Why are seniors targeted?

Let’s admit it: as we age, we may not be as sharp, and often we are no match for a convincing scheme. Fraudsters capitalize on seniors’ isolation, lack of tech skills, and their trusting nature. In addition, the 60+ demographic is thought to have a lot of money in savings, investments, and ready cash that scammers can tap into. But lower-income seniors are also at risk. And the perpetrator, you may be surprised to learn, is rarely a stranger. A whopping 90% of reported elder abuse is at the hands of the victim’s own family, most often their adult children, then other family members, reports the National Council on Aging.

It’s been called “The Crime of the 21st Century,” and unfortunately, older adults are most often the victims. In fact, seniors aged 60-plus are nearly five times more likely to lose money through tech-fraud than people ages 20 to 59, according to a Federal Trade Commission report.  But a little insight can transform you from victim to victor.

Become A Scam Spotter

Scammers are great persuaders

Fraudsters take many approaches to set up their potential victims. For instance, they may pour on the charm, to make you feel like they are on your side. They might instill fear, and lead you to believe you must act at once. Often they pose as authority figures, such as IRS representatives or other government officials. Or they can simply pretend to be from a well-respected company or charity. And the longer they can keep you involved in conversation and talking to them, the greater their chances of success.

Healthcare hoaxes

Everyone age 65 and above qualifies for Medicare. So scammers don’t need to do research on your provider to set their traps. They may telephone, or knock on your door, claiming to be a Medicare representative, and spring the scheme:

  • You need a new Medicare card, and you must provide them with your Social Security number so they can order it for you.
  • You need new supplemental policies, which they can take care of, with the information you provide.
  • Request your personal information so they can bill Medicare, then they take your money.
  • Offer ‘free’ medical equipment (which you may or may not ever receive), then charge Medicare and keep the reimbursement .


Follow these tips to immunize yourself against fraud:

  • Give your insurance and Medicare information only when a service has been provided.
  • Do not give any medical provider blanket authorization to bills for service.
  • Never sign blank insurance claims.
  • Be sure to know if your doctor ordered equipment or services for you.
  • Don’t engage with door-to-door or telemarketing salespeople for health services or equipment.
  • Check your insurance statements carefully each month for questionable charges.

Prescription drug ‘deals’

An increasing number of seniors are falling victim to drug scams found on the internet. Many seniors, who are seeking better prices on existing prescription medications, think they are getting a bargain. Often, these illicit pharmacies claim to be Canadian, which is known for low-cost medications. Up to 95% of these sites do not comply with US pharmacy laws  and standards, according to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. And buyers often end up with counterfeit drugs that may be contaminated, expired, contain the wrong ingredients, the wrong dosage, or have none of the active ingredients prescribed.


Another online racket is a pop-up ad that promises proven pain relief. In many cases, this is the work of third-party marketers who recruit shady doctors and pharmacies to work with them. Once the victim calls, the doctor performs a perfunctory online  ‘consultation,’ prescribes inflated-cost medications, then bills  health insurance plans.  Often, the ‘pain relief prescription’ is a topical cream which the buyer could have bought over-the-counter for a fraction of the cost.


Luckily, here’s a prescription for avoiding online drug scams:

  • Trusted online pharmacies have a seal of approval, the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site (VIPPS).  Order exclusively from them, and never buy medications online from unlicensed distributors.
  • Never buy unless the pharmacy requires a prescription from your own doctor.
  • Scrutinize any prescription drugs you buy online, including packaging, lot numbers and the look of the pills.
  • Never take pain relief (or any) medication unless you know the ingredients are approved for your use by your health care provider.

Telemarketing  tricks

It can be very hard to say no when you’re having a conversation with a forceful, convincing authority figure. They often claim to be IRS agents, who claim you owe back taxes, a pretend federal student tax, or some sort of penalty. They may also claim you are being investigated. Other scammers pretend to be bank officials, investment financial advisors, contest or lottery managers, and even family members.


Here are some warning signs to be listening for:

  • Very cheap travel. But you have to pay now by giving them your credit card or bank account number, or have a check picked up by their courier.
  • Valuable prizes that you just ‘won.’ But you have to pay postage and handling.
  • Extended warranties and free trials. But you must act now or the offer will be taken away.
  • A great investment opportunity. And you can’t afford to pass up this no-risk offer.
  • Advance loans. And there’s no need to research the company with consumer protection agencies or the Better Business Bureau.


