Scam Artists Invade

Losses total $45,000 in last two months as charlatans take
advantage of elderly
Gilroy – After Juanita Schuler read in the Dispatch about a painter ripping off a 78-year-old woman down the street, she picked up the phone to call the police. The same smooth-talking painter visited her home at 7470 Carmel St., making the same big promises and delivering the same lame excuses.

Scam artists have seemingly invaded the city overnight. Gilroy residents have lost more than $45,000 to con artists in less than two months. Schuler’s paint job is the fourth reported incident.

“They were really rough, they tore up a lot of the shrubs,” she said. “They smeared on the paint … The two guys that were with him, I don’t think they ever painted a day in their life.”

The painter knocked on Schuler’s door and delivered a familiar spiel. He said his name was Dino P. Price and claimed to be from Salinas.

“I’m a painter and I’d like to give you a price,” he told Schuler. “He even claimed to be a Christian,” she said.

There is no one by that name registered with the Salinas Chamber of Commerce and the license he showed her was made out to someone else.

The Schulers paid him $3,500 in two installments – the first $500 was to purchase paints.

Price and his crew never painted the large front window or garage. The bottom of their cream colored house is stained brown from where brushes slapped against the side when they painted the porch. Their bushes lay pulled up and discarded on the deck.

“We called and called [his cell phone] and a time or two he said, ‘I’ll be back Monday,’ but we never heard from him,” she said. “My husband painted the garage [afterwards]. He’s 81 years old. He does not need to be out painting the garage.”

The Schulers are the latest to come forward in what appears to be a rash of scams and bad business practices.

Thursday afternoon a 58-year-old Gilroy woman was approached outside Wal-Mart by a woman offering her a winning lottery ticket in exchange for money.

She said she could not redeem the ticket herself because of her status as an illegal immigrant.

Initially, the victim declined the offer, but a second suspect approached, claiming to be a doctor, and offered to help the two women. Using a cell phone, he said he confirmed that the ticket was, in fact, a winner.

The victim gave the suspects $18,000 worth of jewelry as a form of collateral for the ticket.

“Most people that run scams like this are good talkers,” said Gilroy Police Sgt. Kurt Svardal. “Be very very cautious [if approached with a similar offer].”

The female suspect is described as 43 years old, with brown hair in a ponytail. The male is described as 49 years old with short brown hair.

On Oct. 17, a 67-year-old Gilroy woman was scammed out of $20,000 in a similar lottery scam. However, she could only describe the suspects as Hispanic, in their 20s or 30s and Spanish-speaking.

The youngest of the four victims is 58 years old. Con artists seem to target older individuals because they are more vulnerable.

“They come from a different time … when somebody’s handshake was like gold,” said Rick Lopes, chief of public affairs for the Contractors State License Board.

Each year, the Gilroy Senior Center and Wheeler Manor offer Crime Prevention Workshops to seniors, warning them of scams and teaching them good financial practices. Wheeler Manor holds monthly meetings with its residents where they can voice their concerns.

“On a regular basis we’re reminding them not to give out personal information over the phone,” said Senior Service Director Nolvia Nuñez. “If they’re not sure about something, we tell them to ask a son or daughter, if possible.”

Currently investigators are looking into the recent paint scams.

But in the meantime, Lopes offered advice to consumers.

“Only hire a reputable contractor,” he said. “It’s not going to guarantee you don’t have any problems, but there’s no way of knowing that these people know what they’re doing if they don’t have a license,” he said.

Always get a licensing number or check by name with an agency such as the Contractors State Licensing Board. Ask to see photo identification as well.

“Never pay more than 10 percent or $1,000, whichever is less, up front,” Lopes said.

He also suggested that people request three references from past clients and ask to go see the work. If a contractor asks for money to buy supplies in the beginning – be wary.

“That should be a real sign to you that they don’t have good credit,” Lopes said. “Your money is the only leverage you have. You never want to let your payment get ahead of the work.”

According to Lopes, never make the final payment until you are satisfied and always leave a paper trail.

Stay informed

• California State License Board: Anyone with complaints can send them to the Sacramento SWIFT Unit, P.O. Box 269117, Sacramento, CA 95836-9117, call (916) 255-2924, FAX (916) 369-7265 or visit http://www.cslb.ca.gov.

• Better Business Bureau for Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties: 278-7400, Monday-Friday, or 278-7400 for 24-hour voice response system or visit the Web site at www.BBBsilicon.org.

• Senior Adult Legal Assistance, Gilroy: 847-7252.

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