Tips and Resources for Avoiding Scams 

Since the days of ancient civilization, scams have been recorded in history.  In early times they were face to face, a trader swindling a buyer with inferior products at full price or taking advantage of an unknowing consumer about the potential healing virtues of an unskilled practitioner. As exchange and civilizations have grown and evolved, so have the level of sophistication of scams on unsuspecting victims.

The advent of various methods of communication and modern technologies expanded the reach of fraudsters exponentially.  In addition to mail fraud, the telephone made it simpler to conduct faceless fraud.  This became super-charged by the arrival of computers and the internet, escalating the reach of scams around the globe.

Fraud 2.0

The cost of fraud in the United States alone amounted to more than $16 billion dollars in 2019 and continues to climb.*   The onset of the pandemic further shifted the focus of many scams and as society adapted to each subsequent shift, so have those committing fraud.  They follow the same headlines as the rest of us and adjust their targets and methods accordingly.

As most of us realize, pockets of populations are more vulnerable to fraud and that includes older adults.  This population is less familiar with rapid changes in technology and the level of sophisticated tactics fraudsters deploy to gain access to financial information.  Further, the very devices older adults learned to trust and enjoy to communicate with friends and loved ones can be compromised in ways that boggle even the most tech-savvy minds.

10 Most Common Types of Fraud

Here is a very brief overview of some of the most common frauds against older adults.  The informational list is readily found from various sources. This one is from a helpful article in US News & World Report that provides more details of the brief descriptions below.

  • Charity scams. Especially triggered by a natural or nearby disaster, falsely representing a charity and asking for you to send a donation to help.
  • Funeral scams.  After the death of a loved one, contacting a senior to extort funds, claiming that their loved one left debt behind.
  • Government imposter scams. Usually via phone calls with numbers that appear legitimate, using threatening language about unpaid medicare benefits, taxes, etc.
  • Grandparent scams.  A call claiming to be or to know a grandchild who in some way needs monetary help and doesn’t want anyone else to know.
  • Internet scams.  This one takes many forms, especially in social media, personal information is easily extracted and used to swindle the senior to send money.
  • Investment scams.  Mail, email, phone and internet alike, offering a deal for a great return on investment, with no actual return.
  • Medicare scams.  Usually a call, claiming to be with medicare and asking for additional personal information for processing a claim or adding a benefit.
  • Reverse mortgage scams.  This one comes in multiple forms as well and offers a homeowner low interest access to their home equity when they provide personal information.
  • Romance scams.  Having met someone in an online dating service, then they begin to ask for help paying small amounts at first, then it can grow with time.
  • Sweepstakes scams.  Typically sharing about a fraudulent lottery or sweepstakes winning and asking for processing fees or upfront money to send the prize.

Take heart, as you read the many creative types of fraud against older adults.  Many organizations, including law enforcement are always looking for ways to inform the public about fraud, avoid the latest scams and to bring those who commit these crimes to justice.

Information is available here from multiple sources. National Council on Aging, Eldercare Digest and from AARP.  The AARP article shares more depth about their history of fighting fraud against older adults, and resources in their AARP Fraud Watch Network with links to tip sheets to recognize fraud and resources for helping those who fall victim.

A Few Frontline Steps

  • Do not provide any personal information to someone over the phone, email, text or mail
  • Do not give your financial information, credit card number or bank account number to someone you do not know, even if they claim to know you.
  • Investigate the caller or claim.
  • If they state they are from a trusted institution you know, end the conversation and contact the institution directly.
  • Be vigilant, those committing fraud against seniors are clever, patient and look for opportunities that include just enough personal information to make it feel legitimate.

*A history of fraud: from ancient Egypt to the modern pandemic Part 1 (

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