On the Lookout for Elder Fraud: 6 Scams to Avoid

August 2, 2021

While seniors are not the only ones who fall victim to scammers and fraudsters, they are attractive targets. This is largely because older adults generally own their homes, have a nest egg of savings, and are generally trusting of others. With that in mind, it’s always good practice to be aware of some of the most common scams so that you can avoid becoming another statistic in the elder fraud victim pool. Here are a few to watch out for.

IRS imposter scams

This is most commonly a phone scam or email scam where fraudsters pretend to be Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agents and claim the victim owes back taxes and penalties. As part of the scam, arrest, foreclosure, or other legal consequences are threatened unless a payment is immediately made. Victims are usually instructed to pay by wire transfer, credit card, certified check, or even gift card.

What to do

The IRS always sends bills to taxpayers through the mail before calling about any taxes that are owed. Also, a legitimate IRS agent will never insist on immediate payment, ask for banking information over the phone, or threaten legal action. If you get one of these calls or emails, simply hang up or delete the message—and don’t click any links. If you’re concerned whether you really owe taxes, contact your local IRS office for information.

Silent calls and robocall scams

Ever answered the phone only to find no one on the other end? This could either be a wrong number, or it could be an automated system testing phone numbers to see which ones get answered by real people. Often, these silent calls are intended to identify potential scam targets. When someone answers, their number is added to a list that gets sold to other parties, including potential fraudsters. This can also lead to robocalls. While some robocalls are legal, such as automated appointment reminders or pre-recorded messages for political candidates, they cannot be used to promote the sale of a service. In other words, if you get a robocall about a problem with your credit card or for a special deal on Medicare, it’s probably a scam.

What to do

The safest course of action is to screen your calls and avoid answering the phone if you don’t recognize the number. If you do answer, just hang up. You may also look into call-blocking services from your phone provider or putting your number on the National Do Not Call Registry.

Charity scams

Unfortunately, posing as representatives of a charitable organization is one of the more common ploys used by scammers. Their objective is simple: to take advantage of seniors’ generosity and willingness to aid good causes. These fraudsters may call or come to your door requesting donations for well-known charities or for ones they’ve made up. You might also be directed to fake charity websites that steal your money and personal/credit card info.

What to do

Where possible, it’s always wise to research the charity before you donate. Never give your personal info or credit card info to people who appear at your door. Instead, ask for printed materials so that you can do some research on your own. Be sure to check for misspellings in the website address. Also, keep in mind that most non-profit sites end in .org, not .com or .net. You can also visit Charity Navigator to check the validity of a charity.

Online medication scams

One of the more common and more harmful scams that befalls seniors has to do with counterfeit medications sold online. While it is becoming increasingly common to find everything you need online, there are plenty of disreputable prescription drug sites looking to con you out of money with cheaper medications or medications that never arrive. In some cases, people pay for drugs that may not even contain the right active ingredients or are expired or contaminated. This can take a hit on your health and your wallet.

What to do

Take caution with sites that supply medications without a valid prescription or offer drugs at suspiciously cheap prices. You can also check to see if the site is recognized by the Digital Pharmacy Accreditation program or the Pharmacy Verified Websites Program from the NAPB. The NAPB also maintains a list of online pharmacies to avoid.

Grandparent scams

This scam typically involves fraudsters posing as grandkids to coerce the senior adult to send them cash right away because he or she has been arrested, been in an accident or overdue on rent. The fraudster may even request that the unwitting senior not tell Mom or Dad. If the victim complies, the con artist may call back and try to scam again, claiming the fees were higher than initially thought.

What to do

The best thing to do is proceed with caution. You may want to verify facts before sending any money to grandchildren in trouble. A good tactic to use is ask basic questions that only the real grandchild would be able to answer, such as a pet name. You could also reach out to a family member to find out what you can about the situation.

Tech support scams

There are countless variations of this scam, but they all typically work like this: A fraudster will pose as a representative of a technology company such as Microsoft or Dell and inform you that they’ve detected a virus on your computer. The scammer may then ask the victim to give them remote access to the device or simply ask for your banking info to “fix” the issue. In some instances, you may be sent an email with a link to click, allowing them access to lock systems down or steal valuable information.

What to do

Do not give your financial information over the phone. Do not give access to your computers to anyone who calls out-of-the-blue claiming to be tech support. It’s also important to make sure your anti-virus software is up to date and pop-up blockers are installed on your devices. Never click on links in pop-up ads or unsolicited emails. If you have questions, call the real tech support by finding the number on the company’s website or product packaging.

What to do if you are the victim of a scam

It’s common for those who are victims of a scam to avoid coming forward because they are embarrassed about being duped. However, reporting a scammer is essential and one of the best ways to crack down on cons.

If you’ve been the victim of a fraud or swindled out of money, the first thing to do is file a police report. After that, contact your bank or financial institution so that they can help protect your finances or instruct you on what actions need to be taken. In some cases, they may be able to stop payment on a check or issue you a new debit/credit card.

If you believe a scammer has gained access to your social security number or other information linked to your identity, it is always wise to put a fraud alert on your credit report. Simply contact one of the following credit reporting companies:

You only need to contact one, since that company is required to inform the others about the alert. Having an alert informs creditors that you have been the victim of identity theft, which means they will contact you if anyone tries to apply for a credit line or open a new account in your name. Alerts are free and typically last for 90 days.

If you wish to report a scam, here are a few U.S. organizations you may inform:


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