Scams are on the rise across the U.S. — and as the country faces this growing trend, Modesto seniors have lost thousands of dollars.
Data from the Federal Trade Commission shows a more than 30% increase in money lost due to fraud between 2021 and 2022 nationwide, with a total loss of almost $8.8 billion.
Scammers target people who have a vulnerability, with factors including age, being recently widowed, going through medical problems or feeling lonely, said Byron Nelson, an attorney at Stanislaus County’s Senior Advocacy Network-Senior Law Project.
Citing FTC statistics, Nelson said there were 3,500 reports of fraud, identity theft and other fraudulent crimes in Modesto in 2022, adding that likely twice that number of scams go unreported.
He said the average amount of money scammed from victims under age 19 is $250. The average amount scammed from victims age 80 and over is $1,500.
“Some of it is opportunity,” Nelson said. “Older adults are in their home and a lot of them are retired and they are the ones that will open the door, they are the ones that will answer the phone.”
Senior Law Project has compiled a list of common scams that have targeted local senior citizens. Here are some of those scams, how to avoid them and what to do if you become a victim:
Common scams in Stanislaus County
With older adults being particularly vulnerable to social isolation during the pandemic, according to the Senior Law Project, scammers may take advantage of that susceptibility and pose as someone who wants to offer companionship and help. These “romance scammers” then will start asking for money or personal information.
“A reason why a lot of these romance scams continue is because even though we have more people in the world today, we’ve got more lonely people in the world than we’ve ever had,” said Joyce Gandelman, executive director of the Senior Law Project.
Another scam the law center has seen on the rise is scammers pretending to be with a bank’s IT department and saying a person’s account has been compromised or hacked.
The scammer tells the client to download an app so the account can be protected. Once the client downloads the app, the scammer can access the person’s phone and take money from the account.
“They were very trained; they sound like the IT department,” Nelson said. “The scammer is educating them on how to respond to the legitimate bank (when it calls to verify the transaction).”
Solar scams are common in the area, Nelson said, due to unintended consequences of the California Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, program created to help homeowners finance solar through their property taxes.
After the program was implemented, a lot of solar companies appeared overnight and there was no regulation or vetting process of them, Nelson said.
“It was just a bunch of companies that popped up, made a lot of money and gave people stuff that didn’t work, locked them into contracts that were tagged to their tax bill,” Nelson said. “People were being foreclosed on because they couldn’t pay their tax bill.”
The U.S. Consumer Finance Protection Commission urges homeowners to do diligent research in order to “avoid the risk of a surprise bill, shoddy work — or even a scam,” the website reads.
Other common scams
Other scams in Stanislaus County, according to the Senior Law Project, include:
Sweepstakes and lottery scams
Tech support scams
Account verification scams
Health care scams
Home repair/improvement scams
Telephone and internet scams
Online shopping scams
Government stimulus/grant scams
The Office of the Attorney General has detailed some of these scams on its website.
How to prevent being scammed
The Senior Law Project recommends these tips to avoid becoming a victim of a scam:
If you don’t recognize the phone number, you don’t have to answer the phone
If a company calls and requests money or information, hang up and call the number listed online
If your child or grandchild calls and asks for money, hang up and call them to see if they are really in trouble
Before signing an electric contract, request a paper copy in your native language and review it
You can’t win something if you haven’t entered
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
What to do if you think you’ve been scammed
Some scams can go unreported because of feelings of embarrassment or because clients are not aware they have been scammed, Nelson said.
“It’s important not to be embarrassed because I think that’s the biggest reason scams go unreported and people aren’t held accountable,” Nelson said. “It’s not their fault. These scammers are trained; they’re professionals.”
The first thing, Nelson said, is to understand that you’re a victim of a scam. Contact a legal aid who can help look over the information and assess the situation.
Legal aids can help clients contact the agency/scammer, Adult Protective Services if necessary, banks to freeze accounts, or police to file a report.
Nelson said the Welfare and Institutions Code in California allows clients to sue anybody who allows financial abuse or scams to occur, even if they are not the ones who did the abuse. This includes financial institutions.
“The law now allows you to sue the bank or any other agency if they knew or should have known that there was something fishy going on,” Nelson said. “That was done in response to California realizing that a lot of these victims weren’t being compensated because there was no legal ability to compensate them.”
You can report a scam by contacting local law enforcement or directly alerting the FTC through its website.
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