5 of the Most Common Elder Scams

by | Sep 21, 2022 | Blog | 0 comments

My dad was in his 80s when he received the official diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. My brother Sean and I joined our mom at Johns Hopkins to speak with the neurologist, and that was the first time his doctor told us that a person often shows symptoms many years (even decades) before an actual diagnosis. We were very focused on the apparent cognitive decline and memory loss. Still, we had not yet put together some other red flags, like his sudden inability to notice a scam. We knew that our dad never saw a deal he didn’t like a few years before being diagnosed, which was not something he would have previously done, but we didn’t think it might be connected.

In a study published. by the Journal of Elder Abuse and Neglect, cognitive decline is a factor that can influence fraud and victimization, and the scams against older adults are getting very sophisticated. So, how can we help you and your loved ones steer clear of these bad guys?

Sean and I recently sat down with Melissa Smarr from the Fairfax County Silver Shield Anti-Scam Program to discuss some of the most common scams against older adults. We often hear about financial scams, but others also need our attention and education. As a caregiver, if you know what is out there, you can be on the lookout and hopefully intercept before a life savings end up in the wrong hands. 

5 of the Most Common Elder Scams

  1. Medicare – Scammers pose as employees from Medicare, asking for seniors’ Medicare ID numbers. They can use this private information to bill Medicare for services fraudulently. Scammers may also convince older adults that they should protect themselves by purchasing a special Medicare card with a microchip, but Medicare has no such card.
  2. COVID –  Although we are post-global pandemic, scammers are still trying to convince older adults that they can purchase a COVID booster faster than a physician or local pharmacy. In addition, some scammers try to get our loved ones to click a link to a malicious website related to COVID, which can result in them gaining access to your computer. The pandemic may be over, but the scams still exist.
  3. Grandparent scam –  This scam aims at the emotion of a parent or grandparent by posing as a grandchild or close relative who claims to be in trouble and needs money. These scams often come over the phone and ask leading questions to learn more about the family, making it easier for them to pull on the heartstrings.
  4. IRS Scam – One of the biggest scams consistently reported involves scammers posing as IRS agents informing seniors that they owe back taxes and hefty penalties. These scammers create so much fear that many older adults pay so they won’t be assessed further fees and some are even threatened with jail time if they wait too long.
  5. Sweetheart scam – Criminals prey on people’s loneliness, especially older adults. I find this scam very scary! The isolation necessary to protect our loved ones during the pandemic was incredibly difficult on so many families. The scammers seek friendships and companionship, which turns into asking for money. Sometimes tens of thousands of dollars, or more!

The most disturbing information we learned from Melissa was that scammers upped their game. They don’t just call and email anymore. Many scammers now go door to door and pressure their prey into making a decision immediately to avoid horrible consequences. According to Melissa, “many scams are built on scare tactics and not giving them time to think through what is happening.”

So, how can you avoid being scammed? First of all, never give out personal information and be aware of what scams are out there. Have conversations with your loved ones about NEVER clicking on the text or email links, and encourage your loved ones to refer all inquiries to a trusted family member. 

Knowing what exists and understanding that the end game is almost always money can help prevent disaster.

If you think you or your loved one has been a scam victim, contact your state’s local police department or the Attorney General’s office. If you would like help reporting a scam in your area, contact the Alzheimer’s Caregiver Alliance, and we will help you find the correct department in your local police department.

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