How to Help Seniors Identify and Avoid Scams


For people who make a dishonest living by scamming and swindling others, this is something of a golden age. Technology connects us all and makes our lives easier, but it also makes it easier for con artists to conceal their identities and find vulnerable “marks” for their schemes. Avoiding scams takes work and vigilance these days, and it’s not always easy to discern legitimate communications from those that are sent with fraudulent intent.

One group, in particular, suffers disproportionately from scamming attacks, and each of us knows and loves someone from this important demographic – the senior population.

Why Do Scammers Target Seniors?  

There are a few key reasons why crooks direct their dishonest dealings toward the elderly community. Let’s explore some of them here.

  • Money, Money, Money
    Whether it’s actually true or not on a case-by-case basis, conventional wisdom says that seniors always have large sums of money sitting in their accounts – the so-called “nest egg.” To scammers and con artists, that money is tantalizing, and they’ll work hard to develop plans to access it.
  • The Effects of Aging
    Aging brings wisdom and experience, but unfortunately, it also comes with some declining abilities. Scammers understand that the elderly often suffer from cognitive impairment and/or memory loss, making them more attractive targets than members of the general population. In fact, seniors sometimes don’t realize they’ve been scammed until weeks or months have passed.
  • Generational Differences
    People who grew up in the first half of the 20th century had a different set of values instilled in them; they were taught to be trusting, polite and to generally give people the benefit of the doubt. Scam artists understand this well, and they take full advantage of seniors’ tendency to trust others by default.
  • Pride and Independence
    Most seniors will do anything they can to retain their independence as they get older and begin to lose some of their abilities. Therefore, they are less likely to speak up when they realize they’ve been victimized by a fraudulent party because they don’t want to admit that they’ve been outsmarted. To many seniors, reporting such a crime would indicate to the rest of the world that they’re unfit to live independently, and that could lead to changes in care or the living situation. Scammers know that elderly targets are less likely to speak up, and they take advantage of this fact.
  • Hope for a Longer, Healthier Life
    We live in a wondrous time when miracle cures and treatments exist. People are living longer, healthier lives, but there is so much information out there that it’s difficult to discern between fact and fraudulent fiction. When seniors receive offers for products that promise increased vitality, cancer-fighting properties, boosted memory and other such improvements, they’re often all too eager to sign themselves up without performing the necessary research or due diligence.

What Can You Do to Help?

As with most things in life, knowledge is power. If you’re responsible for the care of a senior, you can help to educate them so they understand when someone is acting fraudulently. You can also provide support in other important ways so that the seniors you care for avoid becoming victimized.

Following are five of the most common types of scams perpetrated against the elderly along with some tips on how you can help seniors avoid them.

