The Grandparent Scam and 7 Other Ways Scammers Are Targeting You is compensated when you click on the provider links listed on this page. This compensation does not impact our ratings or reviews.

Hacker With Cellphone

More than 105,000 Americans over the age of 65 were scammed for a total of almost $1 billion in 2020, according to a study by the FBI.1 Nearly 2,000 older Americans lost over $100,000 each from these scams.

Scams are a real issue in today's digital world, and older adults are a major target. Hackers have more ways to contact you, access your personal information, and find creative ways to get into your wallets. In this article, we'll cover eight common ways scammers target you and what you can do to protect yourself.

1. Grandparent Scam

Teenage driver making phone call after traffic accident

What Is It?

One of the most common scams targeting seniors is the grandparent scam. Scammers will call, email, or text you posing as a grandchild.

The scammer will sound scared, frantic, or distressed, making it seem like they're in an emergency. They may say they've just been arrested, gotten into a car accident, or been robbed. They may try to make the scam sound more convincing by name-dropping family members or bringing up family-related information they've found on social media.

Did You Know: Some internet providers offer online scam protection. Visit our list of the best internet providers for seniors to learn more.

Then, while your sense of urgency is high and the adrenaline is pumping, the scammer will ask you to wire them money. Of course, they remind you not to tell mom and dad because, well, they just wouldn't understand. You love your grandkids and hate to see them in distress, so you wire the scammer money and never hear from them again.

What You Can Do About It

  • If you have a social media profile, set your account to private. That will ensure that strangers can't access your pictures, comments, stories, and other activities online.
  • If anyone calls you saying they're your grandchild and need money, immediately hang up and call your grandchild back. If they answer, you can confirm whether it's actually them.
  • Contact other family members. Regardless of how distressed your grandchild may sound, check with their parents or aunts and uncles. That ensures both your safety and the safety of your grandchildren if they actually need help.
  • Don't make any hasty decisions. Scammers want to get you emotionally riled up so you aren't thinking clearly. Try to maintain your composure and take the appropriate steps (contacting a family member or the police) to ensure your grandchild's safety.

2. Social Security Scam

Social Security card in Computer,Hacker's hand internet and identity

What Is It?

The Social Security scam is one of the most common scams targeting older Americans. The Social Security Administration received more than half a million Social Security scam reports in 2021 for a total of $63.3 million.2

Pro Tip: You can get senior protection plans with popular cell phone providers. T-Mobile cell phone plans, for example, come with a scam ID feature to help you avoid spam calls and scammers.

How does it work? A scammer will call you claiming to be a Social Security Administration (SSA) representative. They will tell you your Social Security number has been suspended or is at risk of being suspended. They might even say there's a warrant out for your arrest if you don't comply. They will either ask you for thousands of dollars to pay off what you owe or get a hold of your Social Security number (SSN) for identity theft purposes.

What You Can Do About It

According to the Social Security Administration, you should do the following if you get a call about your Social Security information:3

  • If you receive a call from anyone asking for your SSN or claiming they're from the SSA, hang up and report the call to the Office of the Inspector General.
  • Do not return unknown calls, texts, or emails.
  • Talk to a trusted friend or family member before making any financial decisions based on cold calls, emails, or texts.
  • Do not be embarrassed to report a case of fraud or if you've been the victim of a scam. These things happen all the time. They're a form of elder fraud and abuse, and you should not feel any shame as a result of being caught in a scam.

3. “You've Won!” Scams

Happy senior couple at tropical beach

What Is It?

This scam usually comes in the form of an email, text, or call. You'll receive a message or call saying you've won money, a free vacation, or gift cards from a contest you never entered. They'll tell you that you have to pay a small fee in order to process your gift. After paying the small fee, they'll be gone forever — with your money.

What You Can Do About It

  • Don't trust random calls or messages from “contests.” If you don't remember entering a contest, it's unlikely you've won anything.
  • Winnings from contests do not require fees on your end.
  • Never give money to someone you don't know, even if they're convincing or pleasant to talk to. Scammers are trained to appear believable and compelling.

4. Social Media Scams

Senior woman using digital tablet at home

What Is It?

Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram are great ways to stay connected with family, but they can also be access points for scammers. Social media accounts get hacked all the time, and you may receive a message from a friend's clone profile or a hacker who has infiltrated your friend's account. They may ask you for money, credit card information, your SSN, or other personal information.

What You Can Do About It

  • If anyone on social media — even a friend or family member — asks you for money online, give them a call. Verify that it's them and that they need your help.
  • Make sure your security settings are updated. You can prevent people who are not friends from messaging you or viewing your profile.
  • Do not click any links in messages from someone you don't recognize.
  • Never give money to people you do not know on the internet.

5. Medicare Scams

Medicare enrollment form and money

What Is It?

