Scamming the Elderly: Keeping Loved Ones Safe From Predatory Practices

Last updated: November 2022

Senior citizens can be easy targets for scammers. And the COVID-19 pandemic has left them even more vulnerable. Over the last 2 years, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has seen an uptick in the number of schemes targeting older adults.1

Con artists may single out older people because they think they have lots of extra money. But low-income seniors are at risk, too. Sometimes the perpetrator is a stranger. Other times, it can be a close family member.2

How can you best protect your loved ones from such predatory acts? Understanding how scammers take advantage of older people is the first step.

Potential scamming techniques

One of the most common crimes against seniors is identity theft. Identity thieves go about this in a couple of ways.1

For example, they may pose as a Medicare representative. Every person in this country over the age of 65 is eligible for Medicare. Scammers do not have to conduct a lot of research to determine the type of insurance someone has. Once they do, they can capture an individual's personal information.1

Con artists may also take advantage of older people through telemarketing ploys. Deals made over the phone are difficult to trace. After an imposter obtains a senior's personal information, they can use it to their advantage. Or they can share the information with others.2

The internet opens up another avenue to exploit an older person. Email phishing is one method. The person getting the email can be fooled into putting sensitive information into a pop-up window or browser. The person on the other end uses that data to their own benefit.2

Taking advantage of grief

As sad as it may sound, another common approach to tricking seniors is to take advantage of their grief. Scammers may scour the obituaries. They contact a deceased person's widow or widower, claiming that the deceased person has a debt and trying to "collect" it. Funeral homes and cemeteries might also try to upsell seniors on what they need for a loved one's burial.2

Another way to scam older adults is to make fake claims about products, stating they fight aging or cure an illness. The FTC has seen an increased number of such cases during the COVID-19 pandemic. There have been several unfounded claims about certain products' ability to cure or prevent the virus. And these claims are aimed at seniors.1,2

While it is difficult to imagine, some scammers will prey on the hearts of seniors to try to make money. Someone will pose as the senior's grandchild and claim to be in financial trouble. Then, the imposter will beg the senior not to tell their parents, so they are never discovered.1

Protecting seniors from fraud

Knowing the tactics schemers use to take advantage of seniors is key. It also is essential to report them. A recent study showed that fewer than 1 out of 20 fraud victims complain or file a report to a Better Business Bureau or government agency.1

Having conversations about the topic is important, too. To help families with this, the FTC has created a program called "Pass It On." The program gives seniors resources to share with their friends and loved ones. These resources help everyone in a senior's circle remain vigilant about fraudulent activities.1

Other government organizations have acted, too. In 2017, the federal government passed the Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act. Officials designed this law to prosecute elder abuse crimes and enforce related laws. It also calls for the Department of Justice to help local governments prevent the exploitation of seniors.3

If you suspect a senior in your life is the victim of a predatory act, ask questions and help them take action. Has this happened to anyone you know? Tell us about your experience in the comments below, or share your story with the community.

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