Common Scams Targeting Senior Citizens

When it comes to fraud, retirees are a common target.

After spending decades saving for retirement, older Americans are particularly vulnerable to fraud. According to the Senate Special Committee on Aging, older Americans lose approximately $3 billion per year to financial scams.

For most retirees, one of the best protection measures against fraud is simple: awareness. Learn more about ten of the most common scams targeting seniors today, and tips on how to spot the warning signs.


1. Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams

In 2014, former FBI Director William Webster was the target of a lottery scam. He and his wife were told they needed to pay $50,000 in order to claim their prize: $72 million and a new Mercedes Benz. They recognized the request as fraud and as the calls became more persistent and threatening, they took action to report it. Unfortunately, what Webster and his wife experienced is a fairly common scam.

Criminals may contact a retiree by phone, email, or mail and tell them they’ve won a lottery or sweepstakes. In order to claim their "prize," however, they’re told they need to make an upfront payment to cover taxes or other fees. Unfortunately, the prize never materializes.

Protecting yourself: If you have entered a contest or received notice that you’ve won a prize, be sure to reference this list of Do’s and Don’ts from the American Association of Retired Peoples (AARP) before proceeding.

2. Grandparent Scams

In these scams, criminals may target seniors by calling their intended victim and posing as a grandchild in distress. In some cases, the fraudster may scour social media profiles for information, such as the names of family members. In many cases, however, the fraudster will simply start the conversation with, “Hi Grandma, do you know who this is?” Once the senior has offered a grandchild’s name in response, the fraudster may ask for money, claiming to be in a financial pinch or experiencing some sort of emergency. In most cases, the criminal will ask the grandparent not to contact any other family members about this issue.

Protecting yourself: While it’s a natural instinct to want to protect and help your grandchildren or other young family members, it’s crucial that you never send money without being absolutely certain where it’s going. Always call your grandchild or their parents to verify the information and be suspicious of any requests for wired funds or gift cards.

3. Sweetheart Scams

According to the FTC, Americans lost $201 million to romance scams in 2019. Seniors — especially widows, widowers and recent divorcees — may be particularly vulnerable to these scams which can start through social media platforms, online dating sites, or in person. The scammer will devote an extensive amount of time to wooing an individual before asking them for money to solve a problem. For example, they may pose as a member of the military deployed overseas and claim they need financial help to return to the U.S. In the worst cases, victims may end up wiring money to this fraudster repeatedly.

Protecting yourself: Always stay on your guard and prioritize in-person relationships with people you trust. Educate yourself on the warning signs of a sweetheart scam, and don’t provide financial assistance to anyone you haven’t met in person. Keep in touch with family and consult with a professional if an online relationship seems phony.

4. Telemarketing Phone Scams

According to the National Council on Aging, seniors make twice as many purchases over the phone compared to the national average, which makes them especially vulnerable to phone or telemarketing scams. In some cases, criminals may pose as a charity soliciting donations after a natural disaster or as a family member who needs money. With no paper trail, these scams are especially difficult to trace. Plus, once an individual falls victim to this type of scheme, other criminals may view them as an easy target and defraud them repeatedly.

Protecting yourself: To help protect yourself against these schemes, never buy from an unfamiliar company. If you’re dealing with a charity, always request written materials before donating money and be sure to obtain contact information from the person you spoke with on the phone.

5. Tech Support Fraud

Tech support fraud is a common scam targeting seniors, preying on the fact that many aren’t as tech-savvy as their younger counterparts. In many cases, con artists will pose as a legitimate company and request personal information via email or call individuals directly and claim they need to resolve a technical issue with their computer.

Protecting yourself: Install antivirus software on your computer and be careful to verify email sender information before clicking on any links. Avoid clicking on any pop-ups, particularly ads for antivirus software, as they may allow scammers to steal information from your computer. If someone calls you and tells you there’s a problem with your computer, hang up. You can learn more tips for identifying tech support scams on the FTC’s website.

6. Investment Schemes

Many seniors have spent their entire working careers saving for retirement, making them appealing targets to those running investment fraud schemes. By guaranteeing returns or offering a “risk-free” investment option, these criminals will aim to take advantage of individuals who are trying to make the most of their savings.

Protecting yourself: Be sure to ask lots of questions and conduct research before you invest your money. Start by checking out the company’s financial statements using the SEC’s EDGAR database. Further, monitor your account balances and statements regularly and report any entries you don’t recognize. To learn more about investment fraud, check out Regions Wealth Podcast episode 22, “From Friend to Fraud: Spotting the Signs of an Investment Scam”.

7. Homeowner and Reverse Mortgage Scams

In some scams, seniors are offered free homes, investment opportunities, and foreclosure or refinancing assistance.

Protecting yourself: Do not respond to unsolicited advertisements or sign documents you don’t fully understand. If you are considering a reverse mortgage, discuss your options with a professional reverse mortgage counselor.

8. Medicare and Health Insurance Scams

In these schemes, criminals may pose as a Medicare representative or healthcare professional and ask Medicare recipients to share their personal information. More recently, criminals have even begun going door-to-door offering DNA testing and other phony services. The scammers will use the personal information they’ve gathered from these phony tests to bill Medicare and pocket the money.

Protecting yourself: Safeguard your Medicare number as you would your credit card and do not allow others to use it. Remember to review your Medicare statements regularly and report suspicious activities to 1-800-MEDICARE.

9. Counterfeit Prescription Drugs

When searching for better medication prices on the internet, you may encounter counterfeit drug scams as scammers offer lower prices on prescriptions or cures for ailments that are not scientifically supported. The website may never deliver a product after receiving payments or, in other instances, they may deliver a dangerous counterfeit drug.

Protecting yourself: Be sure to discuss any online prescription plan with your doctor. Only buy medications from a pharmacy that’s been approved by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, and be wary of any site that offers a prescription in exchange for filling out a questionnaire.

10. Obituary Scams

In one type of scam, con artists may call or attend a funeral service to take advantage of grieving family members, claiming that the deceased owed them a debt. In other cases, scammers may target a recent widow in other financial scams, such as telemarketing phone scams, as they know they are going through a vulnerable time.

Protecting yourself: Avoid adding too much personal detail in obituaries. Leave out information such as addresses and contact information to protect yourself and your loved ones.

If you suspect you’ve been a victim of a senior scam or any type of fraud, make sure you speak up as soon as possible. Report the incident to the FTC at or call 877-FTC-HELP. Further, contact your local police, your bank, and someone you trust.

To learn more about investment fraud, check out Regions Wealth Podcast episode 22: From Friend to Fraud: Spotting the Signs of an Investment Scam or visit prevention.


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