How To Protect Your Senior Loved One From Trouble Scams

Maria Tesoro-Moroika

According to the Federal Trade Commission, adults 60 years old and over were more likely to report financial losses from scams in comparison to younger adults. 

The twilight years are when most adults must make do with a fixed income, and getting scammed out of money can drastically affect their health and well-being. 

Here’s what caregivers need to know to protect their loved ones from trouble scams. 

Scams Targeting Seniors

The primary step in protecting your senior family member from trouble scams is to first be aware of them. 

Once you’re familiar with the type of scams that are out there, you can take action to prevent your loved one from being a victim. 

The FBI’s 2021 Elderly Fraud Report found the following data: 

  • Financial scams are costly. In 2021, $1.7 billion in losses occurred from financial scams used on older adults 

  • The same year saw 92,371 older victims of financial fraud

  • Financial scams are a skyrocketing “business,” with a 74% increase from 2020 to 2021.

  • Scams targeting seniors were typically robocall scams, fraudulent sweepstakes, and scams performed by someone pretending to be a government official. 

The Federal Trade Commission 2021 Consumer Network Data Book states that 18% of seniors in the 70 to 79 age group have lost an average of $800 to a trouble scam. Seniors 80 and over have even higher losses, at about $1,500 on average.

What are Trouble Scams? 

A trouble scam is one of the most disturbing and distressing types of fraud because it preys on older adults and their

Also known as the “Grandparent Scam” or “family emergency scam,” a trouble scam typically involves an imposter pretending to be a panicked family member. 

Someone calls the senior or the senior receives text messages. The “family member” claims they are in a dire situation or emergency, stating they need money immediately. Often, they ask the victim to wire money to resolve the situation. 

In these scams, the scammer claims that there’s been a tragic incident. They may say that they’ve been: 

  • Hospitalized

  • Arrested by a police officer

  • Detained by law enforcement

  • Arrested

  • Robbed

  • Kidnapped

  • Detained in a foreign country

To make their case sound legitimate, they may include information from the family’s social media sites or online accounts. Some scammers may even know their victims. 

The scammer may also implore the senior “not to tell Mom and Dad” or other family members in an effort to keep the scam secret (and perhaps get more money in the future.) In a state of concern, the victim quickly wires or transfers money, sometimes in large sums. 

Unfortunately, these trouble scams are on the rise. According to data from the AARP, FTC, and FBI, trouble scams have increased each year since 2015. 

5 Most Common Types Of Trouble Scams Targeting Seniors 

Seniors are targeted by scammers through many angles. The following is a list of the most common trouble scams identified by the FTC and FBI. 

1. Tech Support Scams

Data from the FTC shows Tech Support Scams as the most common scam affecting seniors.  

Under the guise of helping a senior with their computer problems, tech support fraudsters convince seniors to part with their money instead.

For example, a scammer may impersonate a tech support person from a well-known tech company, informing the senior of a breach in their computer, email, or social media accounts. The con artists then ask for the passwords to their bank accounts, credit cards, or for their personal identification information.

2. Government Impersonation Scams

A government impersonation (or imposter) scam targets unsuspecting seniors by pretending to be from a well-known government entity. 

For example, the scammer may say they represent Medicaid, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Social Security Administration, or the Centers for Disease Control.

By asking for money for unpaid taxes, and medical bills, or inquiring about sensitive information, these scammers obtain money or valuable information from their victims. These types of scams typically use the person’s identity for identity theft purposes and then open credit card accounts in their names. 

3. Sweepstakes & Lottery Scams

With sweepstakes and lottery scams, a victim is told that they’ve won a sweepstake or lottery. 

To participate in the sweepstakes or obtain the monetary “prize”, however, the victim is told they must send a money order, cash, or gift cards upfront. Scammers may even pretend to be popular legitimate sweepstake organizations to gain their victim’s confidence. 

4. Robocalls & Phone Scams

Robocalls and phone scams are often more complex than a simple back-and-forth phone call.

These scammers take advantage of advanced computer software and voice identification systems to obtain voice signatures. These voice signatures are used to authorize charges on credit cards or on online banking systems. 

One popular example of a robocall is when the scammer first asks, “Can you hear me?” The scammer will then record the victim saying, “yes,” and use their voice signature. 

5. A Confidence or Romance Scam

In a confidence scam, the fraudster poses as an online identity to establish trust and build rapport with their victim. They may create the illusion of a romance, or close friendship, or express a genuine need in order to gain their victim’s confidence and separate them from their money.

Romance scams are a type of confidence scam, where the scammer pretends to want a romantic relationship but in actuality, only wants to obtain money and gifts. 

How To Recognize Scams By Knowing The Signs

Besides getting familiar with the different types of scams, it’s essential to be on the lookout for the common red flags that can alert someone to a possible attempt at scamming: 

  • Requests for money transfers, gift cards, or cash. Trouble scams will ask for the immediate transfer of money, and the scammer will provide exact details as to how the money should be sent. 

  • Trouble scams typically occur at night, in the hopes that the victim will already be tired or confused. 

  • Phone requests or emails requiring personal information such as passwords, social security numbers, or bank account information. 

  • Emails or phone calls from a foreign country. 

Any communication that seems questionable should be flagged as a scam and terminated until proven otherwise.

Record & Document The Scam, If Possible

Documentation is key, especially if more problems occur in the future. 

Recording or documenting pertinent correspondence like emails, letters, phone calls, texts, or meetings can help prevent further scams or if necessary, recoup any financial losses. Take note of the time, dates, or observations of any communications regarding the scam. 

Report the Scam 

Reporting the scam helps to prevent others from falling victim. 

Some seniors may feel hesitant to report the scam due to feelings of shame. However, these scams can occur to anyone and many others have been defrauded so your senior loved one should not feel alone. 

The FTC advises people to report scams targeting seniors either on the FTC’s online site or at 877-382-4357. Also, the senior or their caregivers can notify their state’s attorney general and consumer protection office.

What can you do to protect your loved one from scams?  

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the four steps to preventing senior fraud and financial abuse are prevention, recognition, recording and documenting, and reporting. 

You can prevent scams by educating yourself and the senior family member you’re caring for. 

Stay current on the latest scams targeting seniors by visiting the FTC’s most recent list of frequent scams. Improving your awareness of these scams and how they’re executed can place you and your loved one a step ahead of these criminals. 

Remember That Trouble Scams Can Happen to Anyone

The FBI data indicates that scammers target older adults for very specific reasons, exploiting the vulnerabilities of seniors. 

Also, trouble scams aren’t limited to wealthy seniors. Seniors at all income levels are at a high risk for trouble scams and other types of financial fraud. Being aware of the red flags is the first step to preventing your loved one from falling victim.