Five Scams that Target Seniors

Five Scams that Target Seniors

Technology has made our lives easier in so many ways. Staying in touch with loved ones through social media, shopping via Google, even mundane tasks like bill-paying are faster and more convenient than ever.

Unfortunately, spending more time online can also increase the chances of being the target of a financial scam. And while scammers are generally equal-opportunity thieves, they often focus their attention on seniors for two reasons: older adults are more likely to be financially secure—and also less likely to be familiar with changing technology.

According to the FBI, scams that target seniors result in a loss of $3 billion each year. Staying aware and informed of potential scams is your best defense. Here are five common scams that often target older adults through online messaging, social media, and phone calls.

1. The Grandparent Scam 

Scams that prey upon emotions are particularly devious, and the grandparent scam is at the top of the list. The thief calls and asks “Hi, Grandma, do you know who this is?” Once the unsuspecting grandparent provides an answer, the thief has a name, and will then ask for money, a gift card, or another way to access their finances. The hook is typically that the grandchild is in some kind of trouble. Some even more brazen thieves will use Facebook to learn the names of an elderly person’s grandchildren, and start the call with “Grandma, it’s John, I need your help.”

What can you do? 

Try not to panic. Ask the caller questions only your grandchild would know. This will probably startle the scammer, so they hang up. Also be sure to set your social media accounts to private, so no one can see your list of friends, posts, or photos.

2. Sweepstakes Scams

This scam has been around for a while, but has taken on new life with the popularity of email. A scammer will email, text, or use social media to contact the unsuspecting senior and tell them that they’ve won a prize, but that they’ll first need to send a payment in order to “unlock” the award. Once the “prize” arrives as a check, the victim won’t realize it’s a fake until they attempt to deposit or cash it. Scammers will typically use the name of a legitimate, well-known charity or organization in order to make the story seem believable.

This is just one of many scams known as Phishing. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has more examples on their website: How to Recognize and Avoid Phishing Scams.

What can you do? 

Resist the pressure to act quickly if you’re contacted. Instead, search online for the proposed offer and organization. You’ll probably find others have posted information about any similar scams. As with the Grandparent scam, make sure your social media accounts are set to the highest levels of privacy.

3. Medicare Scams 

Unfortunately, scams aimed at seniors over Medicare have become so common, has a section on their website outlining tips, how to spot fraud, how to report fraud, and more at: Help fight Medicare fraud.

What can you do? 

According to Medicare, you should protect your Medicare card like it’s a credit card. Remember that Medicare will never call, text, or email you to sell anything, and they will never visit your home. You can also help fight fraud by reporting anything you find suspicious to Medicare. Learn more: How to report Medicare fraud.

4. Anti-aging and Health Supplement Schemes

There are plenty of products on the market intended to appeal to seniors wishing for quick fixes to typical aches and pains. Not only are these products likely bogus, they’re often sold on a recurring charge premise. This means when you call or sign up online to request your “free” sample, they will also require your credit card number under the guise of paying for shipping and handling. Whether you like the product or not, you’ll continue to receive a supply and your card will be charged, while also making it next to impossible to reach the company to cancel your subscription.

What can you do? 

If you’re having trouble contacting the company to cancel the recurring charge—or if they refuse to cancel your subscription—reach out to your credit card company.  Your card issuer may reverse the charge and credit previous charges if you can prove you didn’t consent to the charges or have not been able to reach the company.

5. Government Impersonation Fraud

Another twist to the imposter phone call, text or message, this involves the scammer pretending to be from a government agency like the IRS or Social Security Administration and demanding funds while threatening arrest or prosecution.

What can you do? 

Start by contacting the government agency directly. A good rule of thumb is to never give money or information to anyone who calls, texts, emails or messages you on social media. Also keep in mind that only scammers will demand payment by a mobile app, wire transfer, gift card, or cryptocurrency.

How to report fraud

If you’ve been a victim of fraud or believe you’ve been targeted by a scammer, report it at The FTC has an easy-to-use website which then allows your report to be shared across the country. Educating others about personal experiences is the best defense in ending future fraud and scams that target seniors.