  1. Email and Internet Scams
    Younger people see scams online quite frequently; for some people, it’s just a fact of life on the Internet. However, older individuals who did not grow up with email and the web are not as well versed in the online language of fraud, making them susceptible to scams.These scams often take the form of emails from wealthy members of royal families or long-lost relatives who have large sums of money to give away. The basic idea is that there is a fortune to be made, but the reality is that a fortune will be spent on adhering to the terms of these scams, with no payoff whatsoever for the victim. Other online scams involve a technique known as “phishing,” where con artists will send fraudulent communications that appear as if they’ve been sent by legitimate institutions.You can help by…
    Instilling an attitude of skepticism and distrust in seniors with regards to emails and other electronic communications. Remind seniors that if they receive online communications and something seems “off,” they should assume that they’re being targeted. If something seemingly fraudulent has been sent from what looks like a legitimate organization, a quick call to that organization will clear up any misunderstandings and thwart the scammer in the act.
  2. Fake Grandchildren
    Many seniors have been fortunate enough to experience the joys of having grandchildren enter their lives. For some families, that means having to keep track of dozens of (or more!) people. Unfortunately, having numerous grandchildren often equals greater susceptibility to the so-called “grandparents scam.”In this attack, an individual will call a senior and claim to be a grandchild. Typically, the trickster will ask the senior to guess who is calling them. When “grandma” or “grandpa” offers a name as a guess, the con artist has everything they need to garner sympathy and request money to help them out of a troubled situation. More often than not, the request for money will involve using a wire service such as Western Union.
    You can help by…
    Reminding seniors that if they receive suspicious phone calls, they should tell callers that they’ll phone them back. In the meantime, they can call relatives to determine if the stories check out. Keep in mind that modern scammers can find family details on sites like Facebook and other social media outlets, so it’s important to ensure that seniors are extra careful when they receive unusual calls.
  3. Charity Scams
    This type of fraud is especially repellent because it takes advantage of peoples’ natural inclination to offer help after a tragic event has occurred. Although this scam is perpetrated on all segments of the population, seniors are especially vulnerable.Basically, a major disaster such as a tsunami, earthquake or tornado occurs somewhere in the world, and people claiming to represent charities call seniors and others to request donations for relief efforts. Of course, these scammers aren’t after money to help anyone other than themselves, making this type of scam particularly disgusting.
    You can help by…
    Letting seniors know that they should never donate money to someone who made first contact with them, regardless of how professional or legitimate they may sound. Instead, seniors can donate to causes by contacting known and trusted charities directly and giving through established channels.
  4. Prescription Medicine Scams
    As people get older, they become increasingly dependent upon prescription medications. Some seniors pay incredibly large sums of money for their medicines, often through online services that promise to reduce the cost of the drugs significantly. Unfortunately, many of these services exist outside of U.S. regulation, and some of them are responsible for supplying counterfeit meds.It is well known that significant savings can be had by purchasing prescription meds from foreign pharmacies. Although many of these businesses operate legitimately, some of them take advantage of the lack of regulation and supply fake meds to their customers, allowing them to pocket most of the money paid for them. What’s more, the U.S. imports about 40% of its medications from India, and the New York Times has reported that up to 12% of the medicine imported from India is, in fact, counterfeit (Source: NY Times Article)
    You can help by…
    Informing seniors that some cost savings are too good to be true. The FDA is currently in the process of applying regulations to pharmacy operations outside of the U.S. that sell medications domestically, but the process is not perfect, and it will take some time. In the meantime, seniors should avoid prescription services that seem suspicious. The best bet is to use trusted, U.S. pharmacies exclusively, in spite of the increased cost.
  5. Medicare and Medicaid Card Scams
    These types of scams have been around for some time, but they’re still going strong in the Internet age. Since so many members of the elderly population rely on Medicare and Medicaid, they are often targeted as victims of scammers hoping to perpetrate identity theft.Generally, a scam artist will call seniors, claiming to be contacting them on behalf of a legitimate government agency. They’ll simply state that Medicare or Medicaid cards need to be replaced, and that they require personal information in order to process the new cards. Of course, they are simply taking this information so they can steal the identities of seniors for fraudulent purposes.
    You can help by…
    Reminding seniors that they should be suspicious of anyone who calls claiming to be from a government agency. In these cases, seniors should offer to call the party back so they can ensure that they’re contacting an actual agency and not someone merely representing one. Also, it’s a good rule of thumb to never – under any circumstances – provide personal or banking information over the phone.

A Final Word on Common Sense and Healthy Skepticism 

Scammers have it easier than ever these days, but they are not interested in wasting their time with targets who question them or seem skeptical about their efforts. More and more, these con artists are targeting only the most gullible marks so that they can ensure an easy payday. That’s why common sense and a healthy amount of skepticism can come in so handy in the fight against fraud.

 If you have a senior in your care, and you’re worried about them being victimized by scammers, you can help protect them by reminding them that if an offer seems too good to be true, or if someone claims to represent a legitimate institution without proof or credentials, they’re probably being targeted.

Ultimately, seniors want to remain in control of their lives as they age, and by giving them tools to fight against fraud, you give them the gift of greater independence.

Do you have questions about helping seniors identify and avoid scams? Give Always Best Care a call today. We’d love to hear from you!