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Avoiding Elderly Scams

6 minute readLast updated May 18, 2021
Written by Mary Salatino

Cybercrime and other scams are on the rise. While elderly are among those who spend less time on the internet, they are still at risk of becoming victims of identity theft, Medicare fraud, financial scams, and other types of cybercrime. Scams targeting the elderly are presented in multiple forms and can go unnoticed by seniors with less online experience.

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Elderly scams occur far more frequently than you might expect — seniors account for more than $3 billion in losses annually, making elder fraud a growing problem. Seniors are often targeted because of their lack of digital literacy, their trusting and polite nature, and their tendency to have financial savings and good credit, the FBI reports.

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The FBI also notes that seniors may be less inclined to report fraud, either because they aren’t sure how or because they might be concerned family members will think they can no longer manage their own financial affairs.

It’s crucial to keep an eye out for aging family members who might be susceptible to these elderly scams. Learn about common types of elder fraud and how to spot them, how to improve your loved one’s online literacy, steps to avoid elder fraud, and what to do if your loved one becomes a scam victim.

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4 common financial scams targeting the elderly

  1. Fake telemarketers. Calls from unfamiliar numbers, where people ask your loved one for personal information, are prominent red flags. Fake telemarketing calls might claim you won a prize, you owe money, you need to confirm your sensitive information, and more.
  2. Medical identity theft. It’s not an unusual for a health insurance representative to ask for private information. This may make it difficult to differentiate between a legitimate call and a scam. A scammer posing as an insurance or Medicare representative may ask for private information, convince your loved one they missed a payment, or that their information didn’t save.
  3. Robocall scams. Automated messages with alerts of missed or late account payments, asking for Social Security information or other recorded messages are designed to cause stress and panic. This might make your aging family member want to take action.
  4. Coronavirus scams. There have been many unknowns during the pandemic, which have made it easier for scammers to capitalize on people’s worries and desire for information. Coronavirus scams are easy for anyone to believe during a time of uncertainty. Scammers may call your loved one with information regarding the relief check from the government. Criminals might also offer vaccination appointments or claim to be from a government organization. Other scams include asking for donations. If you’re unsure, always check trusted sites, such as coronavirus.gov, for accurate information.

4 tips for teaching online literacy to elders

  1. Write it down. Retaining new information is easier when you have reference materials. Placing a sheet of key terms and step-by-step directions near your loved one’s computer, tablet, or cell phone is a good way to help seniors feel more comfortable when using unfamiliar technology and navigating the internet.
  2. Teach the value. Explaining the value of online literacy helps your loved one be more inclined to learn, making them less likely to be a scam victim.
  3. Keep it simple. Provide simple directions and eliminate jargon to make the process easy and more enjoyable. Try to explain ideas without using technical terms to clearly get the point across.
  4. Protect their information. Maybe you’ve noticed that your loved one uses the same or similar password for every account. Help them understand the importance of creating strong passwords as a valuable elderly fraud prevention tool. Strong passwords and two-factor authentication add layers of protection to sensitive information.

5 tips for elderly fraud prevention

While it’s not possible to anticipate every possible scam targeting the elderly, there are some common-sense steps you and your elderly loved ones can take to make them less likely to become a victim. In addition to online literacy, learning more about common methods scammers use to get information can help your loved one stay alert.

  1. Identify suspicious emails and links. Did your loved one actually enter that contest? Probably not. Watch out for phishing emails, which are designed to look like they are from a legitimate source, such as a bank or government organization. Look for misspellings or logos that aren’t quite right. These emails may claim you won a prize, offer to fix a computer bug, request money on behalf of a relative, or other unexpected messages. If you didn’t ask for a service, the message is likely a scam.
  2. Use identity theft protection. This can save your aging relative from online scams in multiple ways. Many identity theft protection companies offer complete plans with risk management, credit reports, and identity theft crimes resolution. Identity theft protection plans typically have a monthly fee, but they allow you to choose the protection plan that is right for you.
  3. Keep private. Saving your passwords in “keychains,” or digital password savers, might make it easier for your loved one to login, but it can also make it easier for scammers to steal their personal information. Keep a written password record in a safe place, rather than saving this sensitive information online.
  4. Work with established agencies. Research a company before your loved one engages in any conversation or monetary exchange. Before sharing personal information, like social security numbers, banking information, or insurance policies, consult the Better Business Bureau to see if the company asking for this information is an established and trustworthy organization.
  5. Beware of prizes. Although it could excite your loved one to get a pop-up message saying they’ve won a free car, help them understand that messages such as these are likely a scam. Don’t accept prizes or help from sources that ask for too much personal information. If pop-ups occur too frequently on their computer, check the computer’s privacy settings, run a malware scan, and disable pop-ups.

What to do if you suspect your loved one is a scam victim

Recovering money after a senior falls prey to a scam can be difficult, so it’s important to take steps to reduce the possible financial loss as quickly as possible. Shutting down the scammers’ access to bank accounts, credit cards and other valuable information helps protect your elderly loved one from additional harm.

  1. Contact their bank. Letting the bank know about fraud on your loved one’s account can help you enact some new safety and preventative measures. You can report fraud, close the bank card, and request a new one.
  2. Close their credit card and get a new one. Close the card where private information was compromised. This way, scammers cannot continue to use your loved ones financial details.
  3. Record perpetrator information. Take note of the company name the fraud is under, where the location of the charge came from, where the message came from, and any other available details. Having this information ready will help when you file a claim.
  4. Change passwords. If the message asked for specific password information to any of your loved ones accounts, help them change their passwords and enable two-factor authentication.
  5. Report fraud. It’s useful to report fraud in a timely manner to get compromised finances in order as quickly as possible. Different types of fraud may require reporting to one government agency or another. However, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) is a good place to start.


Meet the Author
Mary Salatino

Mary Salatino is a former copywriter at A Place for Mom. She has worked as a freelance journalist and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism with an emphasis in magazine editing from the University of Missouri-Columbia, where she wrote and edited for several city publications.

The information contained on this page is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical, legal or financial advice or create a professional relationship between A Place for Mom and the reader. Always seek the advice of your health care provider, attorney or financial advisor with respect to any particular matter, and do not act or refrain from acting on the basis of anything you have read on this site. Links to third-party websites are only for the convenience of the reader; A Place for Mom does not endorse the contents of the third-party sites.

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