12 Awful Senior Citizen Scams: How To Prevent Elder Fraud

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Jory MacKay

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    How Low Do You Have To Be to Prey on the Elderly?

    It may make your stomach turn, but senior citizen scams are on the rise. 

    According to the FBI’s latest Internet Crime Report, Americans 60 and over lost $1.7 billion to fraud last year [*]. That’s the highest fraud losses out of any age group.

    But elder fraud isn’t only an issue for the older population. The last thing you want is for someone to take advantage of your elderly parents or grandparents.

    So, how can you keep them safe? 

    In this article, we’ll review the types of senior citizen scams to watch out for, and offer tips to help keep your elderly relatives safe.

    What Is Elder Fraud? How Do Scammers Target Seniors?

    Elder fraud is any scam that targets older adults and exploits them for monetary gain, such as financial fraud or identity theft.

    Typically, a scammer will deceive senior citizens with false promises of goods or services. Once they gain their trust, the scam artists go after financial details, health insurance, or even physical possessions.

    Scammers target senior citizens for several reasons, including:

    • They’re more trusting of others — especially people who claim to be looking out for them.
    • They often have considerable savings or valuable possessions. This makes them prime targets for scammers.
    • They’re often not tech-savvy and easier to scam online, over the phone, or on social media.
    • They can have memory issues and get confused about who they’re talking to or who they should trust.
    • They might feel like they can’t report the scam out of fear of losing their independence or being seen as incompetent.

    Even worse, 60-90% of cases of elder abuse are committed by friends, family, and children who steal on average $116,000 from their victims [*]. For example, if a family member opens a credit card in their elderly relative's name.

    So, how do fraudsters come after elderly people? Here are the most common scams targeting senior citizens and how to avoid them.

    Take action: If scammers gain access to your or an elderly family member’s personal information, your bank account, email, and identity could also be at risk. Try Aura’s family identity theft protection free for 14 days to secure your identities against scammers.

    12 Common Senior Citizen Scams You Need To Know

    1. The Grandparent scam
    2. Government imposter scams 
    3. Elder financial abuse
    4. False investment scams
    5. Fake software and tech support scams
    6. Robocalls and phishing messages
    7. Sweepstakes and elder lottery scams
    8. Elderly romance scams
    9. Funeral scams
    10. Reverse mortgage scams
    11. Online shopping scams (fraudulent products, non-delivery, etc.)
    12. Charity scams

    Beware of these common scams that target senior citizens:

    1. The Grandparent scam 

    How it works: The grandparent scam is a type of social engineering attack in which fraudsters claim the victim's grandchild is in trouble. They'll call and pretend to be from the police and say they've been in an accident or are involved in a crime. 

    Scammers will then ask their targets to take out large sums of money or make a wire transfer to “save” their grandchild. 

    The scammer will even use their grandchild’s real name and other identifying information that they find in their online footprint to make the scam more believable. In other cases, the fraudster will even pretend to be the grandchild and claim to be in trouble. 

    In a recent version of this scam, fraudsters send ride-sharing services like Uber to pick up the cash in an envelope.

    Warning signs of grandparent scams:

    • You receive an unsolicited call claiming that a grandchild or loved one is in danger.
    • The caller asks for money as cash, gift cards, or wire transfers. 
    • The caller won’t let you get off the phone or threatens you if you try to verify the information. 
    • The caller uses emotional language to force you to act quickly.

    💡 Related: The 5 Best Identity Theft Protection Services For Seniors →

    2. Government imposter scams

    How it works: In this senior scam, fraudsters contact older people claiming to be representatives from a government agency they trust. This could include Medicare, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), or the Social Security administration (SSA). 

    Fraudsters use spoofing technology to make their phone numbers look like they’re coming from the real agency. And once you’re on the line, they might use stolen personal information like your Social Security number (SSN) to build trust. 

    Government imposter scams have different risks. Here are a few examples:

    • Medicare scams: Scammers claiming to be Medicare representatives call their victims to “verify” their Medicare number. If you give it up, they’ll use it to steal health benefits (i.e., medical identity theft). Or, they might claim that the victim needs to pay a fee to receive a new card or special treatments and ask for their credit card numbers.
    • IRS scams: During tax season, scammers will call elderly people claiming to be from the IRS and saying there’s an issue with their return. They’ll collect information to “secure” your tax file, but really, they’ll use it to file phony tax refunds and commit identity theft.
    • Social Security scams: In this scam, the imposter claims your SSN has been suspended due to a connection with a crime or suspicious activity. In order to get it reactivated, they ask for payment (usually in the form of gift cards). 
    • FBI or law enforcement scams: Scammers will even call claiming that there is a warrant out for their victim’s arrest. If they don’t pay a fee or send their financial information, they could go to jail. 
    • Covid scams: Fraudsters take advantage of the fear and uncertainty of the pandemic to trick seniors into giving up sensitive data — such as bank accounts or health insurance information.

