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The Most Popular Scams Targeting the Elderly (and Prevention Tips)

Although people of any age can be taken advantage of by thieves and scammers, research shows that people over the age of 60 are among the most vulnerable; people over 80 are at even higher risk for financial exploitation, according to Consumer Affairs.

Check out these statistics:

Older people lose more than $3 billion each year to scammers.

An estimated 3.5 million older adults are victims of such crimes annually.

An average loss of $34,200 is typical for seniors targeted by scammers.

Money scams can take many forms: Medicare scams, romance scams, charity scams, imposter scams, postal scams, and much more.

One Story of Fraud Against the Elderly

For every dollar taken from a person over age 65, there is an altered life, perhaps one with less independence and confidence than before.

“My Mom lost $4,800 last year to a scammer,” said Ayesha Prakash. “It’s been really hard. It’s not just the money loss, though nearly $5,000 was a lot to lose, but she is feeling so helpless and stupid at the same time.”

The speed with which the scammers worked to extract the money from Mrs. Prakash’s 63-year old mother is as alarming as the crime itself. Mrs. Prakash’s mother lives with her 89-year old mother and Mrs. Prakash’s father passed away three years ago. The scammer called and kept her on the phone for about four hours, and although her adult children were calling, she did not answer their calls as she left the house to wire the money and stayed on her cell phone with the thieves.

How the Scammers Did It

“They told her that her husband had owed the IRS like $4,000 and that if she told anyone she would go to jail,” Mrs. Prakash explained. “Although my Mom is a U.S. citizen, she comes from India and in India if you owe someone money then it’s bad for your name. She was scared.”

Her mother went to a money wiring location and, as instructed, sent the money in split payments to specific names and the thieves had it instantly before any of the family knew.

Elderly Scams and More

Fraud may be perpetrated by strangers (51% of the time) or someone close to the victim (34% of cases) and women are nearly twice as likely to be victims and men are more likely to be the perpetrators, a MetLife study found.

There are many insidious methods used by fraudsters to pry money from people’s personal accounts: they may pretend to be the IRS and reach them through email or by phone only, they may pretend to be a family member, they may pretend to be a lonely heart who they connect with only by email and phone, they may pretend that someone won a prize and just needs to provide their credit card number or social security number to claim it, and many, many other ways. Sadly, these people are often preying on loneliness. Elder law attorney William J. Brisk, explains that even people who buy something from a TV commercial can be persuaded to keep spending thanks to a simple phone call. He explained, “They might call and say, ‘Are those slippers as comfortable as they said they are?’ This might be the most personable contact they have had in a week!” Loneliness is a major problem for older people who are living alone after the death of a spouse or other life changes. Scammers take advantage of these feelings to frighten people and give them a feeling of connection to others.

How to Stop Senior Scams

Can you scamproof your loved ones? How does one talk to their elderly aunt or frail father about the fact that they could be taken advantage of without hurting their feelings?

Mr. Brisk first recommends developing an awareness as to who is most at risk to be targeted and suckered into a scam. “Be concerned about people who are homebound, who don’t have an active social life, who might be hoarders,” he said.

Unfortunately, even if someone thinks they have been scammed, they don’t want to admit it to anyone. “They think they might be put under some supervision and have their freedom taken away,” he said. “You have to be very careful about how you broach the subject.”

First, he recommends someone trustworthy who can overlook finances periodically. Second, share a story about someone you know or read about who was scammed and explain facts like how the IRS never calls or emails people. Click here to read the IRS warning on tax scams to taxpayers.

If you or a your loved one does get scammed out of some money, Mr. Brisk suggest contacting your state attorney general’s office to find out what their protection against scams is. “Here in Massachusetts, they have been able to recoup stolen money from scammers,” he said.

Prevention—through open conversation, planning, and research—can go a long way to protecting your family from a financial scam.

Scams During Tragedies

Tragedy doesn’t just bring out the best in people and scammers are hard at work trying to take advantage of others when there is upheaval such as the COVID-19 pandemic, a significant and damaging storm, flood, or fire event,

A scammer is a modern-day thief, whose one goal is to separate a person from their money by either selling a phony product or gaining access to financial accounts. Unfortunately, seniors are not only vulnerable to scammers, they are often the most at risk for illness or other challenges during a tragedy. When people respected stay-at-home and distancing guidelines during the global pandemic, it left many older loved ones susceptible to scams during their isolation.

Some of the common scams that circulated as people sheltered in place to avoid spreading illness included:

1. Products that offered to cure COVID-19 such as air filters for the home.

2. As government stimulus funds were distributed, there was an uptick in scams related to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The IRS warned people to ignore calls, emails or texts purporting to be from their office asking for personal information. For example, note that a scammer will use the terms “stimulus check” or “stimulus payment” but the official term is “economic impact payment.”

