Los Angeles police are warning people to be on the lookout for scams this holiday season. The most likely targets: senior citizens.
Theda Bowen, 95, of Beverly Hills never expected to become a target in the small bungalow where she's lived on her own for years. But one day, she heard a knock at her front door.
"He said, 'I'm a plumber from next door and I need your help immediately. I have the awfullest mess and it's going to affect your property.'"
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She led him through her backyard to the alley, where he and a second man, also dressed as a plumber, told her to look at a small hole in the ground.
"He said keep your eye on this spot!"
The grandmother of seven obeyed for several minutes, as one of the men headed back to the house, entered through a window, and crept inside.
By the time she figured out what was going on, both men had vanished, along with her most treasured possessions.
"I was devastated," she said. "All my good jewelry was gone."
Scams like the one Bowen fell for are more common during the holidays, when crooks are out in search of a quick buck.
While people of all ages can be targeted, the elderly are targeted most often.
Even though senior citizens represent just 12 percent of the population, they represent 30 percent of scam victims, According to the U.S. Subcommittee on Health and Long Term Care.
Protecting older Americans from being victimized is the main focus of a unique theater program in Los Angeles.
Part of the Los Angeles Unified School District's adult education curriculum, the "Stop Senior Scams" acting troupe performs skits around town to educate the elderly about the risks.
Ranging from 60 years old to 96 years old, nearly all the actors have been victimized by one of the scams they act out on stage. Among the most common is the "distraction" scam, with which Bowen is all too familiar.
There's also the "Grandma, I'm in trouble and need money" telephone scam.
There's also the "parking lot" scam, in which a driver blames a senior driver for hitting his car, and demands cash on the spot.
"People who perform these scams rely on them being more trusting than someone who might be younger," said Los Angeles Police Officer Matthew Kirk.
There are strategies for protecting yourself this season from the most common dirty tricks:
- Never open the door for a stranger, if you're alone.
- And if someone claims you hit their car, stay in your vehicle, use your cellphone to call the police nonemergency number;
- And ask for an officer to respond in person.
- Don't make yourself vulnerable in an effort to be polite, Kirk said.
"There are people that will be out there watching," he said.