True story (I couldn’t have written it better). Culver City: A 90-year-old Nisei man, still driving and still as sharp as a tack (knows the stock market), was conned last month in July. “Now I know why scam artists pick on the elderly,” he said. “Why?” I asked. He replied, “Because they’re stupid.”
It seems that a polite, honest-looking man knocked on the homeowner’s door. The man said he was working for the neighbor (called him by his first name), and he needed to see the neighbor’s roof from his backyard. The homeowner agreed and he and his wife walked the man to the backyard.
When the homeowners went back inside the house, they noticed that they had been burglarized. “It couldn’t have been for more than 5 to 10 minutes,” he said. “I remember the guy was talking on his cell phone. He must have had a partner and told him that the coast was clear.”
“Fortunately,” he said, “all they got was some cash and some jewelry.” Even though the credit cards were still in his wife’s purse, they were advised to cancel them anyway since it was possible that the crooks could have taken pictures of the numbers and put them back in her purse.
“If it happened again, what would you do differently?” I asked. He thought about it for a moment, and then said, “I should have locked the front door. Also, I’d ask for him to bring my neighbor over.”
It seems they were victims of a variation of the “contractor’s scam.” Scam operators canvas neighborhoods where there are older homes and they can find seniors at home. These crooks pick out upscale, older neighborhoods where seniors would own their homes outright.
Quite often, they follow the mail carrier and wait for an elderly woman to come out to get her mail and chat with the mailman. The crook walks up after the mail carrier leaves and introduces himself as a roofing contractor who has been working up the street at Mrs. Jones’ home (there may or may not actually be a Mrs. Jones).
The con man will have a shingle or a piece of tile and say it apparently has blown off her roof. He says if she likes, he will take a look at her roof and see where the tile or shingle came from. Of course, the shingle came out of his car and not off her roof. He allegedly fixes the roof.
In some cases, the con artist actually has a business card with a real state contractor’s license number and name on the card, e.g., Joe the Roofer. But the crook puts his own phone number on the card. Remember, anyone can print up a business card that says anything.
He shows her a pamphlet from the California Contractors Board that has a number to call to check a contractor’s license. The pamphlet says a consumer should always check with the state to make sure the contractor has a current license and insurance. So the scammer insists that she call and check out his license. He says that way she knows he is not some crook.
Of course, the con artist has already called the state contractors license board to make sure that Joe the Roofer is in good standing and has no complaints against his license. The crook would not want to get the license number of another crook. So she calls and they tell her that Joe the Roofer has a current state license and he has the proper workmen’s comp insurance, plus he has no complaints on his license.
Now the con artist has developed a bond of trust with the victim. She asks him to check out her roof. He tells her that he found a problem and he needs to make some quick repairs before rain comes. He says it will only cost $750 and she will not have to worry any more. He goes away for about 15 minutes and comes back with some roofing material. The con artist goes up on the roof and hammers a little, walks around, suns himself, and then comes down and says it’s fixed.
He says, “Let’s spray some water on it to make sure it is fixed.” He has the senior go into her living room and watch for water coming from the ceiling. He takes the hose and sprays it on the ground and asks if water is coming down from the ceiling in the living room. She says “no” and he declares it is fixed. He takes his money and leaves.
According to Judd McIlvain, TV’s “Troubleshooter,” here are some tips for the homeowner. First, ask for ID — see the crook’s driver’s license with a picture. It will not be in Joe the Roofer’s name, it will be in the real name of the con artist. Next look up Joe the Roofer’s name in the Yellow Pages and see if he has the same name and a different phone number.
Mr. McIlvain also warns about unlicensed contractors who do not have workmen’s compensation insurance. “Many times the contractor will lead you to believe he is state licensed and insured. However, the fact is he just has a state driver’s license and car insurance.”
If one of the day laborers he hires or the contractor himself falls off your roof or is hurt in any way on your property while working, you are legally responsible for all his or her medical bills. Plus, the workers can get an attorney and sue you for their missed work and other damages. This happened to a Glendale woman. She had to pay all the medical bills and damages — and lost her home.
A licensed contractor has to carry workmen’s compensation insurance and be bonded as a requirement by the state. All these requirements protect the consumer under the law. Contact the Contractor’s State Licensing Bureau at www.CSLB.CA.gov and check the contractor’s license status.
Also, the FBI warns of an identity theft telemarketing scam called the “court scam.” A telemarketer calls and says he is with the local court system and since your did not respond to a jury summons, there is a warrant out for your arrest. But he can remove the warrant from the computer if you give him some personal information, like your Social Security number, or other financial information, just for identification purposes.
This is a scam to get information for identity theft. Courts do not take warrants out of the computer over the phone. Most of the time you will never know you were a victim for about 60 days, and by that time your good credit has been wiped out. It may take years to correct your credit. You can find other FBI scam alerts by going online to TroubleshooterJudd.com and checking out the right side of the page.
Let’s not forget the “movie location scam.” A person shows up at your home saying he represents one of the major movie studios and he is scouting movie locations for a major film. He says they are willing to pay thousands of dollars for the right house. He asks to come in and look at your house. He is really scouting for a burglary gang. He will ask when you are normally not at home so they could shoot outside your home and not bother you. Sure!
In conclusion, the LAPD website says that crimes (across the board) are down in 2014. I have trouble believing that. The National Council on Aging (NCOA) website says that financial scams targeting seniors have become so prevalent that they’re now considered “the crime of the 21st century.” If you are a senior, or know a senior, be alert — know that con artists are out there and take every precaution to avoid being scammed.
Judd Matsunaga, Esq., is the founding partner of the Law Offices of Matsunaga & Associates, specializing in estate/Medi-Cal planning, probate, personal injury and real estate law. With offices in Torrance, Hollywood, Sherman Oaks, Pasadena and Fountain Valley, he can be reached at (800) 411-0546. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.