The Elder and Dependent Adult Financial Abuse Unit has a team consisting of prosecutors, investigators and a paralegal dedicated solely to the investigation and prosecution of financial crimes against elderly and dependent adults.
All such cases of suspected abuse should be reported immediately to Santa Clara County’s Adult Protective Services (APS) at 1-800-414-2002. They may also be reported to the applicable local law enforcement agency. The District Attorney’s Elder and Dependent Adult Financial Abuse Unit may also be contacted at 1-855-DA-Elder (1-855-323-5337).
There are various types of crimes constituting elder and dependent adult fraud, and various types of perpetrators. Most cases involve a perpetrator who is known to the victim such as a child, grandchild, sibling, friend, bookkeeper or caregiver. Typical crimes include forged checks, unauthorized use of credit cards and good credit, embezzlement (e.g. using the victim’s money to pay expenses of the perpetrator without their knowledge and/or consent), and theft by false pretenses (e.g. obtaining a victim’s signature on legal documents without the victim truly understanding the consequences of the subject transaction); often times this includes tapping into the victim’s home equity by way of refinancing a home loan, obtaining a home-equity line of credit or a reverse mortgage.
Elder and dependent adult financial abuse cases involve vulnerable individuals who are victimized by the people they trust to assist them with daily living. The vulnerability of these victims makes this type of fraud a vastly underreported crime. Victims are either unaware they are being defrauded or unwilling to turn in a person on whom they depend for independent living. Sometimes the perpetrators actually threaten the victims.
Other types of financial abuse are perpetrated by strangers to the elder or dependent adult, usually in the form of a "scam." There are telephone and e-mail scams, sweetheart swindles, automobile accident scams, home repair scams, and "investment" scams. These crimes are underreported because the victims are often too embarrassed to tell anyone.
Many cases involving financial abuse also give rise to civil claims. Individuals needing civil legal assistance or referrals may contact:
- Senior Adults Legal Assistance ("SALA")(Nonprofit): (408) 295-5991, 1-800-222-1753; www.sala.org
- The Silicon Valley Bar Association: (650) 325-7808
- Fair Housing Law Project (free legal services to qualified individuals): (408) 280-2435; Law Foundation
- Santa Clara County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service (408) 971-6822;
CRIME PREVENTION TIPS
Many caregiver agencies will advertise they are “licensed and bonded” and do “background checks” on their caregivers. However, some of these agencies may merely possess a city business permit, and the “background check” does not necessarily mean a criminal fingerprint check was made. You should ask the agency what types of licenses it holds and the extent of the background check, and get it in writing. You should ask for the name of the bonding agency and verify their standing, and ask about their liability limits. Also, if you hire an agency’s caregiver outside of your contract you may be responsible for excessive finder’s fees to the agency, and the agency will no longer assume liability for criminal acts on behalf of the caregiver. To check on an agency you may contact the State of California Dept. of Social Services (DSS) Community Care Licensing Division Adult and Senior Care Program. (See Adult and Senior care update)
If you depend on a caregiver, never leave valuables lying around. Do not leave your purse, wallet, checks, credit/debit cards where they can be located. Never give your PIN number to someone as the bank may not reimburse for fraud. Do not sign blank checks. Always get receipts for purchases made by caregivers. Often reconcile and check all of your accounts credit reports. Keep family members involved.
IF YOU SUSPECT THEFT FROM A CAREGIVER, CALL APS AND LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT IMMEDIATELY.
Request for Advanced Fees, Wiring Money and Lottery Scams:
Someone (Telephone call, E-mailer, Mailer) wants you to send him/her money promising you will get an enormous amount of money later. This could be from someone asking for help to transport a vast amount of money out of a depressed or corrupt country; or it could be from someone claiming to be a secret governmental representative affirming you won a foreign lottery (stating before you can collect your huge winnings you must first pay its taxes or fees even though lotteries cannot require upfront payments); or it could be someone hiring you to deposit large amounts of checks into your bank account. Although the check may initially clear, after you wire proceeds to the scammer the check ultimately bounces and you remain liable for it. This also happens in on-line auctions where the scammer-buyer sends a check for more than the sales price and asks you to send back the difference.
You will be asked to either mail a check (usually to an unwitting party also caught up in the scam who deposits your check and later wires the money to the scammer) or to wire money to a business or address. The given address may appear to be legitimate, but this is not where the scammer collects the money. The wiring company will issue you a control or receipt number for the wire. Ultimately the scammer calls you back asking for the control number. With this number, the scammer can pick up the proceeds anywhere in the world, using fake identification making the crime untraceable.
NEVER SEND THEM MONEY – LOTTERIES CANNOT CHARGE UPFRONT FEES. NEVER AGREE TO DEPOSIT OR SEND BACK MONEY.
IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW FALLS PREY TO ANY ONE OF THESE SCAMS, YOU SHOULD IMMEDIATELY NOTIFY APS, LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT AND THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE ELDER AND FINANCIAL ABUSE UNIT AT 1-855-DA-ELDER or 1-855-323-5337.
