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Elder Fraud & Abuse: What Seniors Are Facing

Older adult abuse is becoming a progressively more prevalent and an expensive problem that affects the elderly and their families. Older adults lose billions of dollars as a result of financial scam or fraud. As the numbers of seniors continues to expand, the number of deceptive people who take advantage of their wealth also increases. Older adults tend to have more possessions and are more susceptible to financial deceit and scams

Signs of Elder Financial Abuse and Fraud

How can you know that crooked people are taking advantage of your friend or your loved one? Here are some warnings that the older adult has become a victim of elder abuse.

  1. Abnormal Signatures- These are names that are different than usual on checks written by another person or are written when a senior adult cannot write physically.
  2. Strange Banking Activities- These can be large mysterious withdrawals or payments to abnormal bill pay.
  3. Mistakes Connected to Memory Loss- People taking advantage of seniors and making them believe that they made errors such as unpaid bills due to lack of appropriate nutrition or hygiene and increased instances of losing or not finding their personal belongings.
  4. Sudden Affection- Long lost relatives, care givers, and new friends can show unexpected love or interest to a senior.
  5. Loss of Control over Finances- Bank statements no longer coming to an older person, or they are not aware of their present financial provisions.
  6. Changes in the Power of Attorney, Wills and Property Titles- These might be changes that remove the older adult or add a caretaker. The changes are usually done when the older adult is sick or mentally challenged.

It is easy to know if a senior is emotionally abused when they are unresponsive to questions and if they are fearful and suspicious, or they are not willing to go to social outings.

Common Risk Factors for Elder Financial Abuse

  • Substance abuse. The use of alcohol by a caregiver can make him or her abusive to a senior
  • Mental illness. An elderly person with Alzheimer’s or dementia has a high risk of abuse.
  • Violence or high level of hostility
  • Stress. A caregiver who is facing stress at home or work tends to be abusive.
  • Isolation. Abuse can easily take place if a senior has limited access to the outside world or little contact with friends.
  • High financial and emotional dependency on a vulnerable senior


Types of Senior Scams

Learn about different types of scams targeting the elderly and how to tell if you or a senior loved one is a victim of senior frauds or scams.

Telephone Scams

Seniors fall for telephone scams in spite of warnings from U.S. Government agencies, news sources, senior living and senior care agencies.
Telephone scams targeting the elderly cost millions of dollars, money they will likely never see again.

IRS Telephone Scam

The U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging released its 2018 Fraud Book and cited IRS scams as the top complaint reported to the Senate Aging Committee’s Fraud Hotline.

Fraudsters call and falsely claim they are an IRS agent, informing the elder that they owe back taxes and penalties.

Grandparent Scams

Grandparent scams involve a telephone call from a person claiming to be the senior’s grandchild, who needs money for an emergency or large financial obligation such as rent or car repairs.

The elder sends the money only to discover later that the person was not their grandchild or that the true grandchild never made that call.

Other Telemarketing Scams

Other types of telemarketing scams target millions of seniors.

Many elders and loved ones incorrectly assume that being on the National Do Not Call Registry keeps telemarketing scammers from calling. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that certain organizations like charities, political groups, debt collectors and survey takers still have the ability to call you.

A new scam involves seniors receiving a call or email from a person claiming their Do Not Call registration will soon expire. You never receive legitimate calls to update your registry information.

Another telephone scam targeting seniors involves someone posing as a representative from the local sheriff’s department or police department, soliciting donations by telephone.

The National Council on Aging reveals that seniors are twice as likely to fall for telemarketing scams involving product sales over the phone. The senior provides their credit card or bank information to pay for products that never arrive.

Reverse Mortgage Scams

Television advertisements inform seniors that reverse mortgages allow them to turn their equity “Into tax-free cash,” yet government agencies sound the alarms about scams and downsides of reverse mortgages.

Seniors often believe they do not have to repay money received through a reverse mortgage because the money received was based on home equity.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau published results of a study in 2015, demonstrating that seniors usually did not understand they had to pay back the loan with interest. They thought that the U.S. Government provided them financial protections that are not actually offered and thought they could not lose their home, which is untrue.

