started with a fateful phone call that ended up costing her $25,000. The call came from someone she thought was one of her 14 grandchildren.

"I received a call from my grandson who said, 'Oma, I need your help. I have been taken in by the police department in Las Vegas,'" said Bewernick.

She wasted no time in trying to help her so-called grandson and went to the bank and wired the $25,000 to the scammer. She never saw the money again.

"I just panicked, which I normally do not panic, but I panicked," she said.

Senior scams like the one Bewernick fell for are among the fastest growing crimes in the country. That's because seniors often have plenty to lose.

"The seniors in our country are probably some of the most affluent people in our country. So they have a lot of holdings in banks, they have properties, they have home equity lines of credit, which are being targeted by scammers," said Steven Vallejo.

Vallejo is the corporate security director at Bank of the West. He says banks like his are now training its employees to recognize a possible scam.

"Every employee that comes on board to the bank has to go through required training, educating them about financial elder abuse," he said.

Experts say besides the "grandparent scam," the other most notorious senior scams involve work at home, weight loss, and the infamous lottery/sweepstakes scam. But the worst financial elder abuse is perpetrated by people of trust, such as family members and care givers. In California, that's a crime that should be reported right away.

The best advice to protect yourself and your finances:

-Never give personal information to anyone who phones you.
-Never pay a fee or taxes to collect lottery winnings.
-Never rush into a financial decision.
-Feel free to say no. After all, it's your money.

Bewernick believes seniors need to fight back by not being afraid to report the crime.

"I want them to not be ashamed. Because it was shameful that I fell for it, hook, line and sinker," she said.

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