Also, although you may have caller-ID and call-blocking, many of these calls come through Canada’s 800 number system, defeating these call features. Thus, victims of lottery telephone scam should also contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (formerly known as PhoneBusters National Call Centre) at their toll free number 1-888-495-8501. Victims of any telemarketing scams should contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The San Francisco Office number is (415) 356-5270.
Pigeon Drop / Handkerchief Switch Scam:
The scammer, who appears to be naïve, approaches the victim in public and claims to have come into a large amount of cash. The scammer “flashes” it to the victim and claims not to know what to do with it, or may have received instructions to donate it to a church or charity. The scammer may feign a call from their attorney asking the victim to speak with them. Another scammer may approach “appearing” to help. The scammers may ask the victim to drive them to a church and bank or ATM machine. The scammers convince the victim to hold onto the money once the victim puts their own “good faith” money into the pot. The scammers leave and the victim is left holding wadded up paper shavings or other worthless paper.
DO NOT GET INTO A CAR WITH STRANGERS OR DRIVE STRANGRS ANYWHERE. OFFER TO CALL THE POLICE AND CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY.
Gold Bar Scam:
The scammer approaches a victim in public, shows a gold bar and gives a hard luck story about needing cash. The victim gives the scammer cash and the gold bar turns out to be worthless.
IF YOU ARE APPROACHED, CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY. DO NOT PURCHASE GOLD BARS OFF THE STREET. IF YOU LEARN LATER YOU ARE A VICTIM, CALL LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT.
Home Entry Ruse / Imposter Burglary:
Wearing fake uniforms or shirts and caps with insignias, fake water company, utility or repair workers (usually two) try to get into your home under the guise of checking your pipes or electricity; or the scammers may take you to your backyard to distract you. Meanwhile another thief enters your home and rummages through your belongings and steals available valuable items such as your jewelry, purse, wallet and cash. This may take the form of a parent with children asking to use your bathroom.
Utility and water companies will notify you before coming to your home. If it truly is an emergency, before allowing them into your home you should call 911 and the utility company to verify their call. It is best to not open the door. Do not let strange families with children into your home to use the bathroom, especially if you are alone.
DO NOT LET STRANGERS OR UNEXPECTED WORKERS INTO YOUR HOME. CALL THE POLICE (911) AND THE UTILITY COMPANY.
Investment and Loan Scams:
“Affinity” scams occur when a “trusted friend” or seemingly friendly investment consultant promises a low-risk, high return in interest (10-50%) on your money. The money manager may “guarantee” 100% of your return. Any such guarantee is a red flag. “Investments” can be anything: real estate, promissory note, personal loan, foreign currency, oil wells, gold mines, etc. Often these investments involve the sale of unregistered securities, couched in untowardly language. When the investment goes bad, often your only remedy may be a costly civil lawsuit resulting in a judgment lien against someone with no assets. Sometimes investments are illegal Ponzi schemes or illegal Pyramid schemes, described below.
This is an investment fraud that involves the payment of purported returns to existing investors from funds contributed by new investors. Ponzi scheme organizers often solicit new investors by promising to invest new funds in opportunities claimed to generate high returns with little or no risk. In many Ponzi schemes, the scammer focus on attracting new money to make promised payments to earlier-stage investors and to use for personal expenses, instead of engaging in any legitimate investment activity.
In the classic “pyramid” scheme, participants attempt to make money solely by recruiting new participants into the program. The hallmark of the scheme is the promise of sky-high returns in a short period of time for nothing other than handing over your money and getting others to do the same.
NEVER INVEST MORE THAN YOU CAN AFFORD TO LOSE.
Always conduct a due diligence and background check on the investment AND the investment advisor. It never hurts to research someone via the internet (i.e. “Google”). To see if the consultant is a licensed financial advisor or if the business entity is registered, you can check or file a complaint with the California Dept. of Business Oversight at 1-866-ASK-CORP (1-866-275-2677) or use Complaint Form. You may also check under or file a complaint with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission and Investor Complaints .
In addition to calling local law enforcement and APS, you should also consult with a civil law attorney.
IF IT SEEMS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, THEN IT PROBABLY IS.
Distressed Phone Caller / E-mailer:
This common scam is from someone pretending to be a family member or friend. Usually the scammer calls the victim late at night stating he/she is in jail or stuck in another country. The scammer will ask you to wire money immediately and not tell anyone. He/she may ask you to meet a friend at an ATM bank location late at night. This may also take the form in an email from a hacked account of someone you know.
CONTACT THE FRIEND AND FAMILY MEMBERS AND CHECK OUT THE STORY. IF YOUR E-MAIL ACCOUNT HAS BEEN HACKED, GO TO A DIFFERENT COMPUTER AND NOTIFY YOUR CONTACTS. SHUT DOWN YOUR E-MAIL ACCOUNT OR HAVE YOUR COMPUTER FORENSICALLY RESTORED.