Scammers go after a common asset to many older Americans: Medicare and Medicaid health insurance. Medicare scams are similar to Social Security scams. You'll receive a call from someone claiming to be a Medicare representative. The scammer may ask for your Medicare number or tell you that you need to sign up for a new plan to receive your medication. They might say they want to send you an upgraded card with a fee, even though all Medicare cards are free. The scammer could pretend to be your doctor, offering you free medical materials.

Pro Tip: New to Medicare or have questions about how to enroll? Visit our guide to Medicare enrollment to ensure you enroll safely and make the most of your benefits.

What You Can Do About It

  • If you receive a call from someone claiming to be a Medicare representative asking for money or your Medicare number, hang up and call them back. There should be a customer service hotline on your Medicare card.
  • Never give money over the phone to an unknown or unverified source.
  • Check your benefits statement.
  • If you think you've been scammed or are in the process of being scammed, report the incident. You can file fraud reports online with the FTC.

6. Malware, Phishing, and Virus Scams

Detecting of a malware virus

What Is It?

Most malware and viruses are sent through emails and social media messages. Hackers will send you an email or message with a link or pop-up window. The email may look like a legitimate business, nonprofit, or other organization. The scammer will try to get you to click a link in the email or provide your personal information. If you click the link, the scammer will have access to your computer, and they may try to steal your personal information, identity, or money.

What You Can Do About It

  • Never click a link from an unknown email or profile on social media.
  • Protect your computer by installing antivirus software, maintaining a firewall, and keeping your networks updated.
  • Never give sensitive personal information to unknown sources online or over the phone.
  • Choose strong passwords for your accounts and use different passwords for different accounts, such as banking, Medicare, and social media. Strong passwords are long and use a mix of numbers, symbols, and upper- and lower-case letters. Make sure not to include any personal information or full words in your passwords.

7. Fake Charity Scams

Charity scam on computer

What Is It?

Charity scams prey on older Americans' most generous tendencies. A scammer will call or email you, pretending to be from a philanthropic organization. They'll ask for a donation through a money wire, gift card, or check. Rather than contributing to a good cause, your money is going directly to a scammer's bank account.

What You Can Do About It

  • If you receive a call or email from a charity, Google them. It's likely fake if you can't find the name of the charity or organization anywhere online.
  • If it appears to be a real organization, search for its phone number online and call directly. If you really want to make a donation, you can do so by reaching out to them.
  • If an organization is asking for money via wire transfer, cash, or gift card, it may be a scam. Pay with a credit card or check (after verifying the organization is legitimate) to be on the safe side.

8. Funeral Scam

Woman mourning next to a coffin

What Is It?

Funeral fraud is one of the cruelest and most unfortunate scams. Scammers will keep track of obituaries to find new targets. They'll contact a widow or widower, or they'll show up to the funeral. Once they've contacted you, they'll claim your late loved one has outstanding debt or payments you must pay off.

Another form of this scam comes from the funeral homes themselves. The person posing as a funeral home representative may ask you to pay for unexpected costs for features you didn't request. They also overcharge and rush you into agreeing to pay for the service.

FYI: You can take advantage of burial insurance to help bring funeral costs down for you or your loved ones.

What You Can Do About It

  • Use trusted sources, like Trustpilot or the Better Business Bureau, to confirm the organization’s validity.
  • Get a second opinion. Ask a trusted family member or friend to look over the debt.
  • Get a written statement from the funeral home to confirm what you owe.
  • Don't be rushed into making any hasty decisions. There are plenty of funeral homes and resources you can get in touch with to compare prices and deals, even if you only have a few days to make arrangements.

Final Thoughts

While there are a lot of scams to be aware of today, there are ways for you to fight back and protect yourself. Remember:

  • Don't ever wire money or pay with a gift card.
  • Don't act quickly. Always look into an organization, caller, or message before making a hasty payment.
  • Trust your instincts. If a call feels random or off for whatever reason, be sure to verify the caller or organization.
  • Be suspicious of unknown numbers or fake caller IDs. Scammers use software to change their area code to a local number, so be wary of any anonymous calls.
  • Never reveal personal information over the phone to someone you don't know or who called you.
  • Ask a friend or family member if you're unsure of the legitimacy of a caller, email, or message.
  • Report all instances of fraud or fraud attempts.

Scammers may be vigilant, but you can protect yourself and your family with the proper knowledge and resources. Check out our guide on the best identity theft protection for seniors to learn more about ways to keep yourself safe and remain empowered against scammers.

Written By

Taylor Shuman

Senior Tech Expert & Editor

For over five years, Taylor has been writing, editing, and researching products and services covering topics such as senior care and technology, Internet and the digital divide, TV, and entertainment, and education. Her research on media consumption and consumer behavior has been… Learn More About Taylor Shuman

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