3. Although the Social Security Administration (SSA) offices were closed, scammers preyed on people’s fears that their money wouldn’t come and called asking for personal information.

4. Calls from a charity related to the coronavirus, that could be fake. These scams might come in the form of a phone call pretending to follow up on a pledge you can’t remember making or be a nonexistent charitable organization.

5. People who are not online are at risk for leaflets and flyers and people knocking at the door offering sales of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), which once ordered never arrives, or mysterious “decontamination” services for the home, and more.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has this advice to avoid being scammed:

1. Do not respond to texts, emails, or phone calls about checks from the government.

2. Ignore any offers for cures or at-home tests for the coronavirus.

3. Beware of any emails that appear to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO) as these could be “phishing” scams to gain access to bank and other private details. For additional tips on how to report a scam, visit the FTC website or the IRS website. Or, contact your loved one by phone and provide them the local non-emergency number for the police so that they can report anyone suspicious.

Home Care and Stopping Scams

It might seem counter-intuitive: you invite a stranger into your home to keep you secure and safe from other strangers. The first time a professional caregiver comes to the home, they are a stranger to the person who needs in-home care and their family. Yet over time there is potential to become a trusted helper, who has already passed background checks, and can potentially intercept thieves and scammers who try to contact a vulnerable senior by phone, traditional mail, email or at their front door.

Scams tend to increase around the holidays when people might be in a generous mood and are generally busy and distracted.


Some people are more susceptible to scams than others. Does this sound like someone you know?

· Living alone

· Has a desire to be helpful

· Is afraid to report a crime

· Relies on a nest egg

· Going through significant life changes (such as the death of a spouse)

· Tends to be very trusting

Chances are that you cannot change any of these characteristics, so the best solution is to be aware of the most common scams and educate your loved ones and any caregivers they rely on as to how to react if they are targeted.


Remarkably, many scams are just tried over and over again with new twists and often an experienced caregiver is aware of them so can intervene. These are some of the most common scams, according to many expert sources:

1. The Grandparent Scam or Imposter Scam. A person calls pretending to be a grandchild who has been in an accident and needs financial assistance immediately to be sent via mail, wire transfer or gift cards. Sometimes the caller will ask the senior to “guess” which one of their grandchildren is calling, therefore eliciting a name to use in the scam. The caller will beg the senior not to tell anyone else in the family. The right thing to do is

ask to call them back from a number you know is correct, then contact other family to verify this story. If it is a scam, report it.

2. Sweepstakes Scam. Yes, it’s too good to be true! Someone calls or emails and says that the senior has won a prize and needs to claim it by paying a fee. This may also be “lottery scams” in which someone is told they have won lottery money. Know that you have to enter to win any prize so always be skeptical of a random prize. Also, never provide any financial information over the phone or email when being told that you need to do that to collect the prize.

3. Fake Charity Scam. Giving is good, but scammers prey on the holiday spirit and create phony charities. Before making a donation, verify that this is a real organization by going to the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance or CharityWatch to find the one asking for money.

4. Shopping Scam. The holidays are a time for deals, but there can be fraudulent deals out there from dummy gift cards to fake discount apps. Engaging with these scams can lead to simply losing the money spent or leaving access to financial accounts open. Never provide financial or personal information to someone on the phone or click on suspicious links.

5. Bogus church donation scam. Seniors might receive an email, text or phone call from someone pretending to be a local pastor, rabbi, or bishop who is asking for gift cards. It can get complicated with a request for the person to buy a gift card, then give the scammer the card and PIN number which they use to remove the funds.

How to Help Fight Scams

A caregiver in the home can be one line of defense against scammers as they may have received training about the latest information on scams or question someone who calls or comes to the front door. This will help the person receiving care seem less alone, less vulnerable and possibly make them less of a target to thieves.

The AARP Foundation ElderWatch program has a hotline at 1-800-222-4444, ext. 2, to report fraud. If you suspect a scam, contact the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-382-4357 or online.

What to Do If An Elderly Loved One Has Been Scammed

Consumer Affairs has tips for people who have been scammed or for those who support someone who has been the victim of a scam.

Once the complaint has been filed, contact the bank or credit card company to report this and see if payments can be stopped or reversed. They note that it is harder to get funds back if they were “given” in gift cards or via wire transfer.

Also, the fraudsters may try again so be sure to report even attempts of a similar scam. Add your phone number to a national Do Not Call Registry as way to block these calls.

The Federal Trade Commission found that seniors are 94% more likely to report a fraud attempt if they did not lose any money. Since 2010, there has been a 221% in reported fraud cases, though it’s unclear if people are becoming more comfortable with reporting it or if there are significantly more incidents occurring. Seniors may be ashamed of being scammed and that being a victim may indicate to family that they cannot care for themselves any

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