Common Scams Targeting Seniors

By Michael Edlen
Special to the Palisades News

Senior scam crimes affect one in five people above age 65 and net more than $3 billion a year. Seniors are an attractive target because they are more trusting than younger individuals and are seen to be more likely to have a significant amount of money.

Longer life expectancy has also resulted in more people in their 80s and 90s who live alone, who may suffer from memory loss or can become frightened or confused by smooth-talking scammers.

1. Grandparent Scam is possibly the most widespread senior scam, where the victim receives a call supposedly from a grandchild in distress and needing money urgently. Sometimes the ruse is that cash is needed to post bail, other times victims are told they have to pay a ransom for their kidnapped grandchild. Often the caller says something like, “Hi, Grandma—do you know who this is?” Of course if the unsuspecting victim answers with a name, the imposter has an easier chance to succeed.

2. Investment Schemes often target seniors who have worked long and hard to build up cash for retirement years. Some of these are pyramid schemes, others are persuasive sales people offering a once-in-a lifetime opportunity for enormous profits or returns on the investment.

3. Phony Home Repairs from bogus contractors who claim that major work must be done on the roof or highly recommend some other work at a bargain price. Typically, the repairs are never completed, or are done in poor quality, and the contractors disappear with the money.

4. IRS Fraud Notices happens when a caller claims to be from the IRS (which, by the way, never notifies by phone). They typ- ically ask for a prepaid debit card to avoid being fined a huge amount or even being arrested for some mistake they say was made. A variation on this idea is Jury Duty Scam—supposedly the caller is from the courthouse and demands money to pay for the warrant due to your failure to report for jury duty.

5. Bogus Lottery or Sweepstakes fraud occurs when an email comes saying that the recipient has won, but they need to pay fees before can collect the winning. Of course the check they receive will bounce, but the victim has lost the fees they sent. A common variation of this scheme are emails that purport to be from a well-connected individual who claims they will give a portion of their fortune if you will just give a little assistance to them first.

6. Cash “As-Is” Home Offer might be tempting because it is so simple, yet it might be 20 to 30 percent below the fair-market value, and a licensed realtor could help the senior who may be at risk.

7. Deed Scams can occur when seniors own property free and clear of any encumbrances. If a fraudulent deed is filed, the scammer may try to sell the property without the owner’s knowledge.

8. Fraudulent Mortgage Payment Notices may come in the form of a phony notice that a mortgage has been transferred and future payments should be sent to a different lender at a new address.

9. Charity Scams may come by email or phone calls following some major disaster. The callers claim to be seeking money to pay for disaster recovery or aid for victims.

10. Medicare Card and Medicaid Card ID theft can occur when a caller claims to represent the government agency and that the cards need to be replaced. They will try to get as much personal information as they can.

11. Counterfeit Prescription Drugs has become a common Internet-based scam operation. Because seniors increasingly go online to find better prices, they may become victims who purchase unsafe substances rather than the medicine expected. Variations of this scam are fraudulent anti-aging product claims.

12. Online Scareware are pop-ups on the computer screen that tell you your computer has a virus, and suggests you download a program that will fix it (often a free offering). Of course, the download is often a virus that can do harm to your computer, as compared with one of the well-known types of Internet security software that can be installed and kept up to date. A variation of this scam are tech-support callers who claim to be certified by some major brand-name company and are ready to remotely fix some problem on the computer that they have detected.

13. General Identity Theft is a constant concern for the elderly. It can be minimized by having discarded documents shredded if they could reveal personal information.

14. High-Pressure Sales is probably the most common scheme that takes advantage of older people. Because they often have fewer people to talk with, the senior is more apt to stay on the line and end up committing to purchases they don’t even realize they have made. They may end up paying for useless materials or shoddy products, and have no paper trail to even try to trace the scammer.

The solutions to help protect against such scams and schemes include educational efforts, family involvement, and being alert to speak up when a senior may be at risk. The successful safeguarding of seniors from such risks will enable them to remain self-sufficiently in their home for a longer and happier time.

Michael Edlen is a certified Seniors Real Estate Specialist and can be reached at (310) 230-7373 or by

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