Phone scammers have one common goal: to get you to send them immediate payments, either through your credit card, a preloaded debit card, or wire transfer. They don’t want you to think it over, ask someone else’s opinion, or do a background check.


Once a victim falls for a telemarketing scam, his/her name is commonly circulated to other fraudsters, as an ‘easy mark’ they can prey on in future. That doubles your motivation to protect yourself against these schemes.


Here are some ways to do that:

  • Be aware that the IRS will never request your personal information by telephone. Nor will they demand that you use a specific payment method (such as prepaid debit or wire transfer).
  • Never give your personal information (Social Security number, or credit card number and expiration dates) to an unknown person or company.
  • Ask for written material from any charity or special offer. Legitimate businesses and organizations are happy to provide information.
  • Never make a snap decision. Get the salesperson’s name, phone number and business information, then verify before taking action.
  • An aggressive sales approach is always a red flag. Hang up immediately.
  • Ask yourself this question: What proof will I have that the money I send will be used for what we discussed? If the answer is ‘none,’ that’s how much money you should send!
  • Never pay for services in advance.
  • Never pay for a ‘free’ prize. Demanding you pay for taxes or fees is a violation of federal law.
  • Beware of companies sending a courier or messenger to pick up money or a check from you. It’s not a service – it’s a great way to grab your money with no way to be traced.

Scammer scenarios to beware of

Unfortunately fraudsters are very resilient, and as authorities clamp down on one scheme, another version quickly pops up somewhere else. Here are a few of the most common set-ups:


  • The pigeon drop – This involves the victim giving a small amount of money with the promise of receiving a larger amount in future. There are usually two fraudsters involved, acting as if they do not know each other. It takes place in a public spot, with a ‘passerby’ striking up a friendly conversation with the victim. Then a ‘stranger’ walks up to them with the bait. The scheme could involve finding a bag of money or a wallet, an inheritance that requires transfer, or a bond or security to cash in. But some up-front money is needed for a legal document, transfer fee, or taxes. If the victim could help out, he/she will get a share of the proceeds. Once the victim provides the cash, he/she never sees the scammers or the reward again.

  • Fake accident – In this scenario, you may receive a call informing you that a relative or friend has been injured and is in the hospital, in need of money to be sent at once. Or perhaps the call comes from a grandchild who got into trouble and was arrested, and begs you to please send bail money and don’t tell mom and dad. An accomplice is usually involved, acting as the policeman, doctor or lawyer, instructing you to wire funds immediately.

  • Robocalls – A pre-recorded message is set up to have you say the word ‘yes.’ For instance, the caller may ask “Are you there?” or “Is this the homeowner?” Your recorded “yes” response is then used as a voice signature the scammers will use to put charges on your credit card.

  • Phishing – Fraudsters use email to trick you into providing your personal information. They set up an ‘official’ email from a bank or company, complete with letterhead and logo. It looks so legitimate that victims believe there’s a problem that needs fixing, and supply their password, account number, and other personal ID info.


The list of successful schemes is formidable. One involves kids selling magazine subscriptions door to door to raise money for ‘good causes.’ Another scam preys on grieving families, with thieves watching obituaries and funeral homes, then swooping down demanding payment on bogus debts the deceased owed. Mortgage scams involve official-looking letters that offer tax reductions for a fee, or reverse mortgages that make the homeowners’ equity available to the scammer.

What to do if you’ve been scammed

Do you think you’ve been the victim of fraud? Follow these steps:

  1. Cut off all contact with the scammer. Do not answer their calls or respond to their emails or letters.

  2. Stop sending payments. Some con artists will actually contact you again, pretending to be an official or enforcement agent who can help return your money.

  3. Contact your bank, money transfer service, or credit card provider immediately. They have policies to handle scams.

  4. Report the incident. Unfortunately, most scam victims do not. But scams are crimes, and the police need to know about them. AARP has a Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 1-877-908-3360. You can also sign up for their free watchdog alerts, and scam-tracking maps. Finally, reach out to the Federal Trade Commission, either online at or by phone, 1-877-382-4357.

Protect yourself proactively

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that you will be able to recover any money lost in a scam. That’s all the more reason to ensure you do not become a victim. Forewarned is forearmed. So become educated on the types of scenarios that may be aimed at you. The National Council on Aging offers information and tips, at The FTC site,, is another good source of ways to improve computer security. Block mail solicitations for five years at a time, through the Direct Marketing Association mail preference service, Stop receiving credit offers on And check out your phone service’s anti-robocall program.