Consumer Protection Information for Seniors

"Scambuster Kit" for California Seniors

California's senior citizens have worked throughout their lives to help make our state prosperous while saving up a "nest egg" so they can enjoy their retirement years. It's unfortunate that scammers and thieves may target seniors, tempt them with bogus offers, or try to steal their hard-earned savings.

The California Department of Consumer Affairs has prepared this "Senior Scambuster Kit" to provide older Californians with tips and resources that can help them say "no thanks" to scamsters and "no deal" to dishonest dealers.

Seniors can find the kit online here at the Department's Web site, or call the Department's toll-free consumer hotline at (800) 952-5210 if they'd like to ask a consumer assistance specialist for information. Following are several scams that snare seniors, and links to resources on how they can protect themselves:

  • Fight Phony "Phishers" and Other Identity Thieves: You may get a call from an "inspector" or "officer" with the bank who asks you to help catch a criminal by confirming your account or credit card number or by withdrawing money. Or you get an e-mail telling you to confirm your account information, and it looks like it's from your bank and sends you to a Web site that looks like your bank's. Don't take the bait! Never give out account or password information unless you made the call or went to the company's secure Web site yourself. Legitimate companies will never ask for such information this way, by phone or e-mail. See our Office of Privacy Protection for more tips.
  • Check Out Charities Before You Give: You receive a phone call seeking donations for a charity. The caller sounds sincere, and the cause seems worthy, BUT you've never heard of the organization. It's best to ask that information be mailed to you so you can research the charity before you decide. If the caller refuses, don't donate, simply hang up. Above all, don't give out your credit card or bank account number! Be wary -- these charlatans also use names similar to those of reputable charities. To check on a charity and for tips on giving wisely, call the California Attorney General toll-free (800) 952-5225 (in California) or go to http://oag.ca.gov/charities. Check with your local Better Business Bureau before donating to any charity, and review their "Tips for Charitable Giving" on the BBB Wise Giving Alliance Web site: www.bbb.org/.
  • Disconnect from Telemarketers: If you are tired of receiving telemarketing calls, you can help pull the plug by registering your number with the National Do Not Call Registry. For more details on your rights and how to avoid telemarketing scams, see the Department of Consumer Affairs' Basic Facts About Telemarketing consumer guide.
  • Avoid Contractor Capers: You are falsely told that your roof needs replacing at a cost of thousands of dollars. Or workers just "happen" to be in your area with some leftover paving material from "a job down the street." Or someone drops by and offers to trim your trees for a bargain price. Don't fall for it! These scams usually result in substandard work from unlicensed contractors who disappear after they get your money. Call the Contractors State License Board at (800) 321-2752 for a copy of "What You Should Know Before Hiring a Contractor" or visit the Board's Web site at www.cslb.ca.gov.
  • Bypass Bogus Sweepstakes: If you receive a letter, e-mail or phone call implying that you've won a sweepstakes, be careful. Some con artists use the lure of a big sweepstakes prize to convince unsuspecting consumers to send in money to claim a "prize" they've won. Sometimes the con artists tell consumers they need to pay a fee to cover the taxes or service charges on their winnings. Most times the prize is just scam. The newest version of this scam involves crooks who use names of government agencies and legitimate phone numbers to deceive consumers. See the Federal Trade Commission for a Consumer Alert with tips on how to avoid bogus sweepstakes scams.

California Department of Consumer Affairs Resources for Seniors

  • The California Department of Consumer Affairs is a one-stop shop for Californians looking to perform a license "checkup" on a doctor, dentist, nurse or scores of other health care professionals. The department and its affiliated boards and bureaus license more than 800,000 health care professionals in more than 35 fields — professions from nearly "A" to "Z"; that treat patients literally from head to toe. To give your health care provider a license checkup, go to the Department's online "License and Complaint History" link. If you don't have Web access, call (800) 952-5210.
  • Our Hearing Aid Dispensers Bureau can help you find a licensed dispenser and provides consumer tips on purchasing hearing aids, hearing loss symptoms, understanding audiograms, warranties, and online or mail-order purchase of hearing aids.
  • The death of a loved one is undoubtedly the most traumatic experience any of us will ever encounter. Our Cemetery and Funeral Bureau and its Consumer Guide to Funeral and Cemetery Purchases have information that can help you ask the right questions, compare prices and services, and make informed decisions.
  • Make sure you only do business with licensed cosmetologists, barbers, salons and barbershops by checking with the Board of Barbering and Cosmetology. See the Board's fact sheet on in-home services, which are available for anyone whose illness or other physical or mental incapacitation prevents them from visiting a licensed salon or barbershop.
  • Doctors of Podiatric Medicine are specialists in the foot and ankle. Many DPMs specialize in care and preservation of the diabetic foot. The Board of Podiatric Medicine licenses these professionals and provides related information for consumers.
  • The Board of Pharmacy licenses pharmacists and has helpful information on how to lower your drug costs and other consumer tips.
  • Renters, residents of common interest developments, members of homeowners associations and landlords interested in their rights and responsibilities under the law can check the Department's "California Tenants - A Guide to Residential Tenants" and Landlords' Rights and Responsibilities" publication or Condo Consumers Web page.

Additional Scam-Busting Resources:

AARP Web Site Scams Page — Tips and resources on a variety of scams targeting elderly Americans, including credit card fraud, door-to-door sales, Nigerian money scams, dishonest telemarketers, travel fraud and work-at-home scams.

Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information — The nation's top consumer protection agency offers a variety of educational resources to help consumers protect themselves from fraud, scams and rip-offs.

Better Business Bureau — If you need assistance resolving a dispute with a business, or checking on a company's consumer complaint track record, the Better Business Bureau can be a great resource. They also offer tips on a variety of consumer topics.