Fortune Telling / Psychic Scams:
Here, a fortune teller does a reading, sees the victim is distressed and tells the victim it is because of a curse-which only more money and elaborate rituals can cure. The cost to cleanse the soul and ward off evil spirits keeps going up. Through a course of managed manipulation, the scammer will ask the victim to give them cash to be “blessed,” may ask them to purchase gift cards for them, and when the victim runs out of money, the scammer will ask the victim to procure additional credit through credit cards and tap into equity in the victim’s home. The scammer “promises” the return of the money once the “work” is done (and it never is). The scammer keeps pressure on the victim, who becomes terrified.
IF YOU VISIT SOMEONE CLAIMING TO BE A FORTUNE TELLER, NEVER PAY MORE THAN THE ORIGINAL NOMINAL FEE (USUALLY ABOUT $20.00).
In this scenario, a younger person meets a vulnerable adult and befriends or promises to marry him/her. The scammer may tell the victim he/she needs a loan to take care of some family emergency. The scammer assures the victim he/she is coming into money soon, even though this is a lie. Once the victim runs out of money, the sweetheart scammer vanishes. In other cases the scammer may tell the victim they love them and may promise to take care of the victim. In return, they ask the victim for more money or title to their house.
NEVER AGREE TO GIVE SOMEONE YOUR HOUSE IN EXCHANGE FOR ANY SERVICES. SOMEONE WHO LOVES YOU WILL NOT TRY TO TAKE YOUR SAVINGS.
A thief somehow steals your personal information: social security number, bank account number, debit/credit card numbers, secret PIN, and/or date of birth. The thief uses the information to charge items to your accounts and/or set up accounts in your name. The scammer can accomplish this over the telephone or internet. The scammer can also transfer money out of your accounts. Strangers are not the only identity thieves. Caregivers and family members are known to compromise accounts without permission.
NEVER LEAVE PERSONAL IDENTIFYING INFORMATION LYING AROUND. SHRED DOCUMENTS, USE A LOCKING MAILBOX, MAIL BILLS FROM THE POST OFFICE, AND NEVER CARRY YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY CARD WITH YOU. NEVER GIVE YOUR PIN CODE TO ANYONE. MONITOR YOUR FREE CREDIT REPORTS AND YOUR BANK ACCOUNTS FOR UNKNOWN AND FRAUDULENT ACTIVITY.
You can request your free credit report from the three major credit bureaus by going online to AnnualCreditReport.com or by telephone at 1-877-322-8228. No matter how you request your report, you have the option to request all three reports at once or to order one report at a time. By requesting the reports separately, you can monitor your credit more frequently throughout the year. You can also link to their site from The Federal Trade Commission’s website .
If you are a victim of fraud, the credit bureau is required to provide you with a free copy of your credit report. The credit bureaus are:
If you suspect that someone is using your identity, please contact your local law enforcement agency and request a report.
For More Information Please Contact:
Office of the District Attorney
Santa Clara County
Elder and Dependent Adult Financial Abuse Unit
70 West Hedding Street, West Wing
San Jose, CA 95110
Toll-free: 1-855-DA-Elder (1-855-323-5337)
Local Law Enforcement Agencies:
|Calif. Highway Patrol
|Los Altos Police
|Los Gatos Police
|Morgan Hill Police
|Mt. View Police
|Palo Alto Police
|San Jose Police
|Santa Clara Police
Adult Protective Services 1-800-414-2002
Long Term Care Ombudsman (408) 944-0567, 1-800-231-4024
Telemarketer / Lottery / Email Scams:
Federal Trade Commission 1-877-382-4357
Canadian Anti-Fraud Call Registry (Phone Busters National Call Centre) 1-888-495-8501
Free Annual Credit Report 1-877-322-8228
National DO NOT CALL Registry 1-888-382-1222 (TTY: 1-866-290-4236)
Federal Trade Commission 1-877-438-4338
Direct Marketing Association 212-768-7277, ext. 1
Stop credit card applications:
Consumer Credit Reporting Industry 1-888-567-8688
Reverse Mortgage Information and Real Estate Fraud:
California Department of Real Estate 1-916-227-0931
Investment / Securities Fraud:
California Department of Corporations 1-866-275-2677 (TTY: 1-800-735-2922)
United States Securities and Exchange Commission and Investor Complaints .
Annuity and Insurance Issues:
California Department of Insurance www.insurance.ca.gov 1-800-927-4357
Soc. Security Administration Fraud Hotline:- 1-800-269-0271 (TTY: 1-866-501-2101)
Contractors State License Board 1-800-321-2752
P G & E 1-800-743-5000
San Jose Water Company (408) 279-7900, emergency, press “9”
Free Living Trust Seminars / Attorney Issues:
State Bar of California Senior Information Hotline 1-888-460-7364