Elderly Scams: Who They Target, Common Scams, & How to Protect Yourself
They’re the kind of news stories that make you cringe. You get shivers up your spine, goosebumps down your arms, and you feel the urge to call your Mum or Dad.
Elderly scams. You don’t want to believe there are people out there that could stoop so low, but there are.
It’s an issue that’s close to our hearts at Senior Services of America. This is why we want to share the top eight elderly scams to be aware of and how you can protect yourself or your loved one from becoming a victim.
Table of Contents
Who Do Elderly Scam Artists Target?
Scams targeting elderly persons have become so commonplace that we hear news stories about them almost daily. In 2020, the elderly lost nearly 4.1 billion dollars to scam artists, whether it was:
Over the phone
Scammers typically target seniors who are:
Grieving a spouse; or
Suffering from disabilities or illness
Why are the elderly being targeted? Our seniors tend to be trusting, polite, and kind. They may own their home and have savings, which makes them especially appealing to scammers.
Sadly, many seniors don’t report the scams committed against them because they’re either embarrassed or worried that family members will lose confidence in their ability to manage their finances.
The problem isn’t new, and it’s not going away anytime soon. The best thing we can do for ourselves and our loved ones is stay educated on elderly scams and how to spot them.
8 of the Most Common Scams Targeting Elderly Individuals
It’s becoming increasingly important to stay abreast of the latest scams. As technology changes rapidly, seniors are at risk of being targeted now more than ever.
Senior Services of America understands that elderly scams can happen to anyone. We are dedicated to protecting our residents and believe that education and information can truly save our seniors from falling victim to elder fraud.
These are the top eight scams happening right now.
#1: Health Insurance/Health Care Scams
Because every U.S. citizen or legal resident over the age of 65 qualifies for Medicare, it’s easy for scam artists to know exactly what to say when trying to scam the elderly into providing their personal information.
In this scam, the perpetrator poses as a representative of Medicare and calls the victim to tell them there may be something wrong with their account. They will ask for personal identification information and possibly banking information as well.
They may also claim to provide “services” or set up makeshift clinics where they’ll bill Medicare but pocket the cash.
Most of these scams follow the latest in medical research, such as COVID-19 vaccines, making them appear more legitimate.
#2: Romance Schemes
Online dating is the new norm, even with seniors, which means scammers are quick to take advantage of lonely widows.
These romance scammers will create elaborate fake profiles on dating sites and social media, using them to exploit seniors.
The scammer will often pretend to be …
Overseas and needing money for Visa or travel expenses, or
On the other side of the country and requesting money for emergency medical services
… with the promise to meet once they’re medically well enough.
These scammers are in it for the long haul. They spend months building trust, and as a result, seniors lost close to $84 million to romance schemes in 2019.
#3: Tech Support Scams
Tech support scams take advantage of the elderly’s lack of knowledge about cybersecurity and computers.
One of the most common tech support scams involves a pop-up message that alerts the user that their device is compromised and needs to be repaired. A “support” phone number is provided, and when you call, the scammer will either ask for a fee to repair the issue or request remote access to your computer.
The average loss is $500 per pop-up.
#4: ‘Grandparent’ Scams
The grandparent scam is especially sad because it preys on the elderly’s love for their family.
It works one of two ways:
The scammer calls and asks the senior if they know who’s calling. When the senior tries to match the voice to whoever it sounds closest to, the scammer immediately establishes a false identity without doing any background research. The scammer will then proceed to ask the ‘grandparent’ for money to help solve immediate financial troubles, such as rent or a car payment. They’ll also ask the ‘grandparent’ not to tell their parents for fear of embarrassment.
The scammer calls on behalf of the ‘grandchild’ and urgently informs the ‘grandparent’ that their grandchild is in trouble and needs money for an emergency, such as bail to get out of jail.
Because the scammer is asking for instant money transfers or gift cards, it can be difficult to trace.
#5: Sweepstakes or Charity Scams
Preying on the goodwill of the elderly, charity scammers will use a name similar to a legitimate charity.
They may reference current events, such as natural disasters or victims of war, to make it appear more legitimate.
These scammers are very persuasive and may insist on an immediate transfer of money, telling the senior that the charity will match their donation.
Sweepstakes are another common elderly scam. They claim you’ve won big, but you have to pay a fee, tax, or duty charge to claim your prize.
