PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA

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Scammers getting craftier

By From page A1 | April 04, 2012

It starts with an e-mail from eBay, saying that details about your account need updating. There’s a handy box for filling in account and password information. Oh, eBay needs updated credit card information, too. Just go ahead and provide that, won’t you?

Then there’s the letter in the mail, complete with a check for $9,584, just call this handy number before you deposit it to pay $2,500 in legal fees and insurance, and the rest is all yours.

“These things are in the mail every day,” senior citizen attorney Al Hamilton said, showing off two large stacks of letters of similar scams.

Part of the problem, Hamilton said, is that the scammers are getting craftier. High-quality logos adorn the supposed letters from eBay — which only contacts users through their account, never through a letter. The check, made out from Prudential, has the right address, logo, bank number, and routing number. Even the paper it is printed on is high-quality paper used in making checks. The only part that is wrong is the bank account number, which leads to a non-existent account.

Another scam that is sweeping the country has to do with time shares, Hamilton said, particularly from a county from Tennessee. The company offers to take the time share after being paid $2,000, a good offer for those who no longer use a time share and are not eager to pay taxes, maintenance fees, interest and other charges associated with the upkeep of a time share.

“They create a deed, get it notarized, and get documents to transfer the interest,” Hamilton said. But when the County Assessor checks the address on the documents, the address is invalid, and the transfer doesn’t happen. “You paid $2,000 to get rid of the time share, but you still have it,”  he said. And that includes all the fees.

Many of the scams are targeted at seniors, Hamilton said. “They want to leave something for their grandkids. They have no big assets like an estate,” Hamilton said. “They have things like dementia, and are more trusting of people. It’s partly wishful thinking,” he said, gesturing towards the stacks of Nigerian prince-style scams. “It’s like what happens at a casino— you get caught up, you know you are going to win, ‘I’m lucky, it’s just around the corner.’”

Casinos are involved in two other recent incidents that are similar to each other, Hamilton said, where an elder was taken to a casino by nursing staff. “Grandpa is taken to the bar, he’s given wine, and he doesn’t know his credit card is being used” by the nurse to gamble. One incident ended up in $11,000 being stolen over a 10-day period.

Another scam targeting the elderly involves one person calling an elder, claiming to be a police officer in a foreign country, complete with accent — real or fake. After asking for the name of a grandchild to “verify” that is who they have in custody, “They ask for info, and they feed it back to you,” Hamilton said. A distressed, anxious voice claiming to be whatever name was given takes over the phone. They need money to pay bail, and only their grandparents can help them, and money must quickly be wired over. Money that no one in the family will see again.

Other scams are legal and prey off of people who aren’t aware of other options, Hamilton said. One scam seeks to help homeowners gain exemptions for a $25 fee, when the County Recorder will do the same service for free. Ads offer deals for qualifying for Medi-Cal, or not having to worry about losing a house and paying $10,000 to a company that will help them fix your payments. Just paying the original payments will be cheaper, Hamilton said.

Hamilton’s own mother was hit with a legal scam when he read her propane bill. The propane company was charging over $1 more per gallon than competitors, which he was able to fix with a call to the company. Hamilton pointed out that the company was also charging a fee for record-keeping, an attempt to increase profits. The original bill added over $2, but the new fee is $9. The fee, Hamilton said, cannot be legally added on top of the cost of propane, and has started a class-action lawsuit against the company.

Hamilton’s best advice is to check credit card statements each month. Companies will not ask for passwords to accounts, and banks will never ask for both the credit card number and the security number on the back of the card, he said.

“If it sounds too good to be true,” Hamilton said, again pointing to the checking scams, “then it’s too good to be true.”

Cole Mayer

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