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Senior Living Q & A:

January 13, 2011

Q. I've heard about scams against seniors, but I would never be foolish enough to send money to a stranger. Am I still at risk?

Imagine this scenario. Your phone rings, you pick it up and the voice at the other end says, "Hi, Grandma." It sounds like the person calling has a cold.

You have two grandsons: Bob and Joe. You say, "Who is this?" and he says "Oh, come on, Grandma, I'm your No. 1 grandson."

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You say, "Oh, hi, Bob, I didn't recognize your voice. Do you have a cold?"

He says, "Yes, but I have bigger problems that that. I'm in Spain and my wallet was stolen. Can you wire me some cash?"

Knowing that your grandson lives locally and is a senior in high school alerts you that this is a scam and you hang up the phone. If you do actually have an older grandson and there is a possibility that he could be in Spain, ask a personal question such as the names of his parents, pet, the city he lives in, etc. Don't give out this information; ask him to give it to you.

Another deceiving scam is perpetrated by people who come to your door pretending to be someone they're not. Utility companies never will ask for access to the inside of your house without a prior appointment. Be especially wary if there are two people. One can divert you while the other one robs you.

People masquerading as contractors may come to your door, saying they are in the neighborhood and can give you a great deal on some sort of repair if you sign the contract right away. Don't fall for it. Get another bid.

Another problem is "contractors" doing shoddy work that looks good at first, but deteriorates quickly. Examples are spreading used motor oil on your driveway and calling it re-surfacing, or applying paint to roof shingles and calling it a repair. Roof repairs are especially problematic, since you are not likely to get up on the roof to check them out. (At least I hope you're not.)

People pretending to be fund-raisers are another issue. If they say they're raising money for a local school, call the school and check it out. If they are raising money for a charity such as wounded vets or firefighters, sick or handicapped kids, or victims of a recent disaster, ask to see documentation. If you believe it to be a legitimate charity, ask how you can send in a check, rather than give it out at the door.

In general, anyone asking you to make an instant decision regarding money is probably a scam.

NANCY TURNEY received a bachelor's degree in social work and a certificate in gerontology. If you have a specific question you would like answered in this column, e-mail it to lcnews@valleysun.net or call Turney at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA, (818) 790-0123, ext. 225.

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