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Double check when getting an estimate

Don't be duped by people using pressure to pick your pocket

Beyond large-scale thefts from seniors, they're being targeted by everyone from unscrupulous mechanics to contractors to people selling fraudulent health insurance policies.

State officials say mechanics may claim a car is unsafe to push for costly, unneeded repairs. They advise getting an estimate in writing and seeking a second opinion unless the car is unable to be driven because of a flat tire, overheated engine or brake failure.

"Don't feel pressured to make decision. You can always get a second opinion on a repair," said Joaquin Murphy with the state's Bureau of Automotive Repair. He said people should check to see if the repair shop has a current registration, which is required to be posted on a wall of the shop.

"They're entitled to their old parts, if they request them," prior to signing for repair work to be done, Murphy said.

If there's a problem or a complaint, he said, "We encourage consumers to have a conversation with the managing personnel in the shop, that's the first place to stop."

When it comes time to buy, state officials warn that some dealers may use bait-and-switch tactics, advertising a car they claim has been sold when a would-be customer arrives. Focus on the total price, not the payments, when buying and be prepared to walk away if pressured.

Unlicensed contractors may offer to do a job offering leftover materials from a nearby job. Check to see that the license number is available – they're usually on the business card of a legitimate contractor – and get any estimate in writing. State law prohibits anyone from doing a contracting job of $500 or more without a license.

"There are contractors who are not licensed who try to talk people into giving money before they do work," said State Senator Ellen Corbett (D-Oakland) who recently held a senior-scam-stopper event at the Pleasanton Senior Center.

If you're switching doctors, give him or her a checkup before you get yours. Contact the California Department of Consumer Affairs at (800) 952-5210.

And federal officials say to beware of unsubstantiated claims of miracle breakthroughs, supplements or devices that prevent, treat, or cure diseases or other health conditions. Free trial offers often come with hefty shipping fees and can land an unwary consumer on monthly refills at full price.

Those miracle cures can also delay someone from seeking medical treatment from a real doctor who can tell if a problem is serious or not and interfere with medicines someone is already taking. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has tips on its website.

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