Protecting the Elderly from Scams

elderly couple

There are tons of scams out there: email scams, snail mail scams, telemarketing scams, and even some scams that are done face-to-face! And unfortunately, a lot of them target the elderly, who often own their homes and have built up a lifetime of savings. In fact, according to data from 2012, more than 2 million people aged 65 or older had been victims of identity theft in the past 12 months. The elderly are attractive targets for crime because, in addition to being financially secure, they tend to be more hesitant or unable to report crimes.

Here are a few common scams to look out for and more specific advice on how to avoid becoming a victim.

Telemarketing scams
The elderly aren’t the only ones susceptible to telemarketing scams, but these scams often target people aged 60 or older. A typical telemarketing scam usually goes something like this: A call will come in and someone on the other line will offer you a discounted product or a free vacation. The scammer will try to convince you that they need your credit card or account information right away because you have only a limited time to agree to their offer.

How to avoid this scam: Ask the telemarketer for written material about the offer and, if they send it, review the offer with someone who gives good financial advice. In general, don’t buy products or services from a company you haven’t heard of, and take some time to decide if you want to make a purchase. A legitimate company that wants your business won’t rush you into a purchase. To avoid telemarketing altogether, get on the National Do Not Call Registry. Visit or call (888) 382-1222 to register your phone number.

The grandparent scam
This scam is used to gain your trust, and scammers will usually impersonate someone you love to get your money. They may call you and say they are your grandson/granddaughter, but sometimes they’ll ask, “Do you know who this is?” so that you might give them the name of whichever loved one they sound most like. Then they’ll ask you if they can borrow money to solve a sudden financial crunch they’re in.

How to avoid this scam: Before sending any money, ask someone else in the family if they know about this grandchild’s financial trouble. Also, when answering the phone, ask who’s calling instead of guessing.

The fake sweepstakes
In this scam, the victim is informed that they have won a lottery or sweepstakes but that they must pay a fee to claim their prize. After the “winner” pays the fee, they’re sent a check. However, the check will be rejected when the victim tries to deposit it. And by that time, the money the victim forked over is long gone.

How to avoid this scam: Don’t make payments to companies or organizations you are unfamiliar with. If you’ve won something, you shouldn’t be asked to pay to receive your winnings.

Investment scams
The elderly often have a sizable retirement nest egg they have to manage. Sadly, this makes seniors an appealing target for investment scams. Scammers take advantage of these savings by offering seniors “safe” or “lucrative” investment opportunities that are completely fraudulent.

How to avoid this scam: Don’t trust unsolicited investment offers, and make sure to verify the legitimacy of any franchise or investment before you invest.

Health care scams
Seniors often have more health problems, which make them susceptible to health-related solicitation. Phony medical-equipment manufacturers or pharmaceutical companies will offer seniors free products in exchange for their Medicare or health insurance identification numbers. Once those ID numbers are given out, senior are charged for the “free” products or services.

How to avoid this scam: Never sign blank insurance claim forms, and give your insurance or Medicare identification only to those who have provided you with medical services. Call your insurance provider or health care provider if you have questions.

Most scammers aim to obtain sensitive financial information such as credit card or credit union account numbers. Keep that information from getting out by shredding receipts, account statements and financial records before throwing them in the trash. Be wary of phone solicitors and door-to-door salesmen who push you into giving up money or sensitive information. And, of course, don’t provide personal information such as your Social Security or credit card numbers over the phone or Internet unless you absolutely know where that information is going.

Guest Blogger: Damaris Olaechea, NerdWallet

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