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Aging and Adult Services: Protection


Senior Scams
How to protect yourself from fraud and resources for victims

An infographic describing common scams affecting San Mateo County seniors.

Did you know that a recent report from TrueLink Financial revealed that seniors lose almost $13 billion dollars a year to financial fraud? Much of this comes from cons, scams and identity theft. 

San Mateo County wants to help you protect your money from fraudsters! Explore this page to learn more about common scams and resources for victims.

If you suspect someone you love is being abused, financially exploited or neglected, please call San Mateo County’s TIES Line at 1-800-675-8437 to speak to a trained counselor 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All calls are confidential.

Common Scams

Technology Scams

One of the most popular scams affecting seniors in San Mateo County involves fraudsters acting as computer techs reaching out to consumers claiming that their devices are infected with viruses – and for a small fee paid immediately, the fraudsters can remove those viruses.

Most commonly, the fraudsters reach out to consumers by calling them over the telephone, but sometimes, this scam involves a pop-up window when surfing the internet or an email from a sender that looks trustworthy.

  • If you are in receipt of an urgent phone call about removal of a virus on your computer, do not believe them! Do not share any personal information with the caller, including your social security number, credit card number or checking account number. Be wary if the “computer tech” wants payment via a wiring service (like Western Union or Moneygram) or through the purchase of gift cards (usually Apple Music/iTunes or
  • If you receive a pop-up message on your computer, ignore the message and close the browser if you can. Be sure to run your antivirus software.
  • If you receive an email, do not click on any links embedded in the email and delete it immediately.
  • Reach out to law enforcement or Adult Protective Services (1-800-675-8437) if you have been a victim of this scam.

Government Representative Scams

Another common scam affecting San Mateo County’s seniors involves fraudsters posing as representatives of legitimate government agencies or business entities, and asking for outstanding  fees or payments to be paid immediately.

These scammers commonly represent themselves as employees of government agencies like the Internal Revenue Service, Social Security Administration, immigration services, or the local county courts. There have been other cases when the fraudsters have claimed associations with local utility companies or other well-known businesses.

  • It is a scam if the person on the other end of the phone asks you to pay a fee or bill via credit card, gift card or money wire urgently in order to resolve an outstanding debt.
  • Do not answer the phone unless you know who is on the other line.
  • Be suspicious if a person reaches out to you via a phone call claiming that they are conducting government business on behalf of a federal agency – these entities will frequently reach out via a letter from the United States Postal Service or other legitimate mail delivery service.
  • A legitimate government agency will never ask you to make a payment immediately via a gift card or money wire. Hang up on these calls immediately.
  • Reach out to law enforcement or Adult Protective Services (1-800-675-8437) if you have been a victim of this scam.

Grandparent Scam

A popular scam often attempted on San Mateo County’s seniors involves contact from a person claiming to be a younger relative who is stuck abroad and needs money immediately in order to get home. Often referred to as the “grandparent scam” or the “stuck abroad” scam, seniors are contacted via phone, email or social media from a loved one claiming to be in jail in a foreign country (and in need of bail money), or recently robbed of their wallets and personal items or otherwise unable to access funds (and in need of money to travel home).

They ask the senior to wire money or buy gift cards in large amounts in order to help them get home.

It is scary whenever someone claims a loved one is danger – and that is exactly why this scam is so successful. Our first instinct is often to send money immediately in order to help our relative, friend or loved one.

  • If you receive a phone call, social media message or email, stop and breathe for a moment.
  • Do not make available any of your personal information to the caller, including credit card number, checking account number or social security number.
  • Be very suspicious if the person on the other end of the phone immediately asks you for money or if they do not identify themselves by name (for example, calling themselves “your grandson” vs. “William”).
  • Make contact with your relative as soon as possible or reach out to another relative to straighten out facts.
  • If you feel a threat persists, call the police.
  • Reach out to law enforcement or Adult Protective Services (1-800-675-8437) if you have been a victim of this scam.

Charity Scams

In light of recent natural disasters, there have been a flood of donations to help the victims. Unfortunately, scammers have also been trying to take advantage of good people who want to assist in recovery efforts.

  • Do your research before donating to any organization that claims to assist victims of natural disasters by checking them out on reputable charity watchdog sites like Charity Navigator or GuideStar.
  • Do not donate to any organization that reaches out to you first via social media, email, a phone call or mail.
  • Be wary of fundraising via crowd funding websites because it is difficult to ensure that the money goes to the named charity or person in need.
  • Reach out to law enforcement or Adult Protective Services (1-800-675-8437) if you have been a victim of this scam.


Stop Telemarketers

Some solicitation calls are more a nuisance than an attempted theft or scam. Here are some ways to stop junk calls.

(Note: Many scams are conducted via telephone conversations with seniors. Scammers are trained in using the right language so that they come off as trusting and knowledgeable. These tips help with solicitors calling on behalf of legitimate business entities.)

