10 Scams American Seniors should know about

A senior that get scammed
As a senior, you may be the target of scammers of different kinds. Did you know that seniors unwittingly lose money to scammers? You may not even know when you are being scammed.
In 2023 alone, the FBI reported $3.4 billion in losses due to scams targeting seniors in North America.

Why are seniors easy prey to scammers ? That is because they usually have retired, have a decent bank balance and may own their homes free and clear. It is also likely that they are not very technologically savyy and may overshare details on social media. Some seniors may be psychologically or emotionally vulnerable and trusting and scammers take advantage of these qualities.

If you are a senior, you should be informed of the various scams that are proliferating and stay safe.

Here is a guide that will help you navigate the different scams that target seniors and what you can do about them :

1. Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams

Lottery scam

If you get a phone call or an email saying that you have won a lottery or sweepstakes, beware. It is more likely than not to be a scam. Whether you have entered a sweepstakes or bought a lottery ticket is immaterial. In case you have, you will be able to check the numbers online.

The way this scam works is that you are required to make some kind of payment immediately to get the prize. This may be in the form of taxes or some other kind of payment that you have to make to get the money released.

You may well immediately get a check for the amount, but it will be some time before it clears and, in this case, the check will later be rejected by the bank. Meanwhile, you will have lost the money that you wired.

If the scammers ask for your banking information or credit card details for you to receive the prize money, your financial information will be in their hands and they will use it to defraud you.

The red flag to detect Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams: Payment is required to claim your prize.

2. Reverse Mortgage Scams

Reverse Mortgage scam

Reverse mortgage scams are on the rise. A reverse mortgage may be offered by some banks and financial institutions where they keep the title to your house, but give you a monthly income or a credit line against it you are short of liquid funds. You can opt for this legitimate way of getting funds.
However, scammers can also target you in a similar manner, But they can misuse the title of the house to sell it. You may not even get the monthly income promised. If you are a home owner, only deal with legitimate financial organizations, because there is little that you can do apart from reporting the scam as it is very difficult, if not impossible, to get your house back.
Do not sign any documents without checking out the identity of the organization or people involved.
If you feel that you have been scammed, you can file a complaint with the FBI here or at HUD’s hotline at 1-800-347-3735.

The red flag to detect Reverse Mortgage Scams: They offer money in exchange for the house title.

3. Senior Romance Scams

Romance scam

It is very easy to set up profiles on dating sites for seniors if you are looking for a partner or companionship. However, you always need to be careful on these sites as they provide a ready opportunity to romance scammers.

Even if you think you have fallen in love and are ready to get married, whether you have met the person or not, do check all the credentials before falling for this scam. If the person asks for money, if the person professes love very quickly, if the person wants to take the relationship to the next stage more quickly than you are comfortable, then you may be the target of a scam.

Sometimes these online romances are with people in countries far away. The person may pretend to be in dire financial straits, a family member may need a critical life-saving operation for which they need money, they may pretend to be at the airport coming to meet you and have been stopped by customs officials or they have a sent a supposed gift that has been held up by customs and you have to slowly keep on paying increasing sums of money, you are the victim of a romance scam.

Sometimes these scams may even be used for money laundering and getting proceeds of a crime and this can put you in legal and criminal trouble, so be very careful.

The red flag to detect Senior Romance Scams: If the person asks for money or professes love very quickly.

4. Tech Support Scams

Tech support scam

When you are using your computer do you get a pop-up saying that your device has been infected? You will be then directed to a link to download software to get rid of it. Beware – this is malware that will take over your device and steal all your information.

If this happens to you, you will have no option but to format your device and reinstall everything as these kinds of malicious items are difficult to get rid of. Do not click on any unsolicited advertisement pop-ups or even links that you may get in emails.

On the other hand, if you feel that you have problems with your device, you may well call tech support. Even if it is a legitimate company or manufacturer, do not allow anyone to take control of your device, which they can do via software that they asky ou to install.

5. Grandparent Scams

grandma granpa scam

These are very common and you will usually get a call saying, ‘’Hello Grandma or Grandpa, do you know who is calling?” When you guess and take the name of your grandchild, you will be asked for money for some devious but apparently serious reason (rent payment, food bills, legal fine, car repair money, etc.)

This would have to be sent by Western Union or Money Gram and you will be told not to tell the child’s parents. This is an easy play for the scammer, who will then disappear without a trace. Many seniors fall prey to this scam.

If you get a call like this, always ascertain the identity of the person first, by asking for some details that only that person would know (not information that would be available on social media).

The red flag to detect Grandparent Scams: A caller claiming to be a grandchild asking for money urgently.

