Scams targeting older adults are increasing. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), “In 2021 there were 92,371 older victims of fraud resulting in $1.7 billion in losses. This was a 74% increase in losses compared to 2020.” Scammers tend to target both wealthy older Americans and older adults with low income making them both at risk of fraud.
According to Genevieve Waterman, writer of The Top 5 Financial Scams Targeting Older Adults, the following five scams made up for more than 65% of the recorded complaints in 2021:
- Government impersonation scams – scammers call unsuspecting older adults and pretend to be from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Social Security Administration, or Medicare. They may say the victim has unpaid taxes and threaten arrest or deportation if they do not pay up immediately. Or they may say Social Security or Medicare benefits will be cut off if the victim doesn’t provide personal identifying information.
- Sweepstakes and lottery scams – scammers call an older adult to tell them they’ve won a lottery or prize of some kind. If they want to claim their winnings, the older adult must send money, cash, or gift cards up front—sometimes thousands of dollars worth—to cover supposed taxes and processing fees. Scammers may impersonate well-known sweepstakes organizations (like Publishers Clearing House) to build trust among their victims.
- Computer tech support scams – Technical support scams prey on older people’s lack of knowledge about computers and cybersecurity. A pop-up message or blank screen usually appears on a computer or phone, telling the victim their device is damaged and needs fixing. When they call the support number for help, the scammer may either request remote access to the older person’s computer and/or demand they pay a fee to have it repaired.
- The grandparent scams – Scammers call a would-be grandparent and say something along the lines of: “Hi, Grandma, do you know who this is?” When the unaware grandparent guesses the name of the grandchild the scammer most sounds like, the scammer is able to secure their trust instantly. The fake grandchild then asks for money to solve urgent financial problems (such as overdue rent, car repairs, or jail bond). They may beg the grandparents not to tell anyone. Since fraudsters often ask to be paid via gift cards or money transfers, which do not always require identification to collect, the older adult may have no way of ever recovering their money.
- Robocalls and phone scams
- A common robocall is the “Can you hear me?” call. When the older person says “yes,” the scammer records their voice and hangs up. The criminal then has a voice signature to authorize unwanted charges on items like stolen credit cards.
- A phone scam is an “impending lawsuit” scam. In this case, the victim receives an urgent, frightening call from someone claiming to be from a government or law enforcement agency (like the police). They are told if they don’t pay a fine by a specific deadline, they will be sued or arrested for some made-up offense.
There are plenty of other popular scams going around targeting older adults, both wealthy and poor. Remember to always be careful when sharing personal information. If you think you have been the victim of a scam, reach out to the following resources for help:
- Your bank (if money has been taken from your accounts)
- You can report scams online to the FTC. Sharing your experience can help prevent it from happening to another older adult.
- Adult Protective Services
- To obtain the contact information for Adult Protective Services in your area, call the Eldercare Locator, a government-sponsored national resource line, at 1-800-677-1116, or visit their website.
If you are interested in learning more about protecting yourself against common scams, we encourage you to speak with a Community Resource Specialist at (408) 350-3200, option 1.