    Remember, these agencies will almost never reach out to you over the phone — especially if it’s something as serious as a crime. If they do call, hang up and call back using their official phone numbers. 

    Warning signs of government imposter scams:

    • You get an unsolicited call from someone claiming to be from a government agency. 
    • The caller uses threatening language and wants you to pay them using gift cards or wire transfers. 
    • The caller asks for your sensitive information, like your SSN, Medicare number, or credit card. 

    Related: What Can a Scammer Do With Your Medicare Number?

    3. Elder financial abuse

    How it works: Elder financial abuse is when someone the victim knows and trusts — like a family member, close friend, or caregiver — tries to gain access to the senior’s savings, credit, or assets. They could trick their victim into signing over access or power of attorney. Or, they might even threaten to withhold care if they don’t give them access. 

    Warning signs of elder financial abuse:

    • Unfamiliar charges, new accounts and loans, or credit inquiries you or your elderly loved one didn’t make.
    • Calls from companies or credit providers about debts you didn’t take out. 
    • An elderly parent or grandparent suddenly is having financial issues. 
    Take action: If you or a family member accidentally give scammers personal data (or its leaked in a data breach), they could take out loans in your name or empty your bank account. Try an identity theft protection service to monitor your finances and alert you to fraud.

    4. False investment scams 

    How it works: Seniors have often spent a lifetime saving to achieve financial security. But that puts them at risk of false investments designed to steal their hard-earned money.

    In an investment scam, criminals pose as financial advisors. They'll call unannounced with what appears to be a lucrative investment opportunity. However, this is an attempt to extract transaction fees or steal “investments” from their targets.  

    There are several types of investment scams that specifically target seniors:

    • Ponzi schemes. A Ponzi scheme is when scammers use the money from new investors to pay existing ones (rather than generating any actual returns). Ponzi schemes target seniors by promising high returns with little to no risk.
    • Phony bonds and certificates of deposits (CDs). In these scams, fraudsters use low-risk investments to trick wary seniors into investing. But these investments either don’t give the return they promise or don’t exist at all.
    • Charitable gift annuities. A charitable gift annuity is when a donor gives a large sum of money as a gift in return for a fixed income stream. But often, these charities don’t exist and you’re putting money right into the scammer’s pocket. 
    • Prime bank scams. In a prime bank scam, con artists claim to have access to “secret overseas markets.” But the whole thing is a scam and any money you send is stolen. 

    When it comes to avoiding senior investment scams, remember the golden rule of fraud: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. 

    Warning signs of false investment scams:

    • They promise high returns with little or no risk involved. No investment is 100% safe or can guarantee returns. 
    • The “advisor” uses high-pressure sales tactics to get you to act quickly and without doing your due diligence.
    • You’re unable to withdraw your principal investment.

    5. Fake software and tech support scams (elderly internet fraud)

    How it works: In this type of fraud, the scammer masquerades as a tech support representative from a company you trust like Apple or Microsoft. They’ll claim that your computer or device is at risk of viruses and then trick you into granting them remote access or paying for software you don’t need. 

    Sometimes, the goal is to trick the victim into downloading what they think is helpful software. But when they do, it’s actually malware that opens up the potential for cyber attacks that target the victim’s banking information.

    This scam often happens through phone calls, but it’s also common to see pop-up ads on websites targeting seniors. 

    Unfortunately, people aged 60+ are five times more likely to lose money to tech support scams [*].

    Warning signs of tech support scams:

    • You receive unsolicited phone calls about tech support. Companies like Apple will never call you about these issues. 
    • A pop-up ad on a website claims that your device has viruses or promises to “speed up” your computer. 
    • The caller uses fear to trick you into downloading software or clicking on links in emails. 

    Pro tip: Keep your computer and other devices safe from scammers with antivirus software and network protection. Aura protects your computer from malware and can even warn you if you’re being targeted by a phishing attack.

    Aura antivirus with VPN
    Source: Aura antivirus software with VPN

    Related: The 7 Latest Geek Squad Scams (and How To Avoid Them)

    6. Robocalls and phishing messages

    How it works: Seniors are more susceptible to telemarketing and phishing scams than other age groups. With robocalls and spam attacks, vast numbers of emails or calls are made to exploit inexperienced or vulnerable targets. 

    In one survey, more than half of U.S. senior citizens claimed that robocallers tried to scam them [*].

