12 Scams Targeting Seniors & How To Protect Your Loved Ones

February 15, 2024


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    Understanding Senior Scams and Their Impact

    Senior scams are a type of fraud that aims to exploit elders for monetary gain. In a survey of 2,000 senior Americans active on social media, 33% said they fell for online or phone scams, losing an average of $2,700 each [*].

    In the same survey, 67% felt that they are stigmatized for being easily duped by misinformation. Below are some of the most common senior scams and ways to avoid falling for them.

    The 12 Most Common Scams Targeting Seniors Today

    Adults over the age of 60 comprise the age group most susceptible to fraud, losing just over $3 billion last year alone [*]. Scammers specifically target older people for several reasons. They’re often not tech-savvy and may have cognitive or physical impairments that affect their judgment.

    Add to this fact that seniors often have considerable assets and life savings, and it’s clear why they’re prime targets. Common types of scams that target seniors include:

    1. Elder financial abuse
    2. Romance scams
    3. Tech support scams
    4. Government impersonation
    5. Sweepstakes or lottery scams
    6. Veteran scams
    7. Charity scams
    8. Caregiver scams
    9. Home repair scams
    10. Bereavement scams
    11. Grandparent scams
    12. Illegal robocalls

    1. Elder financial abuse

    Earlier this year, a California man embezzled over $2 million in assets and property from an elderly victim’s estate [*].

    Such scams often begin with a benign offer to “assist” with managing the senior’s estate and finances. Once scammers have access, they can initiate fraudulent wire transfers or even drain the victim’s bank accounts.

    How to avoid elder financial abuse:

    • Add a trusted contact to your financial accounts. A trusted contact is someone you give your bank permission to reach if unusual activity is detected on your accounts and the bank can't get in touch with you.
    • Plan ahead to protect your assets. Consult with a financial advisor or lawyer to go over your estate plans. You might consider appointing a financial power of attorney to make financial decisions for you if you're unable to do so yourself.

    2. Romance scams

    Romance scams involve a scammer creating a fake persona on social media or dating apps. These con artists painstakingly build trust over time only to contrive a crisis in which they need urgent money from their victims. Should the victim comply with money, gift cards, or cryptocurrency, the scammer vanishes.

    How to avoid romance scams:

    • Limit what you share online. Scammers wield any information that you share with them to target you more effectively. Avoid giving out personal and financial information to someone you just met online.
    • Take things slowly and listen to your gut. If a new relationship progresses too quickly or the other person seems excessively committed early on, it's likely a scam.
    • Avoid sending money. If someone you've just met online insists that you send them money, that's a clear red flag to end communication. 

    3. Tech support scams

    Tech support scammers pose as customer support representatives from well-known or sometimes entirely made-up tech companies. Usually, they claim that your device is infected with a virus, then trick you into relinquishing remote access to your computer.

    Some tech support scams may charge you for invented services that are never delivered. Others use strategically-placed pop-ups that infect your device with malware should you click on them.

    How to avoid tech support scams:

    • Be wary of any tech company that initiates unsolicited contact. If you get an unexpected phone call from a company claiming that there’s a problem with your computer, hang up.
    • Avoid clicking on pop-ups. Ignore website pop-ups that claim your device is infected or promise to "speed up" your device. These are often decoys designed to make you accidentally download malware.
    • Install antivirus software. Antivirus software scans your files and downloads for malware, and blocks it from infecting your devices.

    🛟 Related: 5 Important Online Safety Tips For Seniors

    4. Government impersonation

    In a government imposter scam, cybercriminals call you claiming to be from a well-known government agency such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Social Security Administration (SSA), or Medicare.

    In one Milwaukee woman’s case, a scammer claimed to be an FBI agent who convinced her that there was a warrant out for her arrest [*].

    The man insisted that the only way to protect her money from the government was to secretly wire it to him in Hong Kong — the victim devastatingly lost half of her life savings to the scheme.

    Believing that she was left with no choice, she emptied her retirement and 401(k) accounts and sent the scammer $38,500.

    How to avoid government impersonation scams:

    • Hang up and call the agency’s official phone number. Visit its website, or ask a person you trust to get you legitimate contact information.
    • Don’t give out any sensitive data. Legitimate government agencies will never ask for personal information, let alone wire transfers.

    🛟 Related: Census Scams: How To Identify 8 Latest Fraud Types

    5. Sweepstakes or lottery scams

    In this elder scam, fraudsters notify a senior victim that they’ve won a sweepstakes or lottery. 

