By far, the most common way of separating seniors from their money is through the telephone, in cons ranging from the grandparent scam to the Jamaican Lottery scam.
The grandparent scam started showing up in Pleasanton a few years ago, and a number of local residents have fallen victim. It targets older people, making them think a grandchild has gotten in trouble, often in another country. The con artist asks for money and tells the victim, "Please don't tell Mom or Dad, they'll kill me if they find out."
Scammers have been known to call a potential victim asking, "Can you guess who this is?" and when given a name, they'll run with it to try to coax money out of their target. Victims are told to wire transfer cash to help out.
The Jamaican Lottery scam starts with a call from someone claiming that the victim has won a prize, but needs to pony up some money to claim it.
A Pleasanton woman recently fell victim to a variation on the scam. The 77-year-old was told she'd won $100,000, but the money was sent to Mexico because it was assumed she was dead. She wired $1,500 in an attempt to get the cash.
Wire transfers are like cash -- once the money is wired, there's no way to get it back.
Certified fraud specialist Nick Henley said to watch out for telemarketers and emails that can dupe someone into giving out credit card information.
"There's a lot of ways to do it," he said. "There's a lot of telephone and there's a lot of email scams."
Henley added that when it comes to scams, they often cross jurisdictions and can be time consuming and difficult, if not impossible for police to solve.
State Senator Ellen Corbett (D-Oakland) is the author of two bills to protect people online that were recently signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown. One requires consumers to be notified immediately if someone's email has been hacked.
"One of the most important things you need to do is change your password and change your security questions," Corbett said. "In the wrong hands, a person has the ability to access your financial data, your bank account, possibly, anything that password is connected to."
She said anyone who's email has been hacked has had their security breached.
Another new law authored by Corbett protects senior veterans. She said the new law prohibits unauthorized use of military symbols, often used on advertising materials to legitimize everything from products for sale to workshops.
The bottom line from professionals across the board: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you feel pressured, walk away, and remember, your bank will never call you to authenticate anything. If in doubt, call the bank yourself.