Who should I Trust? Signs of Fraud Against Seniors and Elders

According to the FTC, nearly 25 million Americans are victims of consumer fraud each year. Seniors continue to be a rapidly increasing segment of the population targeted by con artists. In fact, financial scams targeting seniors have become so prevalent that they are now considered to be “the crime of the 21st century.” And this crime against seniors is not always one that is perpetrated by strangers. Over 90% of all reported abuse of seniors is committed by someone in their own family. Shockingly, financial abuse such as depleting joint checking accounts, promising but not delivering care in exchange for money or property, and even outright theft is most often committed by the senior’s own adult children, followed by grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and others. And it’s not just wealthy seniors who are at risk. Low income older adults are commonly targeted as well.

As a caregiver, how do you protect your senior loved one from falling victim to scams? Protecting your senior comes down to four key actions: being aware, being careful, doing your homework, and asking for help if you find that your senior has been the victim of a financial crisis. Here are the ten most popular scams targeting seniors according to the National Council on Aging (NCOA) followed by some practical but important ways to protect him or her, and also next steps to take if you discover that fraud has occurred.

The top ten scams targeting seniors include:

  • Health Care/Medicare/Health Insurance Fraud. There are endless varieties of this scam aimed at getting the personal information of seniors by scam artists who promise bogus services for elderly people and then use the information to bill Medicare and then pocket the money.
  • Counterfeit Prescription Drugs. This is most often perpetrated via the internet when seniors search for better prices on specialized medications. Not only is there danger of paying for meds that will not help the senior’s medical condition, but victims may purchase unsafe substances that can cause harm.
  • Funeral and Cemetery Scams. Scammers read the obituaries and take advantage of the grieving widow or widower by claiming the deceased owes an outstanding debt, and then extorts money to settle the false claim. Another scam perpetuated by disreputable funeral homes preys on the unfamiliarity of family members with the considerable costs of services by adding unnecessary charges to the bill.
  • Fraudulent Anti-Aging Products. There is big money in the anti-aging business and many older people seek new treatments and medications to remain looking youthful. Scammers sell senior bogus homeopathic remedies that do nothing.
  • Telemarketing. Scammers commonly use fake telemarketing calls to prey on older people. Seniors make twice as many purchases by phone than the national average. With no paper trail or face-to-face interaction, these scams are incredibly difficult to trace. To add insult to injury, once a successful deal has been made, the buyer’s name is shared with other scammers who are on the prowl for easy marks.
  • Internet Fraud. Seniors who are not computer savvy can be easy prey for scams that cause computer viruses that open information on the user’s computer to scammers.
  • Investment schemes. Because many seniors find themselves planning for retirement and managing their savings after retirement, investment schemes have long been a successful way to take advantage of seniors. They can range everywhere from pyramid schemes like the one that Bernie Madoff perpetrated, to complex financial products that many economists don’t even understand.
  • Homeowner/Reverse Mortgages. The reverse mortgage has mushroomed in recent years. Unsecured reverse mortgages can lead property owners to lose their homes when perpetrators offer money or a free house somewhere else in exchange for the title to the property.
  • Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams. Here scammers inform their mark that they have won a lottery or sweepstakes and need to make some kind of payment to unlock the prize. Often, this scam involves having the senior deposit the fake prize check into their bank account. The prize amount shows up in their account immediately and takes a few days before it is rejected. In the meantime, the scammers collect money for supposed taxes or fees on the prize as the victim has the ‘prize money’ removed from their account as the check bounces.
  • The Grandparent Scam. This simple scam involves a call to an older person by an imposter grandchild who asks for money to resolve an unexpected financial problem. The money is usually paid to Western Union or MoneyGram which don’t always require identification to collect.

You can help protect your senior and reduce their risk of financial abuse by making him or her aware of the risk of elder financial abuse. Avoiding isolation by staying involved with friends, family, and community activities throughout their lives is likewise helpful. Seniors should also include safeguards in their durable powers of attorney to help prevent those being misused by their agent is another way to secure his or her assets. Refusing to engage with anyone who calls or comes to the door selling anything or looking for donations is another good practice. Using direct deposit for checks will ensure that they go right into their accounts and are protected. And finally, never giving credit card, banking, or other personal information out over the phone unless he or she initiates the call is a good way to maintain the integrity of this very private information.

If your senior falls victim to fraud, immediately call his or her bank and/or credit company, cancel any debit or credit cards linked to the stolen account, and reset the personal identification number(s). There is help for suspected elder abuse as well. Every province operates an elder abuse programme. The Canadian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse can help you find resources in your community.


  • “Senior Fraud: A campaign aimed at older Americans to keep them from becoming victims of fraud and identity theft,.” National Crime Prevention Council, www.ncpc.org/newsroom/current-campaigns/senior-fraud.
  • “Savvy Saving Seniors®,” National Council on Aging, www.ncoa.org
  • “Top 10 Scams Targeting Seniors,” National Council on Aging, www.ncoa.org

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