Scamming the Elderly

The Top 10 Scams Targeting Seniors

1. IRS Impersonation Scams

While there are multiple variations of this scam, criminals generally accuse victims elder scam image.pngof owing back taxes and penalties. They then threaten retaliation, such as home foreclosure, arrest, and, in some case, deportation, if immediate payment is not made by a certified check, credit card, electronic wire transfer, or prepaid debit card.

2. Sweepstakes Scams

A sweepstakes scam will usually start with a simple phone call, usually from a number with "876". (This number looks similar to a call coming from an American number.) Scammers tell the victims that they have won the Jamaican lottery or a new car and that they must wire money for upfront fees and/or taxes for the winnings to be delivered. The scammer will tell the victims to send the money in a variety of ways inlcuding prepaid debit cards, electronic wire transfers, money orders, or even cash. The scammer may also instruct the victim to keep it a "surprise" so their family will not find out.

3. Robocalls/Unwanted Phone Calls

Robocalls often originate offshore. Con artists usually spoof the number from which they are calling to mask their idenity or take on a new identity. As in the IRS scam above, scammers spoof the numbers to make the victims believe they are from the government or other legitimate entity.

4. Computer Scams

The basic scam involves con artists trying to gain the victims' trust by pretending to be associated with a well-known technology company, such as Microsoft, Apple, Dell, etc. They then falsely claim that the victim's computers have been infected with a virus and they convince the victim to give them remote access to their computer, personal information and credit card number so the victim can be billed for the fraudulent service of fixing the virus.

5. Grandparents Scams

In this scam, imposters either pretend to be the victim’s grandchild and/or claim to be holding the victim’s grandchild. The fraudsters claim the grandchild is in trouble and needs money to help with an emergency, such as getting out of jail, paying a hospital bill, or leaving a foreign country. Scammers play on victims’ emotions and trick concerned grandparents into wiring money to them.

6. Elder Financial Abuse

Older Americans are particularly vulnerable to financial exploitation because financial decision-making ability can decrease with age. One study found that women are almost twice as likely to be victims of financial abuse. Most victims are between the ages of 80 and 89, live alone, and require support with daily activities. Perpetrators include family members; paid home care workers; those with fiduciary responsibilities, such as financial advisors or legal guardians; or strangers who defraud older adults through mail, telephone, or Internet scams.

7. Grants Scams

In the most common version of this scam, consumers receive an unsolicited phone call from con artists claiming that they are from the “Federal Grants Administration” or the “Federal Grants Department” - agencies that do not exist. In another version of this scam, scammers place advertisements in the classified section of local newspapers offering “free grants.” Scammers will request that victims wire money for processing fees or taxes before the money can be sent to them.

8. Romance Scams/Confidence Fraud

Typically, scammers contact victims online, either through a chat room, dating site, social media site, or email. Con artists have been known to create elaborate profile pages, giving their fabricated story more credibility. Con artists often call and chat on the phone to prove that they are real. These conversations can take place over weeks and even months as the con artists build trust with their victims. In some instances, con artists have even promised to marry their victims. Inevitably, con artists in these scams will ask their victims for money for a variety of things.

9. Home Improvement Scams

There are several variations of this scam in which scammers show up at victims’ doors and offer to perform a service for a price that seems fair. These service jobs frequently involve, but are not limited to, repairing a roof, repaving a driveway, repainting a house or room, or installing a home security system. The contractors usually ask for immediate payment in advance but then do substandard work, or no work at all. Seniors, those who live alone, individuals with disabilities, and victims of weather-related disasters are common targets.


If you have been a victim of a scam, please don't be embarrassed to contact your local police department for help. Too many criminals get away with their crimes because the victim is reluctant to admit they were scammed.

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