Seniors, Beware of These Five Scams* (Part 1)

Older people are in the crosshairs of a new breed of clever scam artists. Why aim at this particular demographic? Perhaps it is because older adults are perceived as having more money than younger people, being easier to take advantage of, or less likely to report their losses.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book for 2021 found that younger people are more apt to report fraud. Whether they do is somewhat dependent on their age. Only 18 percent of those seventy to seventy-nine reported this crime in 2021. Consumers who are over eighty report the highest median losses.

Here are five scams to be aware of and avoid. Remember, knowledge is power!

  1. The Grandparent Scam

In this scenario, a scammer pretends to be your grandchild who is in trouble—such as having his wallet stolen while he is out of town—and needs your help. He may ask you not to tell his parents because they would be so worried. He may suggest sending the money by wire transfer or by buying gift cards (this idea is a dead giveaway). What to do: First, be suspicious. Is this something your grandchild would be likely to do? Wouldn’t he call his parents first? Second, if possible, verify the story by calling a family member who knows where he is right now. If you have trouble reaching the family, try asking the caller a few questions only your grandchild could answer.

  1. Medicare Scams

If someone calls you, claiming to be a Medicare representative and asking for personal and medical information, assume it’s a scam. The caller might tell you that you need a new Medicare card or offer you discounted additional coverage. Some Medicare scams advertise free or low-cost services or equipment to seniors for which they will later bill Medicare. What to do: First, be aware that Medicare will never call or come to your home uninvited to sell products or services. In fact, Medicare will never call you! If for some reason, they need to reach you, they will send a letter to notify you of the reason and the information they need. If you receive such a call, you can just hang up, or you can take the time to tell the caller you know this is a scam and then hang up.

  1. Online Romance Scams

Romance scams involving older people are more common than you might guess. Think of the commercials that feature an attractive woman who says, “I know people meet that way, but where would I begin?” The commercial suggests an online dating site where she can meet other attractive and available romantic partners. The FTC reports that people lost $1.3 billion to romance scams in 2021 alone, more than in any other FTC fraud category. People of all ages fall victim to romance scams, but median losses for victims over 70 were more than $8,000 higher than losses for adults aged eighteen to twenty-nine. It may take weeks or months for the scammer to get to know you and build your trust. What to do: This is not easy because, by the time this person asks you for money or to invest in a business proposition, you are emotionally hooked. It will be very difficult to refuse, but consider the worse-case scenario—being bankrupted. It may sound extreme, but I know people who have had their new significant other investigated before handing out any money.

  1. Employment Scams

If you want to earn extra money and are looking for a new job, you are a tempting target. This scam takes the form of promises for easy work-from-home jobs when there is no real job. You may be asked to pay for training. Again, there is no training, Or, as in most cases, you might be asked for your personal information, which is a big red flag. What to do: If you are a serious job hunter, this may look like exactly what you want. But easy work-from-home jobs usually mean hours making cold calls or trying to collect delinquent bills. If such jobs do exist, they are anything but easy, and they pay little to nothing. You would never have to pay for your own training. If this were a real job, the employer would foot the bill. Forgive me for repeating myself, but never, never give out your personal information! Identity theft is real, but you don’t have to make the thieves’ job any easier.

       5.  Online Shopping Scams

In its annual report to Congress on protecting older adults for 2021 the FTC highlighted online shopping scams as the most frequent type of fraud that targets older adults. In some cases, these reports described websites that sold masks or other limited-supply items during the pandemic but never delivered the products. Scammers set up websites that seem like legitimate storefronts but only exist to collect your payment information or sell you stolen goods. These sites can look surprisingly real, and you may come across them on social media or in websites’ comments sections. What to do: Be alert to red flags on websites you visit, such as: 1. surprisingly low prices; spelling errors in the URL; a new website without much information; 4. asks for unusual types of payment; 5. pressure to act fast; 6. requests unnecessary information; 7. shopping on social media.

*Based on an article by Louis DeNicola on