That’s just one of the smaller scams that over 100 seniors who attended a seminar designed to help seniors spot, avoid and report scams sponsored by Assemblyman Marc Berman at the East Palo Alto Senior Center the morning of 9/25/17 heard about. Featured speakers were Jane Kreidler from the State Contractors Licensing Board (800-321-2752), and Bill Zemblidge an inspector with the US Postal Inspection Service (877-876-2455.) Nicole Fernandez from San Mateo County Aging & Adult Services (800-675-8437.) also spoke about senior abuse.
Ms Kreidler taught it us that:
• There are 285,000 licensed contractors in CA
• Any home repair over $500 needs to be done by a licensed contractor
• You should call 800-321-2752 to check that a contractor is currently licensed and match the license with his drivers license.
• Only licensed contractors can come to your house and solicit business or a licensed HIS – Home Improvement Salesman who needs to have a current certificate.
• There are two kinds of contracts: The Service and Repair contract is for repairs up to $750. The contractor is not allowed to upsell. A Home Improvement contract is for anything over $750.
• 10% of the total job cost or $1000 (whichever is less) is maximum deposit you can be asked to pay.
• A time schedule must be in writing and part of the contract.
Mr Zemblidge from the USPS talked about the 3 R’s: Recognizing a fraud scheme; Refusing to participate; and Reporting. To prove mail fraud there needs to be intent to defraud, a scheme to defraud, and at least one piece of mail delivered to your neighborhood in connection with the fraud. Mail fraud can be prevented: it requires the cooperation of the victim to happen. A common scheme is to get you to pay a small upfront cost for something that is never delivered or worth far less. This is how you can end up on the “sucker list” which is usually sold to other con artists who now have a verified “sucker” whom to trick into giving them even more money for the next scheme. The other very common con is the “Lonely Hearts Scheme.” More and more seniors are using on-line dating services and there are con artists out there who may be stringing 200-300 seniors along at one time. People are often very embarrassed to admit they have been conned by someone they trusted and felt “loved” them.
There was a lively Q&A at the end of the presentation which included a comment by a senior who suggested the need for a very diverse fraud investigation bureau that can provide an opportunity for a senior to report a scam or abuse to someone they feel understands their community and thus would lead to more folks reporting these crimes and feeling that they are being heard and respected and not judged. A special thanks to Assemblyman Mark Berman for arranging this forum and providing the qualified presenters. It was well received.