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Senior Fraud: Families Need To Stay Vigilant

Scams and fraudulent activities by those who take advantage of seniors and their trusting nature is something that can’t be talked about enough. Scam artists know that senior citizens grew up in a different era when a person’s word was enough, and they use that against them, which is one reason why seniors are particularly susceptible to fraud. Since May 15 is National Senior Fraud Awareness Day, it is a good time for a reminder that the threat of fraud is real and that there are ways you can help protect yourself and your loved ones.

Personal Information – Don’t Disclose Over the Phone

With identity theft a real danger in these more calculated times, older persons should be vigilant in protecting their personal information. The trusting nature of seniors is exactly what a scam artist hopes for when posing as an official calling to verify personal information that should never be shared over the phone. Without ever suspecting they are being played, the senior’s natural inclination to cooperate may override common sense and caution. Thus, sensitive data that is then used to drain their personal accounts may be disclosed.

Phishing and Spoofing

Phishing is the fraudulent practice of sending emails or other messages purporting to be from reputable companies to induce individuals to reveal personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers. The scam artist can email using the actual email addresses of government agencies or banks to make it look legit, but the link in the email message actually goes to a fraudulent website. Seniors need to know that the IRS, Social Security Administration or Medicare, for example, will never call or email requesting personal identification numbers, much less demand money for accounts in arrears. That communication would only come via official U.S. postal mail. Imposters posing as government officials will use scare and intimidation tactics, warning their targets that they owe back taxes or payments that need to be paid now. Technology also allows these fraudsters to “spoof” the phone numbers of government agencies or banks. That is when a caller deliberately falsifies the information transmitted to your caller ID display to disguise their identity.

For more information on phishing and spoofing, along with other important tips to stay aware of, read this advice from the Federal Trade Commission.

Scams To Watch Out For

Seniors need to be on guard when someone calls or emails asking for their Social Security number or bank account numbers or passwords. Being alert means being ready to ignore, terminate and report these contacts before unintentionally giving up data that puts personal finances at risk. If you help care for a senior who may not have the capacity to recognize or deter fraudulent activity, then part of your job is making sure they have phone and email systems that block nuisance calls and spam messages. Routine screening of calls and messages, even letters, may need to be done to help prevent your senior from falling victim to scams. The AARP offers information about several technology tools and tips that families can utilize to help guard against elder financial abuse.

Just as real government agencies don’t call or email consumers, legit sweepstakes and lotteries don’t inform winners that way. They certainly don’t require payments in order for people to collect winnings. Perpetrators count on the senior to be so excited about hitting a jackpot that they do whatever is instructed to get their payoff. Only once the senior pays up do they discover that no prize is forthcoming because they’ve been duped.

If something doesn’t feel or sound right about an overture, then your suspicions are probably correct.

Phone scammers prey on the elderly’s unfamiliarity with the way the law enforcement and justice systems work by pretending the target is the subject of a criminal investigation or lawsuit. The scammer proceeds to detail the dire consequences of inaction or hanging up, warning of fines, ruined reputations, and even serious jail time before demanding payment to make it all go away or reduce the damage.

Similarly, tech support fraud exploits the fact that many seniors are not tech savvy and thus prone to fall victim to pop-ups or screens that appear on their computer or device warning their operating system is damaged or compromised. The scammer has the target call a number, and the person answering demands a fee for the fix or requests remote access to their computer/device.

The grandparent scam proves just how far crooks will go to take advantage of people’s emotions. It goes something like this: “Hi, Grandma. Do you know who this is?” The imposter’s intent is to fool the senior into thinking the caller is a grandchild. Employing tactics con artists and psychics use, the scammer will pick up on even the subtlest cues to gain the senior’s trust and will leave the senior to fill in the blanks and thus believe the person calling is whom they say they are. Once the senior has taken the bait, the scammer spills out a sob story of some medical or other emergency requiring urgent funds and seals the deal by getting the senior to wire money.

Pleas for donations to aid charitable causes, whether delivered online, over television, through U.S. postal mail or in person at your front door, may or may not be legitimate. But in this day and age, the best rule of thumb to follow is that unless the senior initiates the contact themselves with a proven, trusted charity, then they just shouldn’t give. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

A hard-to-combat scam is a robocall, an automated call generated from anywhere in the world. Nefarious users call to extract private information from the target. A common call will ask, “Can you hear me?” which is designed to have the person picking up say, “Yes.” The response is recorded, thus giving the scammer the person’s voice signature for recognition purposes in gaining access to accounts.

Vigilance and Reporting Tips

Fraud schemes depend on catching people off guard and throwing them off balance. No one is above it happening to them. People from all walks of life, not just seniors, fall for scams. Criminals particularly target seniors because the assumption is they have wealth or may lack the sophistication or instincts to spot a lie or deception. Of course, many seniors are not wealthy, but that doesn’t stop crooks from going after them. And even though most seniors are perfectly capable of handling their own affairs and identifying and warding off fraud attempts, they may still get swindled. The more naïve, fragile or isolated a senior is, the more vulnerable they are.

Though financial fraud losses experienced by seniors are reported to be billions a year annually, many instances of fraud go unreported because victims feel embarrassed or ashamed that it happened to them. It’s important to remember though that it can happen to anyone. Even though victims of fraud may not be able to recover any of their stolen funds, it’s vital they not stay silent so authorities can pursue whatever trail has been left behind by the criminals. Going public with one’s story can help the media and authorities alert others to be on the lookout for scams.

Seniors should have easily accessible phone numbers of resources that can help, including local law enforcement and their financial institutions. Most states have a consumer protection division through their attorney general’s office. Find the website or phone number for your state office at to file a consumer or charity complaint or report a scam or data breach. Your state consumer protection organization is also where to go for trending scams in your state.

Adult Protective Services is another potential resource if you know or suspect a senior has been or continues to be a victim of elder fraud. Call the Eldercare Locator, a government-sponsored national resource line, at 1-800-677-1116, or visit its website to find the eldercare reporting agency in your state.

How Right at Home Can Help

Right at Home’s trained, professional caregivers can help seniors and their families with a variety of in-home care options. The caregivers can help be the “eyes and ears” inside the home when family can’t be there to ensure the well-being of aging loved ones. Use our office locator to find our nearest location and ask for more information.

Author Leo Adam Biga

Leo Adam Biga is a veteran freelance journalist and author who writes stories about people, their passions and their magnificent obsessions. The Omaha native and University of Nebraska at Omaha graduate is the author of “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film.” Follow his work at

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