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Six Scams Targeting Seniors You Should Be Aware Of

There are many scams targeting seniors, most of which try to trap adults with nest eggs and play on their natural trust and fears. While scams take many forms, some of the most prominent types reported to the US Senate Special Committee on Aging are:

  • Social Security impersonation scams
  • IRS impersonation scams
  • Sweepstakes scams
  • Romance scams
  • Grandparent scams
  • Debt scams

Read on to learn how to spot these scams and how to protect yourself from them.

1. Social Security Impersonation Scams

Protect yourself from scams targeting seniors.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) identifies this as a scam that targets your identity and bank accounts. It typically starts as a phone call or email where the person identifies themselves as a Social Security Administration employee.

The caller will ask for your personal information such as date of birth, bank account numbers or your Social Security number. In order to seem more credible, they might lead by saying “the SSA computers are down,” or reference enrollment in government programs like Medicare. All of this is usually said quickly and forcefully, to confuse and intimidate respondents.

How to Protect Yourself

If you receive a suspicious call or e-mail from the SSA, remember that the government will never contact you out-of-the-blue demanding personal information or money. If you’re not sure if they’re a scammer or not, it’s a good idea to hang up, then reach out to the SSA online to try to confirm what the caller was saying.

Develop a habit of verifying the identity of a caller before handing over personal information, and you’ll be in a better position to protect yourself.

2. IRS Impersonation Scams

From 2013 to 2018, IRS Impersonation Scams were the most-reported scam to the Special Committee on Aging’s Fraud Hotline and they’re still common today. These scammers will call or email you pretending to be an IRS agent and demand money for owed back taxes. They may even threaten to suspend or cancel a victim’s Social Security number. Once IRS scammers have gotten a person to pay once, they will often pursue the same victim again and again, with increasing threats of penalty or arrest. 

How to Protect Yourself

The IRS does not start contact with taxpayers by e-mail, text message or social media in order to request personal or financial information, so if anyone contacts you in that manner, you know it is a scam. The IRS will also never request payment via prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Finally, the IRS is required to inform you of your right to question or appeal the amount you owe. Any caller asking for payment in these forms or who fails to notify you of your right to challenge the charges is a scammer.

3. Sweepstakes Scams

This scam has been around for a while, but continues to trap many older adults. The premise is simple: the scammer says you’ve won something, such as money or a luxury vacation, but to claim the prize you have to pay money upfront. This type of scam can be initiated in multiple ways, including by phone call, postcard and e-mail. Similar to IRS scammers, sweepstakes scammers will often return for payments over and over, but the prize will never be delivered.

How to Protect Yourself

Be suspicious of anyone who tells you that you were “automatically entered” into any kind of sweepstakes. Also, if you’ve received something in the mail, check if the card or letter was sent bulk rate. Bulk rate mailings are a dead giveaway of a scammer targeting many people at once.

4. Romance Scams

Anyone dating online is vulnerable to a romance scam. However, some scammers are now specifically targeting people 55 and older by pretending they are looking for romance but asking for money before meeting. These scams can be especially painful due to the high degree of relationship-building the scammer engages in before requesting money or gifts.

According to the AARP, red flags to look for include:

  • They say they live out of state or are otherwise unable to meet, but aggressively pursue a relationship with you
  • Their photo looks unusually polished, like a magazine or advertising image
  • They insist on moving your chat to a private channel, like e-mail or instant messaging
  • They repeatedly dodge or cancel plans to meet up in person

Eventually, the scammer will tell the victim that some kind of emergency cost has come up, and ask the victim for money.

How to Protect Yourself

To avoid getting hurt by romance scams, don’t send money to anyone you’ve never met face-to-face. Always be wary, even if you’re the one to initiate contact on the dating site. Scammers will saturate websites with fake profiles, fishing for potential victims.

5. Grandparent Scams

A grandparent scam relies heavily on personal relationships and emotional manipulation. The scammer will claim to be a grandchild in trouble and beg for emergency funds. The scam relies on talking fast, applying emotional pressure and often working with an accomplice. To reduce detection, the scammer will often only briefly imitate the grandchild before passing the phone off to a second scammer. The second person will then act as an authority figure, such as a police officer, who confirms the story.

How to Protect Yourself

If you receive such a call, stay calm. Tell the caller you need to hang up and call them again, then call your grandchild directly on their normal phone number. Remember that these scams are entirely dependent on scaring you into acting quickly, so keep a level head.

6. Debt Scams

There are two main forms that debt scams targeting seniors will take.

Debt Repayment Scams

The first debt scam is a classic setup, where a scammer will inform the victim they owe money on a credit card and the debt must be repaid immediately. Like many others, this scam relies on intimidation and pressure.

How to Protect Yourself

If you think you are receiving a fraudulent call, hang-up and call your card provider back using the phone number on their website or the card itself. Their customer service can help you confirm if the call was a scam.

Debt Relief Scams

The second kind of debt scam manipulates a different emotion: relief. This scam targets victims who are struggling with debt by promising quick and affordable debt relief.

How to Protect Yourself

While debt consolidation is a legitimate service, a scammer will stand out from the legitimate operators. They will insist on money upfront, prior to providing a service, which is fundamentally illegal in the debt-consolidation business and a sign of the scammer’s fraudulent intent.

Protect Yourself and Your Relatives from Scams

Older Americans lose an estimated $2.9 billion every year to scammers. You can protect yourself and your relatives by being aware of common scams and practicing safe habits online, on the phone and when researching services like debt relief.

Another way to protect yourself is with a supportive and engaged community that can help you practice safe habits and even alert you to scams that are on the rise. At the Villages of Windcrest, our assisted living and memory care communities provide resources to help you stay safe and simplify your finances so you’re less likely to become a target. Our team members are always here to help. Please feel free to contact us to learn more.


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