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Senior Scams: Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones

Millions of older Americans fall victim to cybercriminals each year. However, cybercrime reports were at an all-time high last year, as scammers exploited the COVID-19 pandemic. Spam calls grew by 18% last year despite the pandemic. According to data from the FBI, specific losses from those ages 50 and older exceeded $1.8 billion — a 69% increase from the 2019 report. 

While cybercrime is a threat to every person with an online presence, the risk of senior scams is higher. Online scammers target older adults because many have significant financial savings, own a home, have good credit, and are generally trusting and generous. According to the FBI, “Seniors may be less inclined to report fraud because they don’t know how or they may be too ashamed at having been scammed.” However, by learning what to look out for, older adults can help protect themselves and others from falling victim to senior scams.

Common Elder Fraud Schemes 

Cybercriminals deploy a wide range of strategies used to deceive older adults. From posing as a grandchild or family member to representing a charity, their strategies are designed to entice their victims into giving out sensitive information or outright cash. According to the National Council on Aging and the FBI, here are a few of the most common senior scams designed to target older adults:

Romance scams

As older adults look to the internet to find a companion, many are met by scammers. Oftentimes scammers will create fraudulent online profiles on dating sites and social media, tricking their victims into thinking they are someone they are not. These scammers will usually pose as individuals living internationally and ask their victims for money to go toward medical emergencies, visas and airline tickets. Because these scams can be lengthy, they are often the most lucrative. In 2019 alone, seniors lost nearly $84 million in romance scams according to the Federal Trade Commission

Grandparent scams

In this situation, a scammer will call an older adult and pose as their grandchild. During the call, the “grandchild” will ask for money to cover an unexpected cost such as a medical bill, rent, or funds to visit the home.

Government impersonation scams

Scammers will identify themselves as government representatives calling from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Social Security Administration, or Medicare. Often these scammers will tell their victims they have unpaid taxes or dues and threaten them with arrest if they don’t provide sensitive information such as a Social Security number.

Sweepstakes/lottery scams

One of the most common scams directed toward older adults is the sweepstakes scam. Seniors will receive a check they can deposit, claiming that they’ve won a lottery or sweepstakes. Once the check has been cashed, they’ll be notified that they owe money to unlock the winnings. Once they send their money in, the check will bounce, and the prize money will be removed from their account.  

TV/radio scams

Criminals target potential victims using illegitimate advertisements about legitimate offerings and services. For example, some criminals will offer reverse mortgages or credit repair. However, once a payment is received, the criminal disappears without doing what they have promised.

Counterfeit prescription drugs 

Because the cost of prescription drugs is rising, some seniors will look online to purchase medication for a lower cost. However, scammers exploit this need by creating false advertisements for counterfeit medications. Seniors soon realize they have been duped when the drugs do not provide any relief from their medical condition. 

Charity scams

During the holiday season or after a natural disaster, criminals will contact the elderly by phone, claiming to be a representative of a charity. These scammers will solicit the elderly for a donation to a fake charity. 

Warning Signs of Elder Fraud and Financial Exploitation 

Anyone at any age can fall victim to a scam. Scammers are professional, efficient and highly manipulative, which makes identifying their suspicious activity difficult at times. Often when seniors fall victim to a scam, it can feel embarrassing to ask for help. As adult children or family members, it’s important to consistently discuss how to identify a scam and look for warning signs in your loved one’s behavior. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, these are a few of the most common warning signs:

  • Sudden changes in a bank account or banking practices, including unexplained large withdrawals from a bank account
  • The inclusion of additional names on a bank signature card
  • Unauthorized withdrawal of funds using a loved one’s ATM card
  • Abrupt changes in a will, estate plans or financial documents
  • The disappearance of funds or valuable possessions
  • Noticing unpaid bills despite the availability of financial resources
  • Missing checks or checks that include suspicious signatures
  • Entry forms and prizes from contests and payments made for fraudulent winnings or vacations
  • Noticeable changes in mood and behavior, including confusion and other symptoms of cognitive decline
  • Sudden social isolation
  • New powers of attorney that emerge unexpectedly without explanation
  • A caretaker, relative or friend who suddenly begins to make financial transactions on behalf of an older adult

How to Avoid Potential Financial Fraud 

It’s important to discuss various scenarios regularly with loved ones and identify how to act in the event of a scam. Here are a few ways to help you with avoiding scams for seniors and protect yourself from fraud:

  • Understand the risk. According to the National Council on Aging, over 90% of reported elder abuse is committed by family members, including their adult children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. Understanding the signs of elder abuse and being aware of your finances can help protect you.
  • Shred receipts. Monitor your bank and credit card statements, and shred anything with sensitive information when appropriate. Sharing personal information over the phone should be avoided entirely.
  • Use direct deposit. Using direct deposit and automatic payments to deposit cash and pay bills protects you from scammers who may get a hold of your important information.
  • Preplan your financial wishes. Making changes to official documents, such as legal, medical and estate plans is possible but requires some effort. Having your wishes made in advance can prevent scammers from accessing the documents or persuading you to make changes. It’s important to share your wishes with someone you trust so they can be made aware of any changes you might make in the future. 
  • Check your credit report. Regularly checking your credit report will help you identify any suspicious activity. For example, loans, debts, or large credit card charges will appear on your credit report. If you see suspicious activity, be sure to report it immediately. 
  • Sign documents with caution. Never sign documents you don’t understand or if you have doubts about their validity. If you’re unsure, always ask a trusted advisor or legal representative to review the documents and explain their meaning if necessary. 
  • Be leery. When accepting calls from numbers you don’t recognize, proceed with caution. Ask questions and don’t act with urgency. Scammers will often use manipulation tactics to encourage you to act quickly and will not give you time to process the information or use sound judgment. You can always call the person back, do your research, or ask a trusted friend or family member to help you if you’re unsure of the situation. 

Scam Support at Maplewood Senior Living 

Living at Maplewood Senior Living gives residents an extra layer of security when it comes to senior scams. Our communities are monitored by security staff who understand the warning signs of elder abuse and potential fraud. To learn more about our offerings or to schedule a tour, please contact us.


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