New Cons and Scams Target Local Seniors


Last updated 11/22/2015 at 2:59pm | View PDF

Nicole Burnham

"Right now, the number of cons and scams are very high," said Nicole Burnham, elder abuse victim advocate for the Tulare County District Attorney's office, adding that telephone scams and those attempted through the mail are currently the most common.

Many of these phone scams attempt to collect on a bill that is allegedly unpaid, according to Burnham. "We've seen a lot of utility bill scams. They may threaten to sue you or throw you in jail unless you pay. These things always filter back to 'get out your checkbook.'"

She reminds people that, "You're entitled to a paper bill. I always encourage people (who get these calls) to hang up and find something with a (utility company) phone number you know to be true."

When a would-be utility bill collector insists on a quick payment, that is a red flag, explained Burnham, who turned her attention to IRS telephone scams.

"The IRS doesn't make calls," she said, describing some phony IRS callers as very bold. "I answered the phone 'district attorney's office' and had some guy tell me I was going to get a refund. I asked why and was told it was for paying my taxes online. He said, 'Give me your bank account and I will wire the money to you.'"

Other phone scams include being told that you won a trip or money "and there is a small fee to collect that money," she added.

Elder financial abuse also includes crimes committed in person, sometimes by "someone who helps with the cleaning or the shopping," Burnham said. "It's an excellent opportunity to have access to everything in the senior's home. They are opportunists when they see that there is weakness."

They may tear a few checks out of the checkbook or intercept the new credit card that came in the mail or help themselves to jewelry or other valuables, she said. "Sometimes what is disappearing is not the jewelry – it's the pain medication."

Other scammers go door-to-door offering to do home repairs that they don't actually plan to do, such as repairing roofs, according to Burnham. "Can the senior get up on the roof and see if they've really done anything?"

Solar salespeople can be especially pushy when they see a senior, whether they are scammers or not, said Burnham, who likes the idea of stopping their sales pitch by saying that you are only renting the house.

"It's unavoidable that we're going to need help when we get older," she said. "If you suspect any kind of elder abuse, they key is reporting it," she said. "You do not bear any repercussions if you report elder abuse. We encourage everyone – if you have any suspicions at all, report that, and you can do it anonymously."

To report suspected elder abuse, call 1-877-657-3092. For more information, follow the Elder Abuse links at


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