Scams that Target Older Adults

S.F. Ehrlich Associates |

December 31, 2019

Based on the daily news, it seems that there are aren’t enough warnings when it comes to financial crimes against the elderly. While some of the scams seem so obvious (Did you ever knowingly enter a lottery in Nigeria?), we react differently when we’re in the moment. You’re distracted, the phone rings, you hear the word ‘police,’ and you immediately go into crisis mode.

As offered by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance1, here’s what to look for:

  • Sweepstakes or lottery: It may be a phone call, email, or letter that notifies you of a potential jackpot. You just have to pay a fee, or a tax, or customs duties, and the money will be yours. Sometimes, you may even receive a check that you can actually deposit. The caveat is you have to use a portion of that check to pay the fee. The scam is that the check you deposited won’t clear, but the check or wire you send will be long gone before you realize the scam. The solution: Don’t respond, you didn’t win a lottery!
  • Tech support: Either a tech support representative calls to report a virus in your computer, or a pop-up on your monitor provides a number to get help. Either way, the scam is to get you to either pay a fee or allow hackers into your computer to steal your data and passwords. The solution: Hang up the phone; buy antivirus protection to prevent pop-ups; and turn off your computer should a pop-up involving tech support ever appear.
  • Grandparent: Your ‘grandchild’ calls, from a police department showing on your caller ID, crying and pleading for help. Bail money would be useful, or money for an attorney. And send it NOW. The solution: Call your grandchild’s cell phone, and/or his/her parents to verify the story because it is a very effective scam.
  • Romance: These start out innocently. An email from a classmate from high school: “Do you remember me?” The scam builds over weeks or months. Then comes a request: “Can you send me money so I can visit you? Can you send me money to help pay for my medical treatment?” These scams are devastating because of the monetary and emotional loss suffered by the victim. The solution: Seeing is believing. Use FaceTime to check your long lost friend, or independently verify what they tell you.
  • Social Security: The phone rings, and an agent from Social Security is on the line. They need to verify your Social Security number, or you owe money due to an over-payment. Just wire the overpayment, and all will be fine. The solution: Either don’t answer the phone or hang up; the Social Security Administration NEVER calls.
  • Natural disasters and contractors: The hurricane blows through, and the damage to your house is readily apparent. There’s a knock on the door, and it’s a contractor who happens to be working in the neighborhood. A small deposit will put you on the list for a roof repair. The solution: If your home ever suffers damage from a natural disaster, find your own contractor or work through your insurance company. Reputable firms don’t have to go door-to-door to solicit business.



1 Cross, Miriam. “6 Scams that Prey on the Elderly.” Kiplinger, 26 November 2019.
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