    These messages all follow a similar pattern. The call or message claims to be from a company or group you know and trust — like your bank, the IRS, or even companies like Netflix. But if you engage, they’ll try to get you to give up personal information, passwords, or financial account information. 

    Spam emails are especially dangerous. If you click a link or download an attachment, you could accidentally download malware that gives the hacker access to your device. 

    Warning signs of robocalls calls and phishing emails or messages:

    • You receive automated messages that claim you’re in trouble or at risk. The IRS and other agencies will never use automated calls to get in touch with you.
    • An email or caller asks you to “verify” sensitive information in order to secure an online account. 
    • An email or message includes a link or attachment you don’t recognize or weren’t expecting.

    Related: How To Identify a Medicare Scam Call: 7 Scams To Watch Out For

    7. Sweepstakes and elder lottery scams

    How it works: Fraudsters reach out to an elderly victim and claim that they’ve won a huge contest, lottery, or sweepstakes they never entered. But to receive their winnings, they’ll need to pay upfront fees and taxes and supply their banking information for the transfer. 

    Scammers will often string along their victims for months or years, claiming they need to pay additional fees. But any money that’s sent goes straight to the scammer. 

    Warning signs of sweepstakes and lottery fraud:

    • You or a loved one receives a notification that you won a large sum of money from a contest you never entered. 
    • The person you speak with asks for upfront payment through non-traceable methods (gift cards, wire transfers, etc.)
    • They ask for your banking information to complete the deposit. 

    8. Elderly romance scams

    How it works: In this type of elder fraud, scammers create fake personas on dating apps or social media to lure their targets. Con artists will research you online and use details you’ve shared publicly to “hook” you. 

    Once they establish a rapport, scammers begin to request money, often in the form of gift cards, travel expenses, and healthcare costs. 

    Losses due to fraud for Americans over 60
    Seniors lost the most from romance, email, and tech support scams. Source: FBI Elder Fraud Report

    In 2020, an 80-year-old widower lost $200,000 to a scammer who convinced him that they were in a long-distance relationship [*]. These scams tug on the heartstrings of victims by framing their requests as emergencies or sob stories. 

    Many victims of romance scams are pressured into fraudulent investments, especially involving cryptocurrencies. Always keep yourself safe and be aware of the dangers of online dating.

    Warning signs of elderly romance scams:

    • The “relationship” moves quickly, with the other person claiming they love you within days or weeks. 
    • They promise to meet up in person or on video chat but always come up with an excuse at the last minute. 
    • They ask for money or financial help for family or healthcare issues. 

    Pro tip: Beware of military romance scams. Many scammers pretend to be active service members stationed in far-away locations. This gives them a cover for why they can’t meet up. 

    9. Funeral scams

    How it works: In one of the most vile forms of elder fraud, con artists target dead people with funeral scams. Scammers read obituaries and then attend funerals and claim that the deceased has an outstanding debt. 

    Warning signs of funeral scams:

    • Someone you don’t know demands payment at a funeral. 
    • You’re approached by an individual who claims to know the deceased but has no real details of their relationship. 

    10. Reverse mortgage scams

    How it works: Many seniors have built equity in their homes that they want to turn into reliable and steady income. Reverse mortgages are available to homeowners over the age of 62 as a way to access their home equity.

    But scammers target the elderly with billboards, ads, and fliers for reverse mortgage scams. They’ll claim to be helping you get access to your equity. But in reality, they either steal the money or even commit deed fraud and “steal” your home.

    Here are a few of the other variations of a reverse mortgage scam:

    • Mortgage relief: Seniors in need of financial help might want to use a reverse mortgage to avoid foreclosure. Scammers target them with claims of fast approval on loans in exchange for an upfront fee. 
    • Fraudulent contractors: Sometimes scammers will come to your home and offer free consultations. They’ll convince elderly homeowners to take out a reverse mortgage and pay for pricey and unnecessary repairs or home “updates.”

    Warning signs of reverse mortgage scams:

    • High-pressure sales tactics that try to get you to sign for a reverse mortgage without doing your due diligence. 
    • Someone claiming they need power of attorney in order to finalize a reverse mortgage. 
    • Contractors or vendors suggesting you take out a reverse mortgage to pay for costly repairs.

    💡 Related: How To Stop Car Extended Warranty Scam Calls For Good →

    11. Online shopping scams (Fraudulent products, non-delivery, etc.)

    How it works: Online scams are rampant. But senior citizens are especially vulnerable to online shopping scams. In 2020 alone, the FBI received 14,000 complaints of fraudulent products and non-delivery — making it the second most reported fraud among the elderly [*].