    In order to receive the money, victims may be asked to verify their identities or bank account details. Sometimes, the scammer requests money upfront for fake fees and taxes linked to a supposed prize.

    How to avoid sweepstakes and lottery scams:

    • Don’t agree to “verify” the prize. If you’re asked to verify personal information such as banking details or your Social Security Number (SSN) before someone can release your prize money, it’s likely a scam.
    • Be suspicious if you’re pressured to keep your win a secret. This is a glaring warning sign of a lottery scam. Scammers use this approach to discourage you from telling friends or family members who might question the legitimacy of the purported win.

    6. Veteran scams

    This type of fraud only targets elders who have served in the military. Most recently, the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act — or PACT Act — left veterans vulnerable to new scams [*]. One in 10 veterans was approached by someone offering to assist with enrollment in these healthcare benefits.

    How to avoid veteran scams:

    • Don’t believe anyone who tries to make you pay for earned benefits. The same is true for anyone who tries to make you pay a fee for access to your military records; this is a free service.
    • See if the individual or organization is listed in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). You can complete an accreditation search with the VA to check if the people you’re talking to are, in fact, who they say they are.

    🛟 Related: What To Do If Your Phone Is Stolen or Lost

    7. Charity scams

    Charity scams solicit donations, ostensibly for a legitimate charity, only to be siphoned by a scammer. These scams exploit people's goodwill and desire to help, proving to be alarmingly effective.

    A man in Utah targeted senior citizens with robocalls, asking for donations for supposed veterans' charities. In truth, he swindled over $500,000, falsely claiming the money would go toward helping senior veterans [*].

    How to avoid charity scams:

    • Confirm that the charity appears on official sites. If the charity in question doesn’t appear on sites such as Charity Navigator or the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, it’s likely a sham.
    • Do a Google search of the charity’s “name + fraud/scam/complaint.” Scammers often use the same or similar-sounding fake charity names. When you search for the charity name, any evidence of fraud is immediate cause for concern.

    8. Caregiver scams

    Caregiver scams are a subset of elder financial abuse that can happen at a residential care facility or with an in-home caregiver.

    The scam could also extend to misappropriating Social Security or veterans' benefits funds. Scammers may steal money, valuable items, or in severe instances, trick the victim into transferring ownership of assets.

    How to avoid caregiver scams:

    • Create an inventory list. Before you begin working with a new caregiver, it’s a good idea to catalog all of your valuables (and their locations) in an inventory list.
    • Monitor your financial accounts. Regularly review your bank and other accounts for unusual activity or transactions. You might consider keeping your cash and debit or credit cards out of sight when a caregiver is present.
    • Install security cameras. Indoor cameras that capture both audio and video can help you easily detect theft. However, be aware that some jurisdictions have laws requiring you to inform caregivers that they are being recorded.

    🛟 Related: Someone Is Using My Home Address Fraudulently. What Do I Do?

    9. Home repair scams

    Home repair scams commonly start when a contractor unexpectedly shows up at your door. They extend their services, claiming that your house is in immediate need of emergency repairs.

    Using this very tactic, a woodchucking scammer managed to steal $200,000 from an elderly couple in May this year [*]. After you've paid the so-called contractors, they vanish with your money, leaving the promised work undone.

    How to avoid home repair scams:

    • Check reviews and/or ask for references. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is a good place to start. You should also ask contractors for proof that they’re licensed and insured.
    • Obtain a written contract. Make sure to have a contract in place before any work starts, and consult an attorney to review any sections that are unclear to you.
    • Pay with a credit card or check. Using cash makes it harder to trace and recover funds if a contractor takes off without completing the job. Payment via card or check provides a paper trail and offers some level of purchase protection.

    🛟 Related: Is Home Title Theft Real? 5 Ways To Protect Yourself

    10. Bereavement scams

    This scam preys on grieving family members after the loss of a loved one. Sometimes, scammers scour obituaries and target the decedent’s elderly family members.

    Scammers may impersonate a local funeral home or cemetery representative and ask for payments for services via phone. A Georgia woman, for instance, lost $1,200 via Zelle after she paid a fake funeral home worker for her father’s funeral [*].