  • The best way to stop telemarketing calls is to not answer the phone.
  • Let any phone calls from blocked or unidentified numbers roll to voicemail. If the message is from someone you know, call them back at the phone number you know you can reach them.
  • Make sure all of your phone numbers (landline, cell phone, business line, fax line, etc.) are registered on the Do Not Call List administered by the Federal Trade Commission.
  • Hang up on anybody that claims to be from a government entity and asks you pay a fee or debt immediately.
  • Hang up on anybody who claims that you have won a lottery prize or sweepstakes, or asks for a charitable contribution.
  • For more information on telemarketing fraud, please visit the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ Telemarketing Fraud Safety Page.

AARP Fraud Watch Network

This arm of the legendary AARP provides information on steps that you can take to protect yourself from fraudsters, while keeping you notified about scams happening in your backyard courtesy of their Scam-Tracking Map. Additionally, AARP’s Fraud Watch Helpline (877-908-3360) is available for seniors who have questions about potential scams, and provide advice if you have been victimized.

Check them out at this link and sign up for their Watchdog Alerts via email to learn about the latest in scam prevention strategies.

US Senate Special Committee on Aging Hotline

Did you know that the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging has a fraud hotline where you can report if you or a loved one has been a victim of fraud?

Call 1-855-303-9470 to talk to their staff of trained investigators weekdays from 9am to 5pm Eastern Standard Time. You can also make a report online via this online form.

Every year, the Senate Committee on Aging releases a report of the top 10 scams targeting seniors. You can read this year’s version online here.

Senior Scam Newsletter

Click on the monthly newsletters below for information about scams in from the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County:

Safety Highlight: Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week

The Federal Trade Commission has designated January 29-February 2, 2018 as Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job.

Here are some tips to prevent yourself from becoming a victim of tax-related identity theft: 

  • Always protect your Social Security number or Medicare card number: don’t give it out unless you have to, and always ask why it’s needed, how it’s going to be used, and how it will be stored.
  • Shred old taxes returns you’re no longer required to keep, as well as draft returns, extra copies, and calculation sheets.
  • Ask for recommendations and research tax preparers before you turn your personal information over to them. 
  • ​If you’re a victim of identity theft, visit to report it and get a personal recovery plan.

For more information on tax identity theft, please visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website.

If you have been a victim of a scam, please call San Mateo County’s Adult Protective Services at 1-800-675-8437 or your local law enforcement.

Safety Highlight: Be Aware of Romance Scams

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, we are excerpting a recent article from our friends at the FBI about romance scams. Here are some tips to prevent yourself or a loved one from becoming a victim of a romance scam: 

“To stay safe online, be careful what you post, because scammers can use that information against you. Always use reputable websites, but assume that con artists are trolling even the most reputable dating and social media sites. If you develop a romantic relationship with someone you meet online, consider the following:

  • Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the material has been used elsewhere.
  • Go slow and ask lots of questions.
  • Beware if the individual seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or Facebook to go “offline.”
  • Beware if the individual attempts to isolate you from friends and family or requests inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used to extort you.
  • Beware if the individual promises to meet in person but then always comes up with an excuse why he or she can’t. If you haven’t met the person after a few months, for whatever reason, you have good reason to be suspicious.
  • Never send money to anyone you don’t know personally. “If you don’t know them, don’t send money,” Beining said. “You will see what their true intentions are after that.”

If you have been a victim of a scam, please call San Mateo County’s Adult Protective Services at 1-800-675-8437 or your local law enforcement.

General information

Public Administrator

Public Administrator

Losing a loved one is never easy. The San Mateo County Public Administrator is here to help ensure the process after someone passes is managed with dignity, respect, and trust.

There are many decisions to make after someone in your life passes away. The San Mateo County Public Administrator is an option to help manage the process and give you peace of mind during a difficult time.

Referral Line: (650) 573-3475
Information and Inquiry Line: (650) 573-2736
Fax: (650) 573-2310
General information

Public Guardian

The Public Guardian/Public Conservatorship program serves frail elderly adults and adults with physical or mental disabilities which result in their being unable to provide for their needs for health care, food, clothing or shelter and/or unable to manage their own finances or resist fraud or undue influence. The Superior Court makes the decision to provide conservatorship for such adults.

General information

Fight Falls

Falls are the top cause of injury, hospital visits, and death from injury for people 65 and older. In fact, 1 in 3 people 65 and older fall each year. But falls don’t have to be an inevitable part of getting older. Learn more about how you can prevent falls.

Home Safety

It’s important to make your home safer to reduce your chances of falling. 

General information

How Much Is Too Much?

For most people, the junk mail and belongings that clog the mailbox and pile up around the house are simply annoying – something to go through and throw away when there’s time. But for others, excessive clutter and hoarding can harm a person’s health, family, and social life. Help is available.