6. Robocalls or Phone Scams

You get a call from an unknown number but with a local or nearby area code. The person only asks if you can hear them. Whenyouanswer ‘yes’, your voice is recorded. This recording can be used to make large purchases that require the person’s voice as authentication as some banks or financial institutions may use voice ID to identify the person.

In fact, your voice can be cloned using AI to cause financial distress in one way or the other.

Apart from that, this is a way for scammers to identify potential victims for others cams. In both ways, you are the loser. Many of these kinds of scams originate in foreign countries and there is usually no way to trace the scammer or get your money back or take any legal action.

Other phone scams include calls from people offering you medical supplements or devices at highly discounted rates. Or they may solicit donations to charities. In case you are in a charitable frame of mind and get taken in, before sending any money check out the credentials on legitimate charity sites.

Never share financial details with callers as your credentials can be used to commit credit card fraud.

The red flag to detect Robocalls or Phone Scams: A caller claiming to be a grandchild asking for money urgently.

7. Government Officials Imposter Scams

Government Officials Imposter Scams

When you get a call from someone who says that he is from the government, you should sit up and pay attention. The calls may be from someone saying they are from the Internal Revenue Service, Medicare, Social Security Administration, or any other government organization.

They may say that you owe taxes, that your new Medicare ID is ready that you are eligible for a medical device, or that your Social Security Benefits are going to expire because of some vague reason or the other.

They may also contact you via email. First, they win your trust and they also threaten you with possible prison or loss of benefits if you don’t share your ID proof with them, your credit card details, or other financial information.

Do not continue a conversation with the person, simply hang up and block the number. Do not click on links from unknown sources. Scams from people posing as government officials have become very common, so don’t take phone calls emails, or postal mail from such people at face value.

The red flag to detect Government Officials Imposter Scams: Threatening calls or emails claiming to be from government officials.

8. Investment Scams

invest scam

Many seniors may have a corpus of funds and they look for investment opportunities where they can maximize their income. Scammers take advantage of this and lure the elderly via cold calls, emails, or even postal mail. They offer investment opportunities in dud companies, high interest rates on funds, or even Ponzi schemes. You may even be offered low-interest loans.

You have to be wary about these and don’t fall prey to sweet-talking from the scammers.

Do not engage with potential scammers – if it sounds too good to be true, consider that it probably is. Do not give out any personal data or identity proof, otherwise, scammers may be able to empty your bank accounts, run up credit card debts in your name, or even take out loans for which you may be liable.

For the same reasons, do not give a power of attorney to a close relative as that person can use it to clean you out. If you have medical issues, check with your bank or a trusted financial adviser or lawyer as to how you can best protect yourself.

The red flag to detect Investment Scams: Promises of high returns with little or no risk.

9. Home Repair Scams

home repair scam

Seniors and retirees are more likely to be home during working hours. If you answer the doorbell to a person who offers some kind of home repair service or any kind of work around the house, or even energy-efficient devices that can save on your electricity or water bills, be careful.

Many scammers target people who have been hit by some natural disaster or other. Do not give in to pressure tactics and make any initial payment for this kind of work or upgrades. You are more likely than not to lose the money.

The red flag to detect Home Repair Scams: Unsolicited offers for home repair services.

10. Phishing or Email Scams

phishing email scam

Do you receive emails from banks that seem very legitimate asking you to update your information or credit card details? Or do you receive emails from the Internal Revenue Service that you are eligible for a tax refund?

Most likely these are phishing attempts to get the financial information that will put you at risk. Do call up the bank or IRS customer care numbers to check. Do not click or call up any numbers given in the email as they will probably be false.

The red flag to detect Phishing or Email Scams: Emails asking to update your information or provide financial details.

Final Words

While you may have grown up in a different world and time, when people were more trustworthy, in the 21st century, with the rise in instant communication via smartphones and computers, you are just a click or call away from being scammed.

When you are a senior citizen, you are most likely retired and unlikely to work again. So you need to protect your money and your assets.

While you can report crimes and fraud, it is not always easy or even possible to get money or investments that you have lost back. You do not want to have to spend your time chasing law officials or in the courts.

  • Do not respond to unsolicited calls, emails, or postal mail.
  • Do no send any money even to relatives, without verifying that they need it.
  • Do not share OTPs or confidential information with anyone.
  • Do not allow anyone to use your credit card or ATM cards.
  • Avoid giving any financial Power of Attorney to anyone, even relatives.

Stay Safe !

If you or someone you know has been a victim of scamming or fraud call the National Elder Fraud Helpline: 833–FRAUD–11 or 833–372–8311 Monday–Friday, 10:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m. Eastern Time. You can also alert the FTC online or by phone at 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357), the local police or the attorney general of your state.
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