Older adults and money scams: What to watch out for and how to protect yourself

wallet with credit cards

Being older doesn’t always make us wiser. Sadly, some people take advantage of that fact by luring older adults into money scams. Read on to learn what to watch out for and how to protect yourself or someone you know against such scams.




Common scams used against the elderly

Here are three types of scams that are commonly used to trick older adults into giving up their cash:

Imposter scams: In this scenario, a person pretends to be someone he or she is not to extract money or information (that can eventually lead to accessing funds) from an older adult. The identities they assume could be that of government officials or even one’s own grandchild. One example is the IRS scam, where someone pretends to be calling a senior from the IRS and demand money that is owed to the government be paid immediately, least that senior go directly to jail. Another involves impersonating a grandchild, claiming to be in jail and in need of bail money to get out.

Identity theft: This crime results in the unauthorized access to financial or personal information. Identity theft can happen in a number of ways, many outside the control of the victim, such as when an institutions credit card records are breached. Other times, the senior will have direction communication from the scammer trying to get their information. It could be via an email through what’s called a “phishing attempt” — the email asks for specific information, such as a social security number or credit card number, often to “confirm” someone’s identity. What’s happening instead is that the person’s identity is being stolen.

Mortgage-related scams: In this case, the scammers will claim that they can relieve the senior who owns a home the stress of their mortgage payments or their fear of falling into foreclosure. Sometimes, the scammers ask for an upfront fee. Other times, they take the ownership of the person’s home right from under them. In the latter scenario, seniors often aren’t given much information about what is happening with their home, and they don’t realize they are giving up possession of it to someone else… until it is too late.

Scam artists use the phone, email, mailed letters, and even sometimes a knock on the door in person to pull off these different types of fraud with the elderly.

How to protect yourself or someone you know from scams

While some fraud is hard to avoid, there are steps you can take to prevent these types of scams from taking place.

  • Never share your personal or financial information with anyone over the phone or an email — even if you think it’s someone you know.
  • Be careful about who you trust. Don’t be afraid to be skeptical and ask lots of questions.
  • When making financial decisions or meeting people in regards to services they render, consider doing so only with a close, trusted family member or friend present with you.
  • Take advantage of the Federal Trade Commission’s “Cooling-Off Rule.” The rule provides consumers with a three-day right to cancel a sale made in the home or other off-site location, such as hotels, restaurants, or the seller’s temporary location. A door-to-door salesperson must provide notice of the right to cancel as well as two copies of the cancellation form. You do not have to provide a reason for cancelling the transaction.

What to do if you or someone you know is a victim
of a scam

If you or someone you know has become a victim of a scam, be sure to contact your local police authorities, including calling 911 if the senior is in danger or you believe a crime has been committed.

You can also contact Adult Protective Services in your area. You can reach these offices using the Eldercare Locator at eldercare.acl.gov, a public service provided by the U.S. Administration for Community Living, or by calling 1-800-677-1116.

For cases of identity theft, also call the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at 1-877-438-4338 or identitytheft.gov. If the loss involves funds held in a financial institution, such as a bank or credit union, report the problem to the financial institution immediately. If the loss involves credit products, such as a credit card or loan, contact the creditor immediately.


Some information courtesy of the National Center on Law & Elder Rights, as well as the Money Smart for Older Adults Resource Guide.