A representative from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office spoke to a group of homecare workers Saturday at a public forum hosted by Bethel New Life on how they can help seniors protect themselves from scams and identity theft.

The country’s slow economy may make senior citizens easy targets for a variety of scams, said Maureen O’Bryan, a senior citizens liaison with the state’s attorney’s office, speaking at Bethel’s Amberg Hall, 1140 N. Lamon.

O’Bryan said seniors’ trusting nature make them more susceptible to scams. Also the isolation they may feel contributes to their willingness to answer the door or take phone calls from solicitors.

Scam artists, she said, are finding creative ways to separate people, not just seniors, from their money. They are using the president’s $787 billion stimulus plan to bait seniors to give personal information.

O’Bryan explained people would call saying they’re from the federal government and ask for account information and social security numbers in order to deposit a check into an account.

“Our advice is not to do business with anyone who knocks on your door, calls you on the phone or sends you something through the mail,” O’Bryan said.

She also cautioned that seniors can be targeted by family members, not just by strangers. She noted some family members may have substance abuse problems and steal social security checks to feed their drug habits. This, O’Bryan added, puts seniors in a difficult position because they feel uneasy about filing a police report against a relative.

Additionally, many telemarketing scams against seniors go unreported because they may feel embarrassed and are “terrified of telling a family member because they may lose their independence,” she noted.

Many seniors living in the organization’s housing developments may not have immediate family, said Laurena Moore, senior director of Bethel’s Community of Elders Housing Development, so homecare providers are the first line of defense in stopping and identifying fraud against seniors.

The discussion included a safety video presentation, which showed common sense practices to avoid being a victim of a crime, especially purse snatching. O’Bryan said purse snatchings is the quickest way for identify thieves to get personal information.

She warned women to be careful of what they carry in their purses. It is not necessary to carry a medical ID card to do simple errands, O’Bryan noted. The video suggested individuals be aware of their surroundings, not take out large sums of cash at ATMs and lock doors and take keys when buying gas.

Austin resident Lillie Ellis took the discussion to heart. She said she pays more attention to her surroundings after a man followed her to work one day. She now takes a cab, but Ellis said that taught her a lesson she past on to her clients.

“Be cautious of who’s walking behind you. Always watch them,” she said.