    Online shopping scams come in many different forms. You could buy fraudulent pharmaceutical drugs or health and beauty products. Or, you could use your credit card details on a phishing site set up by hackers. 

    Warning signs of online shopping scams:

    • Poor design or spelling errors on the website.
    • The website you’re shopping from is unsecure. This means it uses HTTP not HTTPS.
    Example of a secure website URL from a government website
    Secure websites use https not http and should include a lock by the URL.

    12. Charity scams

    How it works: Charity scams prey on our desire to help others. Fraudsters pretend to be a legitimate charity and steal donations and personal information.

    Fraudsters will also often call elderly victims in the wake of a natural disaster. They’ll claim to be helping victims and soliciting donations. But if you send money or give them your financial information, they’ll disappear with them. 

    Warning signs of charity scams:

    • The charity doesn’t appear on official sites like Charity Navigator or the BBB Wise Giving Alliance
    • You find evidence of fraud when you Google the charity’s name + fraud/scam/complaint.
    • The charity’s name is very similar to a larger organization you’re familiar with. 
    Take action: Protect your whole family from the risks of identity theft and fraud with Aura’s $1,000,000 in identity theft insurance. Try Aura free for 14 days to see if it’s right for you.

    How To Prevent Senior Citizen Scams

    If you’re worried about elder fraud, there’s plenty you can do to prevent it from happening to you or your elderly relatives:

    Set up credit monitoring and identity theft protection

    Criminals almost always commit elder fraud with the goal of pulling off financial scams. The easiest way to protect yourself or your loved one’s finances is to sign up for credit monitoring. 

    Aura can monitor your credit and statements for you and alert you to any signs of fraud. We'll alert you in near-real time of any suspicious or fraudulent activity. And, if the worst happens, every adult member of an Aura plan is covered by a $1,000,000 insurance policy for eligible losses due to identity theft. 

    Aura identity theft protection plan with $1,000,000 coverage for eligible losses due to identity theft
    Source: Aura Identity Theft Protection

    If your parent or relative isn’t open to credit monitoring, then look for other warning signs. For example, if they start to complain about having less money than they expected. 

    Leave notes next to computers, phones, and doors

    Most scams rely on older victims panicking, becoming confused, or making snap decisions. As an aid to yourself or senior relatives, it helps to post notes next to  phones, computers, and doors with the following tips (or some variation of them):

    • STOP: Take a breath and think about the situation. Does anything feel suspicious?
    • LEAVE: Hang up, shut the door, or close the email. If someone is pressing you to act now, they could be a con artist.
    • ASK: Call a family member for advice, search online for more details, and find out if organizations are real. You can also ask a visitor for identification.
    • WAIT: Take the time to absorb what you’ve learned and make a plan of action. Don’t rush any decisions.
    • ACT: Only visit legitimate websites and call verified, safe phone numbers.  You can use independent review websites and email address lookup services to check someone's identity.

    Encourage open communication and don’t judge

    Many elderly victims don’t report fraud out of fear of judgement. But anyone can get scammed — no matter what age. 

    Skip the judgement and instead encourage open communication. This not only helps you identify scams in progress, but can also make elderly relatives more comfortable with speaking up if they are suspicious about something. 

    Pro tip: Share your stories of attempted fraud. Ask your more tech-savvy family members to share examples of scam emails or messages they’ve received. Be sure to point out how you knew they were fake so that your elderly family members can do the same in the future.

    Have a plan and a password

    Sharing bank account details early can ensure that your family’s money stays safe. 

    Also, consider creating a secret family password. You can use this in phone calls, texts, or emails to let the recipient know that the transaction is genuine. 

    Be suspicious of any unsolicited call or message

    A little suspicion can save you a lot of heartache. Know that these scams exist, and always ask yourself, “what if?” when confronted with an unusual request for money either online or in person. 

    Use antivirus software to warn you of malware and dangerous websites and be wary of situations that appear too good to be true. 

    Report frauds and scams

    If you or a relative have been the victim of a senior citizen scam, report it. 

    Visit identitytheft.gov and reportfraud.ftc.gov to make an official report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Then, follow the steps of the fraud victim’s checklist to recover your funds and secure your accounts.

    Protect Your Loved Ones From Senior Scams

    Unfortunately, some people will always look to prey on the most vulnerable members of society. With modern technology, scammers have more avenues to exploit people than ever before.

    Keep up-to-date on the latest scams targeting senior citizens. Look for the warning signs of identity theft and fraud and talk about anything that feels suspicious. 

    For added protection, consider signing yourself and your family up for Aura. We’ll monitor your accounts for signs of fraud and keep your devices safe from hackers and scammers. 

    Ready for ironclad identity theft protection? Try Aura free for 14 days.

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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