Who would you guess to be the demographic most at risk of fraud and scams? You might answer, “Baby boomers or older adults.”
There is a stereotype of elderly folks who often get scammed. Grandmothers who aren’t tech-savvy hand over their credit card information or click on phishing emails that install malware, as examples. It might surprise you to learn that seniors aren’t the demographic most susceptible to fraud.
In 2021, adults between the ages of 18 and 59 were 34% more likely to lose money through fraud, FTC.gov reports, in comparison to adults aged 60 and up.
In 2022, adults ages 30 to 39 fell victim to fraud more than any other demographic, with 205,154 reported cases. But that doesn’t mean senior fraud is not a problem. The FTC received 200, 216 reports of fraud from seniors aged 60 to 69 in that same year, according to Statista.com.
What Are Some of the Most Common Scams that Target the Elderly?
While younger adults may fall victim to fraud and scams more often, the types of scams differ. Millennials and Gen Z could get duped by crypto scams or cyber crimes while online shopping. Older people are more likely to fall for:
- Living trust scams
- Robocall scams
- Sweepstakes scams
- Grandparent scams
These four scams aren’t the only ones that affect older adults, though. And these aren’t the only way that criminals–and scammers–attempt to separate seniors from their money.
What Are the Latest Scams Out There?
Protect yourself and your loved ones from these most common scams. Here are seven you should know about–as well as how to recognize them and who to call if you need help.
1. Government Impersonation Scams
In a government imposter scam, someone calls or emails claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service, Social Security Administration or Medicare. Those posing as an IRS agent may insist that you pay a tax bill or go to jail. If they claim to be from the SSA or Medicare office, they will ask for personal identifying information, which they can use to open credit cards in your name.
Government impersonation scams, sometimes called government imposter scams, can happen to anyone. In 2022, the FTC received 191,000 reports of government imposter scams, leading to losses of more than $509 million. They can happen to anyone but often happen to older adults on Social Security or Medicare.
These government offices will never call or email. If someone calls claiming to be from the IRS, SSA or Medicare, hang up the phone and report the phone number to the FTC.
2. Sweepstakes Scams
Older Americans may remember the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes, which has been around since 1967. PCH still gives away millions of dollars per year. But there are also countless scammers out there posing as PCH.
They might call and ask for personal information, or say that you won the sweepstakes, but must first pay taxes and fees. PCH never calls winners. If you receive a letter or email from PCH, you should call PCH customer service at 800-459-4724 to find out if you won.
3. Robocall Scams
Americans of every age have received calls trying to “reach you about your car’s extended warranty.” Most people know enough not to fall for that robocall. But what if you received a call and the voice only said, “Can you hear me?”
You might respond, “Yes.” The scammer can make a recording of your voice and then use it to authorize charges on a stolen credit card. Other robocall scams are simply sophisticated government impersonation scams, using a recorded service instead of a human being on the other end of the line.
4. Grandparent Scams
A grandparent scam is another type of phone scam. Instead of posing as a government authority, the caller poses as a loved one of the victim. The caller will make up a bizarre story about jail, an accident or being stranded in a foreign country, and request a wire transfer of funds.
These scams are even more frightening today. Voice cloning technology is so convincing now more than ever, and it’s enabling scammers to pose as the victim’s loved one.
In a variation of this scam, the person will send a direct message via Facebook or Instagram.
5. Living Trust Scams
Many seniors believe that a living trust should play a large role in estate planning. A living trust can enable a trusted person to help you manage your finances as you get older. But it’s not necessary to avoid probate, reduce taxes, or avoid the costs of giving someone guardianship of you and your money if you become incapacitated.
However, some disreputable law firms attempt to sell living trusts to seniors at prices ranging from $500 to $5,000 and up through high-pressure sales tactics. Speak to a trusted attorney regarding estate planning to determine if a living trust makes sense in your situation.
6. Phishing Scams
Phishing scams take many forms. They can be emails, such as those asking to reset your Amazon password when you can tell the email didn’t come from Amazon. They can be phone calls or robocalls, asking for personal information. Or they can be Facebook messages from a scammer posing as a trusted friend.
If you aren’t sure, hang up the phone or log off the computer and call your friend directly. Never click on the link in a text message or the website link from those messages, even if they claim to be a company you’ve done business with. Always visit the company’s website directly by typing the address in your browser to find out if there is a problem with your account or password.
7. Sweetheart Scams
As older adults embrace online dating, it leaves them open to scam artists, sadly. The problem worsened during the pandemic when people couldn’t leave their homes to meet in person. As a solution to loneliness, people turned to online dating. In 2020, older adults signed over more than $304 million to scam artists pretending to be potential romantic partners.
Bottom line: Don’t believe people asking for money on the phone or over the internet, regardless of how convincing they seem.
FAQHere are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about scams that target seniors and the elderly.
- What are the three most common types of scams?
- The National Council on Aging recently identified some of the most common scams targeting older adults. The list included government impersonation scams, sweepstakes scams, and the frightening grandparent scam, where someone posing to be a grandchild or other loved one asked the victim for money to get out of a difficult situation.
- What are scams targeting seniors about estate planning called?
- When companies posing to be reputable law firms prey on seniors by getting them to sign over their assets, this is known as a living trust scam.
Our in-house research team and on-site financial experts work together to create content that’s accurate, impartial, and up to date. We fact-check every single statistic, quote and fact using trusted primary resources to make sure the information we provide is correct. You can learn more about GOBankingRates’ processes and standards in our editorial policy.
- FTC. 2022. "Who experiences scams? A story for all ages."
- Statista. 2023. "Fraud complaints, by age of victims U.S. 2022."
- National Council on Aging. 2022. "The Top 5 Financial Scams Targeting Older Adults."
- The People's Lawyer. "Living Trust Scams and the Senior Consumer."
- FTC. 2021. "Romance scams take record dollars in 2020."