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6 Scams Targeting Elderly Adults: Shocking Ways Scammers Can Defraud Your Loved One

Written by Claire Samuels
 about the author
9 minute readLast updated May 10, 2023
Reviewed by Erin MartinezDr. Erin Martinez is an associate professor of gerontology and director of the Center on Aging at Kansas State University. Martinez works to promote health and well-being across the lifespan to promote optimal aging and pursues community-based interventions for improving the social determinants of health.

Your loved one has spent their life working and saving, and they deserve to feel financially secure. However, scammers have developed clever ways to defraud aging adults. Some scammers use technology to commit financial fraud, while others develop close relationships with senior targets. Financial scams and fraud can have a huge impact on a senior’s savings and assets. Learn more about common scams, warning signs, and how to keep your loved one safe.

Key Takeaways

  1. Scammers target seniors for various reasons. Older adults may be more financially stable, less comfortable with technology, and more susceptible because of cognitive decline.
  2. Many top scams utilize phone systems. Robocalls, false sweepstakes, government impersonation, and grandparent scams impersonating relatives are often conducted by phone.
  3. Sometimes trusted loved ones can commit financial fraud. Professional caregivers, adult children, and other relatives can defraud aging adults.
  4. There are ways to prevent scams. With the right technology, awareness, and communication, you can protect your loved one from financial fraud.

Why are scammers targeting seniors?

Seniors are often seen as vulnerable targets for scams. In 2021 alone, the FBI reported over $1.7 billion in losses across 92,371 victims of elder scams.[01]
Experts weigh in on three reasons why scammers are targeting seniors:
  • They may have more money. “People tend to choose seniors because they have more funds — they’ve often saved over time and pinched pennies, so that’s where the money is,” says Liz Loewy, co-founder and COO of EverSafe, a company that guards against fraud and identity theft. Older adults may also have higher credit scores and a greater number of assets than younger generations.
  • They may be more vulnerable. In addition to potentially having more available funds to siphon, seniors may be experiencing “physical and cognitive changes,” says Loewy. Many people remain mentally sharp as they age, but others have some level of cognitive decline or dementia.
  • They may be less familiar with technology. “Many seniors may not be familiar with technology and the internet, making them more susceptible to scams preying on their lack of knowledge,” says Marc Menninger, our director of cybersecurity. Because seniors grew up without a lot of the tech we take for granted today, they may not be as aware of potential risks associated with email, text messaging, or malicious websites.

What are some common elderly scams?

Elderly scams may deceive older adults with promises of friendship or romantic interest, false goods or services, fake family emergencies, or medical and legal concerns. Some scammers may be complete strangers, but close friends and family members can also be responsible for financial abuse.
Here are some common scams targeting seniors, ways you can protect your loved one’s financial and legal independence, and warning signs to look out for.

The “grandparent scam”

An older adult may receive a call claiming their grandchild is in trouble. The fraudster could say they’ve been in an accident or arrested. When planning this call, a scammer will often collect information to make the emergency sound more legitimate.
“Where do they get this information? Usually from social media,” says Loewy. “Someone may post when and where they’re going out of town, and someone who’s older may post their personal contact information or even phone number.”
Once a scammer has collected the information they need, they’ll call and pretend to be a police officer or other official. They’ll ask the target to send a large amount of money or make a wire transfer to “save” their relative.
Sometimes, a second actor will be involved and join the phone call claiming to be the grandchild in question. “The ‘grandchild’ may say something like ‘don’t tell mom,’” says Loewy. “And grandparents want that greater connection and to feel trusted, so they won’t.”
The scammer may even send someone to pick up the money from the senior’s bank or home.
Here are some warning signs of grandparent scams:
  • Unsolicited calls claiming a loved one is in danger
  • A sense of urgency, where the caller threatens, coerces, or intimidates the senior into acting quickly
  • Requests for wire transfers or large sums of money
  • The ‘grandchild’ asks their aging loved one to keep the call a secret or not to tell their parents

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Financial abuse from a relative or caregiver

Sometimes, scammers may not try to take large sums of money — they may just use the senior’s funds to purchase items for themselves or their other family members.
Loewy describes one situation in which the adult child of a senior notices their grocery bills increasing slightly week over week. A caregiver responsible for purchasing groceries began adding some of their own items to the senior’s purchases. Though an extra $20 here and there may not be enough to notice, it can add up over time.
Similarly, a relative may be in charge of paying a senior’s monthly water or electric bill. They could ask the company to charge their own home’s bills to the senior’s account, as well.
Financial abuse from a trusted loved one may be more insidious. An adult child may coerce their parent into signing over power of attorney, take out loans in their name, or access and siphon from their parent’s bank account.
Signs of financial abuse from a relative or trusted caregiver include:
  • Bills increasing over time
  • Calls from credit providers about unknown debt
  • Unapproved credit checks
  • Threats to withhold care if money isn’t provided
  • Unexpected financial troubles or overdrawn accounts

