Seniors beware: Fraud is out there Smarter Senior Forums by the Los Angles County Department of Consumer Affairs alert senior citizens to the hazards of fraud and abuse and give tips on how to avoid them.


It happens more often than one might think-an unsuspecting senior citizen is swindled out of their home and other assets by someone who calls himself a caring friend. Edith Garcia, supervising investigator with the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs, related one alarming case that was thankfully caught early by authorities. She said that a social worker visiting an elderly couple was shown paperwork sent by the county saying that their property was in foreclosure. The couple was confused and did not understand how that could be since as far as they knew all payments were up to date and no loans had been taken out. After an investigation it was discovered that the couple’s daughter had forged both parents signatures and taken out a loan on their house. The fraud was discovered soon enough due to L.A. County’s notification program that sends copies of recent real estate and legal documents to involved parties so they can then confirm their involvement.

This wrong was righted, but all too often seniors are not aware of programs that can help and may not have access to people they can trust. For these reasons authorities set out to educate seniors in the community about common dangers and let them know there are agencies ready to help them. The Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs put together the Smarter Seniors Forums and conducts 10 a year at different senior centers around the county. Zev Yaroslavsky, L.A. County Supervisor 3rd District, chose the Malibu Senior Center as the location for one of two forums to be held in his district. On Oct. 24 about 20 seniors gathered at the center for the forum, which featured a panel of experts speaking on issues that affect seniors such as elder abuse, scams, estate planning and conservatorships.

Moderator Diane Baer opened the forum by explaining the importance of getting the information to seniors, who control an immense amount of wealth in this country and are targets for those who want to get a piece of it.

“Smarter Seniors Forums are all about prevention – stopping fraud, stopping senior abuse – before it gets started,” she said. “Because once it gets started then it takes a long time to fix.”

A subject discussed by more than one expert is that of elder abuse. Elder abuse can take many forms such as physical abuse or financial abuse. Often, isolated seniors are targeted by those who would falsely befriend them to gain access to their assets, but even the most worldly and connected of seniors can become a target. Experts shared information on good planning for the future as the best prevention of elder abuse.

Conservatorships were discussed as a last resort for seniors who are no longer able to care for themselves and names someone to make medical and legal decisions for the disabled person. Elder law expert Jonathan Rosenblum strongly suggested that having good estate planning and a living will protects seniors against problems when they or a loved one dies. He said that having the right documents in order can help immensely in avoiding huge probate fees and making sure final wishes are carried out, but cautioned against lawyers offering cheap deals.

“You get what you pay for,” he said.

Experts also covered the issue of common frauds and scams perpetrated on seniors and gave tips on their prevention. Edith Garcia briefly outlined some common scams including “pretender” scams. This occurs when a call comes in from someone pretending to be from a senior’s bank or credit card company. The caller says that the credit card has been lost or that there is unusual activity regarding the account. They ask the senior to read their card information so they can fix the problem and then use the information to their own ends.

Garcia said that there are many different types of frauds out there and seniors need to beware of scam artists.

“They are very smart and they are always figuring out different ways to get your information.”

The most important thing that seniors can do to protect themselves is not sign anything unless they know exactly what they are getting into and never give information over the phone unless they are sure who they are dealing with. Seniors should also be aware that there is help out there and they can get a second opinion about contracts they would sign from the Department of Consumer Affairs.

Buying insurance policies was discussed as a common pitfall seniors encounter due to policies being misrepresented by brokers. Dianne DeSurra, a representative from the California Department of Insurance, cautioned seniors to shop around because all policies are not created equal and make sure that agents and brokers are legitimate.

She also warned seniors not to be too nice.

“Don’t feel bad about telling people ‘no’,” she said.

Arlene Jones, Malibu resident and a senior, gave her thoughts on the presentation.

“I think it is very useful and the pamphlets are very useful,” she said. “It is nice that they try to get the information out but I worry that when you have a problem and call the numbers that you don’t really get the help that you need.”

Jones may be doubtful but all the presenters insisted that they are there for seniors in need and they want to help if at all possible.

Numbers to call for help:

Adult Protective Services, 800.992.1660

Department of Consumer Affairs, 800.973.3370

Department of Treasurer and Tax Collector, 888.807.2111

Office of the Public Guardian, 213.974.0515

Sheriff’s Department, 323.267.3435

Elder Law Committee, 213.243.1525

Department of Insurance, 800.927.4357

Dan Keding shares 30 years of stories that he inherited from his Croatian grandmother as part of the Tales by the Sea program, which is in its 10th year.

By Rachael Stillman / Special to The Malibu Times

Stories have the power to connect us, unite our thoughts and imaginations; storytellers have the power to create other storytellers and inspire active participation in a story. Dan Keding inherited his Croatian grandmother’s tales and a love for telling them at a young age and this month he shares 30 years of stories, folktales, ballads, personal stories and folk songs with Malibu’s local storytelling group, Tales by the Sea.

“My grandmother was an immigrant from Croatia,” Keding said. “She not only told stories, she taught me stories. I learned to tell stories when I was very young. I remember my grandmother would call me into the room and have me tell her friends a story. She thought stories were important. That taught me to be interested in them.”

In high school, the guitar accompanied Keding. And in college he created his own folk songs. Folk music led to ballads and ballads led him back to the stories he learned as a boy. From there he began to explore and tell other stories.

“The first time I really understood the power of the story was when I realized that my audience was thinking while I was talking,” Keding said. “People would come up to me and say that reminds me of my grandmother or grandfather or when I was a boy I used to do that. When I heard their reactions, I realized that this kind of work is important. These stories prompt people to think about themselves and their past.”

Keding spins his yarns for people of all ages and has worked at schools as both a concert artist and also in residency, doing in-depth classes for children of all ages in storytelling and folk music. Dan was inducted into the National Storytelling Network’s Circle of Excellence in 2000.

“I try to make sure the audience understands that everyone has a story to tell. I tell my stories so people will remember their own stories,” Keding said. “Storytelling is a really unique art form because it is cocreative. I give people a certain amount of information and they create the story inside their imaginations.”

In contrast to the written word or finished film, storytellers are live, spontaneous performers.

“In very few words I can make an audience understand that something is scary or something is funny by using my face, body, eyes, language or vocalization,” Keding said. “You have a face to look at, a voice to listen to or a body to watch. And I can tailor each show to the audience. In my mind, you can’t just go with a set piece, because if you do and the audience isn’t with you, you have to change. When I am performing, sometimes I will sing three or four ballads and sometimes I won’t sing at all. It all depends on the audience.”

Ann Buxie has been organizing Tales by the Sea since it started 10 years ago, and stresses the importance of storytelling and storytellers like Keding.

“Storytellers don’t ever tell the same story the same way,” Buxie said. “There is just some kind of chemistry between the presenters and the audience. Stories knit the community together. They have the power to unite us, to inspire us to listen and understand each other.”

Keding will perform on Saturday at Malibu United Methodist Church, located at 30128 Morning View Driv at 7:30pm. Tickets are $10 and include coffee and dessert at intermission. For more information, call 457.2385.