Group gives seniors tips to avoid scams

This is how a California consumer affairs group and a state senator say some seniors lose their retirement money or even their homes: A contractor comes to their door, tells them that their front porch needs to be fixed and offers them a great deal for today only.

The unlicensed contractor scares the seniors into thinking they will get injured on the “broken” porch and convinces them to sign a seemingly appealing loan contract for the work, including large balloon payments the seniors were not told about.

“Before you know it, these guys own their house,” said Maria Guzman-Kennedy, California Contractors State License Board community outreach and education coordinator.

The CCSLB will be hosting a senior scam stopper event today in Millbrae to educate seniors on how to thwart these and other con jobs.

Seniors are especially vulnerable to being ripped off because they typically are trusting, have large sums of money, often own homes and are always looking for a good deal because they are regularly on fixed incomes, they said.

“The most important lesson here is that if it looks like it’s a steal, unfortunately they’re probably stealing your money more than anything else,” said state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, who is also participating in the event.

The statewide program has been coming to cities for the last 10 years. About 180 seniors turned out in South San Francisco on Aug. 13, and seminars are scheduled for Wednesday in Belmont, Nov. 16 in San Bruno and tentatively for Dec. 7 in Daly City. Yee would like to eventually hold an event in every city in San Mateo County.

Millbrae police and other state and federal organizations will also be on hand.

The most common scams in Millbrae are mail items telling people they have won the lottery and that they should send earnest money; e-mail hoax messages looking for business partnerships; and caregivers who take advantage of their patients.

“[The caregivers] somehow get into the financial documents of seniors and even forge checks or use the person’s identity to open fraudulent accounts or commit identity theft,” Millbrae police Sgt. John Aronis said.

Organizers gave three main pieces of advice to help seniors avoid these scams: Be aware that seniors are common targets; do not sign anything unless a third party such as an attorney is present; and make sure business people are licensed.

The event is at 10 a.m. in the David J. Chetcuti Memorial Community Room at 450 Poplar Ave.

mrosenberg@examiner.com

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