Don’t get swindled: Common scams targeting older adults

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Scams can happen to anyone, but certain ones commonly target older adults.

Data from the Federal Trade Commission’s 2019 Consumer Sentinel Network showed older adults were much more likely than younger consumers to report losing money on tech support scams, prize, sweepstakes and lottery scams and family and friend impersonation. Scams involving romance, government imposters and prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries caused the highest total reported losses among older adults. Older adults lost the greatest total funds to phone scams, which particularly affected those 80 and older.

“Scammers stay on top of whatever is new, such as the popularity of Zoom, COVID-19 vaccines and online shopping,” Amy Nofziger, AARP’s director of fraud victim support, told the publication. She said they then act quickly to make schemes that best fit the moment.

Here’s an explainer of some common scams targeting older adults.

Tech support scams

A scammer may call you on a landline or cell phone. They may also send an email, text or calendar invite in a phony message, USA Today reported. Scammers can also private message or direct message you on social media, such as Facebook. If they call, they may spoof a phone number that appears to be local or from a known company.

When someone answers the phone, they may say they’re a certified technician with a trusted company. They’ll also have an answer for every question you ask. They may ask you to download an app that can protect you from supposed hacks, which they’ll offer to fix it for a fee. But the app most likely contains malware.

Prize, lottery and sweepstakes scams

You may receive a card or email saying you won a prize, sweepstakes or lottery. But it’s a scam if you’re asked to pay a fee, the FTC’s Consumer Information site explained. These can include taxes or customs duties. You won’t win money, but you’ll get more requests for more money. More promises of big winnings will follow.

Romance scams

A scammer will be on a dating website or app purportedly looking for love. They chat with victims and exchange photos, including those from the scammer of an attractive man or woman. The victim will fall in love and the scammer will share a story about needing money. The victim will continue wiring money until they potentially lose all their earnings.

“Since the scammers are usually corresponding with the victim outside of the United States, it is close to impossible for U.S. authorities to identify or prosecute them,” John Joyce, former Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Secret Service Tampa Field Office, told AgingCare. “Once the scammer has achieved their financial goal, they will drop the unsuspecting victim and disappear.”

Family and friend impersonation

The grandchild scheme is one version of family and friend impersonation.

The caller will pretend to be a grandchild and ask their grandparent for bail money, to pay a medical bill or some other funds, according to the FTC. The caller’s request will be urgent and they’ll ask that it stays a secret. To further convince you, they may use information from social media or from a loved one’s email they hacked into. Then, they’ll pressure you into sending money quickly.

Phone scams

Another common type of phone scam occurs when the victim is called by a person posing as a charity, the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners said. This scam is especially common following a natural disaster.

Protecting yourself from scams

Once you know the signs of common scams, the next step is avoiding them. Consumer Reports has some ways you can protect yourself.

  • Get someone to regularly check up on you: From the outside looking in, friends and loved ones might spot irregularities more easily than you can. You may be socially isolated and not realize it. That can set you up for a scam.
  • Block solicitations: You can use the Direct Marketing Association’s mail preference service at to ban solicitations. It costs $2 to opt-out for 10 years. Unsolicited credit offers can be banned by visiting Block calls by getting in touch with your cellphone provider about security features or use a third-party call-blocking device, such as
  • Establish bank safeguards. A small account at a local bank can protect you if you get scammed. Have a debit card and a checking account with a spending limit. Doing so can leave other finances secured in a separate account.

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