6 Scams That Cost the Elderly

With new scams being introduced daily, it’s no wonder that the spotlight is being shone on educating the nation’s elderly. On August 21st we will observe National Senior Citizens Day, a day created to not only celebrate the senior citizens who have had a positive impact on our communities, but to bring awareness of various issues that affect senior citizens, including what's been dubbed "the crime of the 21st century.”

I’m talking about scams. According to the National Council on Aging, it’s not just wealthy seniors who are targeted. Low-income older adults are also at risk of financial abuse. And it’s not always strangers who perpetrate these crimes. More than 90% of all reported elder abuse is committed by an older person’s own family members, most often their adult children, followed by grandchildren, nieces and nephews and others.

While scams are always changing and evolving, there are some that have stuck around through the ages and they all have the same result: stealing money from one's bank account.

From the National Council on Aging, take a look at these popular scams targeting our elderly:

Funeral scams

In one approach, scammers read obituaries and call or attend the funeral service of a complete stranger to take advantage of the grieving widow or widower. Claiming the deceased had an outstanding debt with them, scammers will try to extort money from relatives to settle the fake debts.


Perhaps the most common scheme is when scammers use fake telemarketing calls to prey on older people, who as a group make twice as many purchases over the phone than the national average. While the image of the lonely senior citizen with nobody to talk to may have something to do with this, it is far more likely that older people are more familiar with shopping over the phone and therefore might not be fully aware of the risk.

With no face-to-face interaction, and no paper trail, these scams are incredibly hard to trace. Also, once a successful deal has been made, the buyer’s name is then shared with similar schemers looking for easy targets, sometimes defrauding the same person repeatedly.

Charity scams

Money is solicited for fake charities. This often occurs after natural disasters.

Internet fraud

 Pop-up browser windows simulating virus-scanning software will fool victims into either downloading a fake anti-virus program (at a substantial cost) or an actual virus that will open up whatever information is on the user’s computer to scammers.

Also, Email/phishing scams abound in which a senior receives a message that appears to be from a legitimate company or institution, asking them to “update” or “verify” their personal information, or a senior receives emails that appear to be from the IRS about a tax refund.

Sweepstakes & lottery scams

Here, scammers inform their mark that they have won a lottery or sweepstakes of some kind and need to make some sort of payment to unlock the supposed prize. Often, seniors will be sent a check that they can deposit in their bank account, knowing that while it shows up in their account immediately, it will take a few days before the (fake) check is rejected. During that time, the criminals will quickly collect money for supposed fees or taxes on the prize, which they pocket while the victim has the “prize money” removed from his or her account as soon as the check bounces.

The grandparent scam

The grandparent scam is so simple and so devious because it uses one of older adults’ most reliable assets, their hearts.

Scammers will place a call to an older person and when the mark picks up, they will say something along the lines of: “Hi Grandma, do you know who this is?” When the unsuspecting grandparent guesses the name of the grandchild the scammer most sounds like, the scammer has established a fake identity without having done a lick of background research. Once “in,” the fake grandchild will usually ask for money to solve some unexpected financial problem (overdue rent, payment for car repairs, etc.), to be paid via Western Union or MoneyGram, which don’t always require identification to collect. At the same time, the scam artist will beg the grandparent “please don’t tell my parents, they would kill me.” The scammer may also pose as relative in distress that has been arrested in another country.

So how can we educate our older citizens on these scams and keep their money in their wallet? First, I recommend sharing this article with your loved ones; knowledge is power. Remind them to never act on impulse, no matter how pressured one feels. Keeping a list of verified numbers handy would be a smart idea and report suspected scams to the police. Also, it’s not a bad idea to put the senior's phone number on the National Do Not Call registry by phoning 1 (888) 382-1222 or visiting www.donotcall.gov. This will help to limit phone calls from telemarketers.

We all want our loved ones to stay safe and protected and knowing this information is knowledge worth having!