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"Seniors targeted in scams"

The Modesto Bee

By BEN van der MEER
last updated: March 15, 2008 02:59:19 AM

Whether senior citizens live in their own house, an assisted-living facility or nursing home, they could be targets for two kinds of scams.

Speaking Friday to about 300 attendees at the Seniors Against Financial Exploitation Seminar at Modesto's First Baptist Church, two keynote speakers warned that con artists have come up with creative ways to trick seniors out of their money.

Attorney Prescott Cole said seniors living in nursing homes often are approached by would-be financial experts who want the seniors to invest in poorly considered money plans.

"A 20-year deferred annuity makes sense for some people," Cole said, speaking of one product that con artists peddle. "It does not make sense for an 80-year-old person."

Still, he said, he knew of a 92-year-old man who invested $650,000 in an annuity that didn't pay out until 2063.

The agent who sold the annuity, Cole said, made a $75,000 commission.

Those who sell such financial plans use a three-part approach to get victims hooked, Cole said: fear of losing financial control, anger over how seniors are treated with finances and greed that they can get something at low cost.

"It's a program that's part of a very sophisticated sales campaign," Cole said.

That approach is used to sell financial plans that seniors may not need or want, including some reverse mortgage programs and long-term care insurance policies, Cole said.

The second speaker, San Francisco Police Department inspector Greg Ovanessian, focused on scams aimed at seniors who live in their own homes, or as they go out and about.

He described in detail the "traveler" con artists who will come to a city to scam a number of victims, then move on before the law catches up with them.

"These people specialize," he said, explaining that different groups will perfect certain scams, running them over and over.

In the Central Valley, Ovanessian said, residents frequently report home repair scams, where a work crew approaches a homeowner and offers a home repair job or to pave the driveway.

The crew will take money up front and do a poor job or not even start the project, leaving before the homeowner catches on.

Such scammers sometimes enter the victim's house and rob them, Ovanessian said.

Attendee Angelica Orozco of Modesto said she once was a victim of a home repair scam, but wouldn't be fooled again.

"When I get out of here, I'll be much wiser with home repairs," said Orozco, 69. "I need to learn these things."

Ovanessian said home repair and other scams cost as much as $20 billion in the United States annually, and that only 1 in 25 cases of senior financial exploitation are reported.

A woman who deals with victims of fraud and financial exploitation said it is important to have events such as Friday's, which was presented by Catholic Charities, Stanislaus Elder Abuse Prevention Alliance and local financial institutions.

"The seniors are targeted quite a bit," said Lillian Rogers, an advocate with the victim services unit in the Stanislaus County district attorney's office.

"Here, they're getting more in tune with what's going on," she said.

Bee staff writer Ben van der Meer can be reached at or 578-2331.