Lottery or sweepstakes scams

“Common scams that target seniors are fake prizes and investment opportunities, because these can be used to entice seniors into providing personal or financial information,” says Menninger.
An older adult may receive a call saying they’ve won a large sum of money, a paid vacation, or another prize.
The scammer will say that, to access their winnings, the senior must pay upfront fees or taxes, or supply their bank information for an account transfer. However, since the prize or sweepstakes was fabricated, your loved one will lose their money without any reward.
Warning signs of a sweepstakes scam include:
  • Notification that your loved one has won a prize, lottery, or sweepstakes they didn’t apply for
  • Requests for an untraceable payment method — gift cards, cash, or a wire transfer — to cover upfront fees or taxes
  • Requests for banking information or other personal data

Robocalls or phone scams

In some cases, a senior doesn’t need to divulge any information to be defrauded. A scam may require nothing more than a simple “yes.”
Robocalls, which utilize sophisticated, automated systems to dial countless phone numbers at a time, may be used for the common “Can you hear me?” scam, in which a person answers the phone, and the caller asks if they can hear them. As soon as the target says “yes,” the scammer hangs up. That simple “yes” is recorded and can later be used as a voice signature to authorize unwanted credit card or account transactions.
Warning signs of phone scams include:
  • Calls that begin with “Can you hear me?”
  • Requests to join clubs or subscriptions over the phone
  • Threats or a sense of urgency

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Government impersonation scams

To commit elder scams, criminals may impersonate government institutions such as the IRS, the Social Security Administration, or the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Using advanced phone technology, these scammers may be able to “spoof,” or duplicate, government numbers and caller IDs. So, even if your loved one sees “Medicare” pop up on their phone, the call probably isn’t legitimate.
These scams can be difficult to detect, especially if your loved one has communicated with the institution in the past.
Some ways to identify government impersonation scams include:
  • Demands for certain types of payment, such as wire transfers, prepaid debit cards, or cash rather than payment through an official government site or portal
  • Threats that Social Security or Medicare benefits may stop without immediate payment
  • Threats of deportation or legal action

Romance scams

As online dating and social media use become more common among older populations, scammers are taking advantage of a desire for connection.
“Scammers may offer companionship or ways to solve personal problems to take advantage of seniors who feel isolated or lonely,” says Menninger.
In fact, older adults lost over $304 million to romance scams alone in 2020, according to the Federal Trade Commission.[02]
A criminal may create a fake online persona on social media or dating apps and glean personal information to use against a senior. They may then request money for travel expenses, health care costs, or personal needs.
Sometimes the relationship will move quickly and only be conducted over chat. Other times, “these scams can last months, or even years,” says Loewy. Once a target develops a strong romantic connection, they may be defrauded over a long period of time.
Warning signs of romance scams include:
  • Promises to meet up in person that are never kept
  • An abnormally fast-moving relationship with promises of devotion
  • A significant age difference or level of physical attraction
  • Requests for money transfers or gift cards

What steps can your family take to avoid elderly scams?

While these scams are common, they can be avoided with the right tools and knowledge. Talk with your aging loved ones about elder scams, review the warning signs, and invest in protection against financial fraud.
Be skeptical. “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t fall for promises of easy money or other too-good-to-be-true offers,” says Menninger.
Be cautious with personal information. Avoid sharing extensive personal information online. Information from Facebook and other social media platforms can be used to perpetuate scams. Encourage your loved one to switch their profiles to “private,” and caution them against posting information like travel dates and cell phone numbers.
Block people you don’t know. People who comment on social media, call from unknown numbers, or text irrelevant messages can be blocked to prevent further interaction, especially if their intentions seem to be malicious.
Communicate. Have family discussions about the dangers of elder scams, and promise to communicate — even if a scammer asks to keep the transaction or relationship secret.
Protect your loved one with technology. “There are ways you can get in front of these problems, and I think technology is the best way to do that,” says Loewy. Many companies and programs, like EverSafe, can monitor spending, accounts, credit cards, payment times, and more.
Stick with trusted sources. Use secure websites and reputable sources for online purchases and information. Avoid clicking on links or downloading software from unknown providers or buying things over the phone.
If your loved one is the target of a scam, reporting it as soon as possible can protect other victims.
Note: OurParents is a trademark of A Place for Mom. A Place for Mom may be compensated if you choose to use EverSafe’s services. Per our editorial guidelines, we clearly disclose financial relationships around featured products or services.


  1. Department of Justice (2022). Elder fraud report 2021.

  2. Emma Fletcher. (2021, February 10). Romance scams take record dollars in 2020. Federal Trade Commission.

Meet the Author
Claire Samuels

Claire Samuels is a senior copywriter at OurParents, where she helps guide families through the dementia and memory care journey. Before transitioning to writing, she gained industry insight as an account executive for senior living communities across the Midwest. She holds a degree from Davidson College.

Edited byDanny Szlauderbach
Reviewed byErin Martinez

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