    How to avoid bereavement scams:

    • Refuse to pay or provide information over the phone. Be cautious of prepaid funeral contracts, especially those extended by funeral homes out of the blue.
    • Decline to share any personal information about the decedent. Identity thieves may impersonate Medicare representatives or a life insurance company to steal the identity of a deceased individual. Also consider excluding the names of any next of kin to avoid being targeted by criminals.

    11. Grandparent scams

    When an 82-year-old grandmother got a call from someone claiming to be a public defender — stating that her grandson was in a car accident and required $8,000 for bail — she didn't hesitate to comply [*].

    These grandparent scams take advantage of victims’ emotional distress to persuade them to act irrationally.

    How to avoid grandparent scams:

    • Ask the caller intimate questions known only to family members. If they can’t or won’t answer, it’s a telltale sign that you’re dealing with a scammer.
    • Refuse to share any personal information or make any payments. When in doubt, hang up. Anyone who demands urgent payments through gift cards or money transfer platforms is a scammer.

    🛟 Related: When Your Contacts Call, But It’s Not Really Them

    12. Illegal robocalls

    Similar to phishing text messages, illegal robocalls are automated, pre-recorded messages that seek to steal personal information. Unless an entity has obtained written consent from you to contact you through robocalls, such calls may be deemed illegal.

    These spam calls can spoof caller IDs to masquerade as companies or local phone numbers that you know and trust. If you oblige, they can prise sensitive information out of you or even record your voice to create a voiceprint in order to scam others or access your accounts.

    How to avoid robocall scams:

    • Don’t respond with “yes.” Robocalls often unfold with seemingly harmless questions such as, “Can you hear me?” If you respond, the scammer could record your voice and use it to access sensitive accounts.
    • Ask a question. Instead of responding with an affirmative answer, respond with a question like, “Who is this?” or “What is this regarding?”

    🛟 Related: What Is Voice Phishing (Vishing)? Can You Avoid It?

    What To Do and How To Report Fraud

    If you or a relative have been the victim of a senior scam, report it as soon as possible. The faster you can get law enforcement involved, the more likely you’ll be able to mitigate the damages. 

    If you're not comfortable making the report on your own, consider asking a trusted friend or family member for assistance.

    Generally, you’ll want to provide the date, time, and location of the incident, the names of anyone involved, a description of what happened, and any cognitive or physical conditions that may have impaired the victim’s judgment. Here’s what else you can do:

    For non-life threatening emergencies:

    • Make an online report to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at ic3.gov.
    • Report to the National Elder Fraud Hotline at 1-833-FRAUD-11 or the Eldercare Locator helpline at 1-800-677-1116.

    If you suspect elder financial abuse:

    • Report the abuse to Adult Protective Services (APS) by using a local APS.
    • Call your local police department to file a report since elder financial abuse can sometimes involve other crimes such as theft, forgery, or money laundering. If you believe that you or your loved one is in immediate danger, dial 911.
    • If you intend to prosecute the abuser, report the incident to your local District Attorney's office.

    For issues with financial caregivers:

    • Contact your local Social Security office or call 800-772-1213 if you suspect the misuse of Social Security benefits.
    • Contact the VA if you suspect misuse of veteran benefits.
    • If you suspect that money or property is being misused by a court-appointed guardian, contact that specific court.

    For other scams:

    • Report internet, phone, and email scams to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
    • Report mail scams to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) at USPIS.gov/report.
    • Freeze your credit with the three major credit bureaus – Experian, TransUnion, and EquiFax.

    Financial Predators Are Everywhere. We Can Help.

    More than 10% of elderly individuals in the United States became victims of elder fraud in the past year [*]. The U.S. Department of Justice is committed to protecting older adults through its Elder Justice Initiative [*]. However, calculated scam artists may still go unnoticed.

    To give such scams a wide berth, be aware of common financial scams, and monitor your accounts and credit reports. For added security, consider signing up for an identity theft protection service.

    Identity Guard keeps a watchful eye on your identity, credit, and financial accounts and sends you fraud alerts that are 4x faster than the competition 1.

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    1. Financial identity theft and fraud
    2. Medical identity theft
    3. Child identity theft
    4. Elder fraud and estate identity theft
    5. “Friendly” or familial identity theft
    6. Employment identity theft
    7. Criminal identity theft
    8. Tax identity theft
    9. Unemployment and government benefits identity theft
    10. Synthetic identity theft
    11. Identity cloning
    12. Account takeovers (social media, email, etc.)
    13. Social Security number identity theft
    14. Biometric ID theft
    15. Crypto account takeovers