General Consumer Tips for Seniors

How to Avoid Common Senior Scams

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 provides older Californians with tips and resources that can help them say "no thanks" to scamsters and "no deal" to dishonest dealers.

"Scam artists may think of senior citizens as targets of opportunity," said Consumer Affairs Director Carrie Lopez. "We want to give seniors the information and tools they need to recognize potential rip-offs, ask the right questions and fend off fraud."

"Seniors should never feel obligated to respond to high-pressure sales tactics or offers that sound too good to be true," Lopez cautioned.

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 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:
  • 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
  • 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 a 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. The Bureau 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 (DPMs) 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 Resources:

AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, consumer protection organization for people 50 and over. The organization is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for all and is committed to creating a society in which everyone ages with dignity and purpose. AARP's Web site offers consumers the opportunity to ask questions such as "How can I get telemarketers to stop calling me at home?" "What is a reverse mortgage?" "What is AARP doing about predatory lenders?" and "What should I look for in a living trust?"

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.

California Association of Area Agencies on Aging
The California Association of Area Agencies on Aging is a statewide, nonprofit organization that receives federal, state and local funds to contract with local organizations for service to older persons. There are 33 area agencies on aging designated by the California Department of Aging that advocate on behalf of older persons, persons with disabilities, their caregivers and families to provide leadership within the aging and disability community.

California Bankers Association
The California Bankers Association (CBA) represents more than 300 banks in the state, including commercial banks, industrial loan companies and savings institutions. CBA's Web site offers information on elder financial abuse including a definition of the crime of elder financial abuse, common elder financial abuse scenarios, preventing elder financial abuse, tips on how to spot possible cases of elder financial abuse, and information on reporting and investigating elder financial abuse.

California Commission on Aging
The California Commission on Aging serves as the principal advocate in the state on behalf of older individuals. As such it is the principal advisory body to the Governor, State Legislature, and State, Federal and local departments and agencies on issues affecting older individuals in order to ensure a quality of life for older Californians so they may live in dignity in their chosen environment.

California Department of Aging
The California Department of Aging administers a broad range of home- and community-based services throughout California, working primarily with the Area Agencies on Aging who serve seniors, adults with disabilities, and caregivers. The Department also works with other public and private agencies in a variety of partnerships to implement its vision.

California Department of Real Estate
The California Department of Real Estate (DRE) is responsible for the administration and enforcement of the Real Estate Law and Subdivided Lands Law. Licensees include real estate brokers and salespersons, prepaid rental listing services and mineral, oil and gas brokers. Real estate brokers may also act as mortgage brokers. The DRE has information available on reverse mortgages, a loan product geared toward senior citizens: Reverse Mortgages – Is One Right For You?

California Department of Veterans Affairs
The California Department of Veterans Affairs confers and administers the benefits provided by a grateful State of California to its deserving veterans and their dependents. More specifically, the Department is charged with ensuring that California veterans and their families receive aid and assistance in presenting their claims for veterans' benefits under the laws of the United States; providing them with opportunities through direct low-cost loans to acquire farms and homes; and providing the state's aged or disabled veterans with rehabilitative, residential, and medical care and services in a home-like environment at the California Veterans Homes. This mission is based on the philosophy that programs of benefits for veterans fulfill necessary, proper, and valid public purposes by promoting patriotism, by recognizing and rewarding sacrifice and service to country, and by providing needed readjustment assistance to returning veterans and their families.

California District Attorneys Association
The California District Attorneys Association (CDAA) is over 2,500 members strong, operating with a full-time staff headquartered in Sacramento. The CDAA serves as a source of continuing legal education and legislative advocacy for its membership and provides a forum for the exchange of information and innovation in the criminal justice field. Through CDAA's specialized committees, the Association reviews bills, provides technical assistance to the Legislature's policy committees, and lobbies the Legislature on measures that impact public safety, environmental and consumer protection. The Web site offers links to allied organizational agencies; child safety and criminal justice concerns; and governmental, legal and legislative sites.

Consumer Action
Consumer Action is a nonprofit, membership-based organization. Consumer Action serves consumers nationwide by advancing consumer rights, referring consumers to complaint-handling agencies through its free hotline, and publishing educational materials in Chinese, English, Korean, Spanish, Vietnamese and other languages. The group is an advocate for consumers in the media and before lawmakers. Consumers can e-mail questions and complaints to its referral and advice hotline.

Federal Trade Commission
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforces a variety of federal antitrust and consumer protection laws to ensure that the nation's markets function competitively. The commission also works to enhance the smooth operation of the marketplace by eliminating acts or practices that are unfair or deceptive. In general, the FTC's efforts are directed toward stopping actions that threaten consumers' opportunities to exercise informed choice. You can reach the FTC at 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4375) or visit their Web site for publications and advice on a variety of consumer topics. Available topics include: avoiding scams and rip-offs; automobiles; credit; diet; health and fitness; e-commerce and the Internet; energy and the environment; franchise and business opportunities; identity theft; investments; privacy; products and services; telemarketing; telephone services; and travel.

National Consumers League
The National Consumers League (NCL) protects and promotes social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. The NCL is a private, nonprofit advocacy group representing consumers on marketplace and workplace issues. It is the nation's oldest consumer organization. They maintain a fraud hotline [1-800-876-7060] and provide an opportunity for consumers to submit a report online for incidents of telemarketing or Internet fraud at its Web site. Additionally, the site contains information on elder fraud and counterfeit drugs, and they publish a newsletter, "Focus on Fraud," available by subscription to businesses and individuals.

Senior Legal Hotline
The Senior Legal Hotline provides free, confidential legal advice by phone on consumer issues and other subjects for California residents over 60. Call Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to noon, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., and until 7 p.m. on Thursdays: (916) 551-2140 or (800) 222-1753. Or send an e-mail from the Web site to schedule a phone appointment. The hotline also operates a phone mediation program useful in resolving small disputes before they escalate.