Avoiding Scams

Financial scams targeting seniors have become incredibly commonplace. The reasoning behind this trend is the perception that senior citizens have a lot of money sitting in their accounts. Financial scams also often go unreported or can be challenging to prosecute, so they’re considered a “low-risk” crime. However, they’re devastating to many older adults and can leave them in a very vulnerable position with little time to recoup their losses. It’s not just wealthy seniors who are targeted. Low-income older adults are also at risk of financial abuse. And it’s not always strangers who perpetrate these crimes. Frequently,  elder abuse is committed by an older person’s family members, most often their adult children, followed by grandchildren, nieces, and nephews, and others.

It is estimated that 1 in 5 senior citizens will be the victim of elder abuse is some form. The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) serves as a national resource center dedicated to the prevention of elder mistreatment. The NCEA provides advice and resources to professionals, researchers, advocates, and families around the nation by providing individual assistance via the helpline, website, and social media. The main focus of  NCEA is prevention strategies for elder abuse, which means stopping the abuse in the first place.  A possible prevention strategy is a criminal background check. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have a National Background Check Program. The program’s purpose is to identify efficient, effective, and economical procedures for conducting background checks on all prospective direct patient access employees of long-term care facilities and providers. Abuse Registries are used to “refer to a list of perpetrators of substantiated incidents of elder abuse and, in many instances, used to determine whether those individuals should be prohibited from working with certain vulnerable populations or in certain settings, such as a nursing home.”

Popular Scams Targeting Seniors

  1.  Counterfeit Prescription Drug

This scam is growing in popularity. Since 2000, the FDA has investigated an average of 20 such cases per year, increased from 5 per year in the 1990s. Counterfeit drug scams operate on the internet, where seniors increasingly go to find better prices on specialized medications. The danger is that besides paying money for something that will not help a  medical condition, victims may purchase unsafe substances, which may inflict even more harm.

  1.  Funeral and cemetery scams

The FBI warns about two types of funeral and cemetery fraud, which are sometimes perpetrated on seniors. In one approach, scammers read obituaries and call or attend the funeral service of a stranger to take advantage of the grieving widow or widower. Claiming the deceased had an outstanding debt with them, scammers will try to extort money from relatives to settle the fake debts. Another tactic of disreputable funeral homes is to capitalize on family members’ unfamiliarity with the considerable cost of funeral services, adding unnecessary charges to the bill. In one common scam of this type, funeral directors will insist that a casket, usually one of the most expensive parts of funeral services, is necessary even when performing a direct cremation, which can be accomplished with a cardboard casket rather than a display or burial casket.

  1. Medicare/health insurance scams

In these types of scams, perpetrators may pose as a Medicare representative to get older people to give them their personal information, or they will provide fake services for older adults at makeshift mobile clinics. Scammers use the personal information provided to bill Medicare and pocket the money.

  1. Telemarketing or phone scams

Perhaps the most common scheme is when scammers use fake telemarketing calls to prey on older people, who, as a group, make twice as many purchases over the phone than the national average. While the image of the lonely senior citizen with nobody to talk to may have something to do with this, it is far more likely that older people are more familiar with shopping over the phone and, therefore, might not be fully aware of the risk. With no face-to-face interaction and no paper trail, these scams are incredibly hard to trace. Also, once a successful deal has been made, the buyer’s name is then shared with similar schemers looking for easy targets, sometimes defrauding the same person repeatedly.

Examples of telemarketing fraud include charity scams where the money is solicited for fake charities, often occurring after natural disasters. Fake accident ploy is when the con artist gets the victim to wire or send money on the pretext that the person’s child or another relative is in the hospital and needs the money. Pigeon drop is when a con artist tells the individual he/she has found a large sum of money and is willing to split it if the person will make a “good faith” payment by withdrawing funds from his/her bank account. Often, a second con artist is involved, posing as a lawyer, banker, or some other trustworthy stranger.

  1. Investment schemes

Many seniors find themselves planning for retirement and managing their savings once they retire. Many investment schemes have targeted seniors looking to safeguard their cash for their later years. Investment schemes have long been a successful way to take advantage of older people. Pyramid schemes or a rich and wealthy foreigner; looking for a partner to help claim their inheritance money is quite popular among the con artists.

If you suspect you may be a victim of a scam, do not hesitate to talk it over with someone you trust. Do not let fear or embarrassment prevent you from sharing your concerns. Doing nothing may only worsen the problem. To obtain the contact information for Adult Protective Services in your area, call the Eldercare Locator, a government-sponsored national resource line, 1-800-677-1116, or visit their website https://eldercare.acl.gov.


American Society on Aging (ASA, 2019). https://www.asaging.org/blog/three-faces-elder-abuse.

National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA 2019). https://ncea.acl.gov/About-Us/What-We-Do/Practice/Prevention-Strategies.aspx#registries.

National Council on Aging (NCOA 2019). https://www.ncoa.org/economic-security/money-management/scams-security/top-10-scams-targeting-seniors