The 10 Most Common Scams Seniors Experience

Criminals target vulnerable populations in our society, and seniors are especially at risk. That is why the Senate Aging Committee compiles an annual report about the most insidious scams targeting the elderly. Here are the worst offenders from the past year.

1. IRS Impersonation

By far the most prevalent scheme in recent years. Victims receive calls or emails from people posing as IRS agents who insist back taxes are owed. The fraudsters use threats of arrest, foreclosure and deportation to scare victims into paying, even if the victim is entirely up to date on their taxes.

2. Robocalls/Unsolicited Calls

This is the process of using machinery to mechanically dial numbers in sequence. These calls may be prerecorded or connect to an actual person. Fake numbers — sometimes using the recipient’s own area code — are used to give the appearance of legitimacy.

3. Sweepstakes/Jamaican Lottery

Con artists claim victims have won a prize and must pay a fee in order to collect it. This is typically done via phone or mail, with the most common variation being the Jamaican lottery scam.

4. “Can You Hear Me?”

This type of scam involves con artists asking recipients “Are you there?” or “Can you hear me?” over and over until the victim says “Yes.” The concern here is that the senior’s voice may be recorded in order to authorize fraudulent payments, though few have lost money this way. This may also be a method for figuring out who is likely to answer so that robocallers know who to target.

5. Grandparent Scam

In this scam, fraudsters contact seniors while posing as their grandchild or someone who knows the child. They claim the grandchild is in trouble and needs money right away in order to escape harm.

6.  Computer Scam

These widespread scams have high success rates. A common plot involves gaining a victim’s trust by pretending to be from a famous business (Microsoft, for example). The criminals then say the senior’s computer is broken or infected with a virus, and ask for remote access and payment in order to fix it.

7. Romance Scam

Fake profiles have increased with the rise of online dating. Seniors are victims due to their potential for loneliness. The fraudster spends time bonding with the victim through a fake romance and then solicits them for money.

8. Elder Financial Abuse

This is defined as illegal or improper use of a senior’s money, property or assets. Criminals are typically people who know the victim, like family members, though strangers also reach out through mail, phone or the internet.

9. Identity Theft

Thieves steal victims’ financial info in order to take money from accounts and make fraudulent purchases. This is the most common consumer complaint by all ages.

10. Government Grants

A frequent scam variation similar to the IRS scam involves unsolicited calls from people claiming to be from (fake) government agencies. They tell recipients they are offering free grants, requiring money for processing fees or taxes.