#6: Social Security Scams
Government imposters are among the most common elderly scams. The scammer will call unsuspecting victims, claiming to be from Social Security, and threaten to cut off benefits if you don’t provide personal identification information.
They also commonly claim to be from the IRS, claiming unpaid taxes and threatening arrest if they’re not paid immediately.
Government imposters are well known for using a Washington, D.C. area code, or a fake 1-800 number to appear legitimate.
An important note: Social Security — or the government — will never call you requesting your information.
#7: Peer-to-Peer Payment Scams
Many payment apps, such as Venmo, Zelle, and PayPal, have led to a variety of different scams. While the apps themselves are generally safe, scammers are using them to set up accidental transfers in the amount of hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
Here’s how it works:
The scammer will send thousands of dollars through a payment app and then immediately send a follow-up email explaining that the transfer was a mistake and ask to have the money sent back. However, the original transfer was made using a stolen debit card which means the funds will eventually come out of your account and you’ll be out the money.
#8: Phishing Emails or Texts
Phishing emails and texts look like they come from a trusted company, such as a bank or an online store. These emails may:
Request personal information
Prompt you to follow a log-in link to verify your account; or
Ask you to update your payment information
Providing them with the above-mentioned allows them to steal your personal and financial information.
What Do I Do if My Elderly Parent Is Being Scammed?
According to the FBI:
“If you believe you or someone you know may have been a victim of elder fraud, contact your local FBI field office or submit a tip online. You can also file a complaint with the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center. You are also encouraged to keep original documentation, emails, faxes, and logs of all communications.”
Anytime you report a scam, no matter the dollar amount, you’ll want to have as many details handy as possible, such as:
Name or the person or company
Method of communication
Any phone numbers, emails, websites, etc. used by the scammer
Method of payment
Where the funds were sent
Instructions given to you by the scammer
How Do I Report an Elderly Scam?
To report elder scams, you can contact the National Elder Fraud Hotline at 833-372-8311, Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
You can also contact legal services and Adult Protective Services if warranted. To find your local offices, visit the Eldercare Locator or call them toll-free at 1-800-677-1116, Monday to Friday, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET.
3 Ways to Prevent Scams on Elderly Individuals
#1: Be Aware of Which Organizations Will Never Reach Out to You Through Technology
Legitimate organizations will never reach you through technology to request personal information, passwords, or payment updates.
If you, or your loved one, receives a phishing email or text from any of the following organizations requesting personal information, do not respond. It’s always better to call the customer service hotline on the back of the card or the official website to verify any potential account issues with the following agencies:
Government entities (IRS, Social Security, Medicare, etc.)
Credit cards and banks
Payment apps (PayPal, Venmo, Zelle, etc.)
Cell phone or computer service providers (Apple, Microsoft, Verizon, etc.)
Ecommerce or online shopping sites (Amazon, Alibaba, etc.)
Charitable organizations (World Vision, WWF, UNICEF, etc.)
If you receive an email from any company requesting access to your personal information:
Do not reply
Do not click on links or images; and
Do not open attachments
#2: Stop and Think — Don’t Act Immediately! Talk With a Trustworthy Loved One or Caregiver
Scammers are famous for making every email or phone call seem like an urgent matter. They are masters at putting on the pressure and using scare tactics.
A legitimate company would never do this.
So, before you act, stop and think. And if you have any doubt, let the caller know you’ll call back on the customer service number provided by the company (not the caller!) to verify.
If you’re being harassed by phone, email, or text, speak to a family member and don’t hesitate to report any suspicious activity.
#3: Set Up Services to Block or Silence Potential Scam Phone Calls, Emails, and Texts
Multiple services exist that will help to filter out scam emails or phone calls. For example:
FCC - The Federal Communications Commission is dedicated to helping consumers filter unwanted phone calls and texts.
Spam filters - Many companies provide spam blocking services that can be added to any computer.
If your loved one is living alone, in assisted living, or even at home with you, we recommend setting up these services to help protect them from potential fraud.
Senior Services of America: Communities Committed to Keeping Our Elderly Residents Educated and Protected Against Elderly Scams
Senior Services of America is dedicated to keeping our communities safe from the potential threat of elderly scams.
With the rising number of scams on elderly citizens each year, we are committed to providing our residents with the most up-to-date information about elderly scams.
To find out more, find your nearest community to speak to an advisor.