Seniors also still have to pay property taxes, pay for home upkeep and pay property taxes after receiving a reverse mortgage.

Sweepstakes, Lottery And Puzzle Scams

Seniors frequently fall for these scams, refusing to believe they will not or did not win “The big one.”

Fake claims of Publisher’s Clearing House wins are a common sweepstakes scam.

The Palm Beach Post reported that by the time the daughter of a 92 year-old woman discovered her mother was the victim of a PCH scam, scammers took $20,000 from her bank account. The fraudsters notified her to open a new bank account so she could receive her share of $5 million PCH winnings.

CNN Money reveals details from adult children of elderly loved ones refusing to believe the callers are scammers. In one case, a woman did not have a proper funeral because she took out a reverse mortgage to continually pay sweepstakes scam fees, subsequently losing her home and life savings.

Seniors fall prey to lottery scams, sending money across the globe to enter lotteries and pay fees to claim their “Winnings.”

Puzzle scams begin with nominal fees. As the senior makes it to “The next level,” fees increase until the senior loses all their money. While providing details of another case, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service warns, “You’re a guaranteed loser!”

Life Insurance Scams

Scammers targeting seniors in life insurance scams do not always operate like a door-to-door salesperson. Some fraudsters do work for financial groups and insurance agencies.

Seniors that purchase a term life policy sometimes discover their term policy was switched for a more expensive whole life policy. Other fraudsters sell fake insurance policies, policies with premiums that seniors do not understand increase as the senior ages and policies that insurance companies do not renew for any number of reasons.

Medicare Scams

Medicare scams affect seniors in similar ways as IRS and bank account scams. Scammers call seniors pretending they require information to update the individual’s information or “Protect” them from scammers. The senior then discloses their personal information to “Verify” that the information on file is correct.

A newer scam involves the new Medicare cards. A fraudster informs the elder that they need to pay a processing fee or provide their bank information to receive a Medicare refund from their old card.

CNN Money reports that 60 percent of seniors surveyed believe they potentially face paying a fee for the new card, when there are actually no fees associated with the new Medicare card.

Sweetheart Scams

Internet dating sites, social media and email offer fraudsters opportunities to scam seniors looking for love. The new romantic interest gains the trust of the lonely senior and starts requesting money because they have been detained in a foreign country, sustained serious injuries and cannot pay medical bills or the individual needs airfare so they can start their new life together.

The senior never meets their sweetheart after sending money, a scam featured on television reports and multiple credible news sources.

Identity Theft

Family members sometimes financially exploit senior loved ones, stealing their identity, opening online bank or credit card accounts.

The scam often goes unnoticed until the senior realizes they have less money, receives statements for accounts they know nothing about or starts receiving collection agency calls.

How To Prevent Being Scammed

The first tip to avoid senior scams involves the fact that government agencies like the IRS, Medicare, Social Security and law enforcement agencies do not call to “Verify” information, to inform you that you owe any money of any kind.

Never disclose personal information, bank account or credit card numbers over the telephone to anyone claiming they are a representative of these types of agencies or a bank representative, even if they threaten you with arrest or other tactics.

Never purchase gift cards, green dot cards or similar payment methods for an alleged fine, penalty or sweepstakes fee. No legitimate agency or business requires such payment methods.

No legitimate sweepstakes or contest requires an entry fee. You cannot win if you did not enter.

A critical fact is that foreign lotteries are scams and illegal for you or your senior loved one to enter. The FBI states that federal law prohibits entering foreign lotteries or sweepstakes.

Check on your elderly loved one often and ask questions if you believe there is money missing or see sweepstakes or lottery mail.

Never donate to alleged charities or purchase products from people calling on the phone.

Scammers often steal pictures of unsuspecting good-looking men or attractive women and open online dating or social media profiles to woo seniors looking for love. Do not send any money or goods or provide personal information to a new romantic interest that you never met.

What To Do If You Have Been Scammed

Discontinue all contact with any individual you believe is a scammer. Hang up on all calls from potential scammers without saying anything.

Place a fraud alert with a credit-reporting agency. Close all new bank and credit card accounts opened during the scam period.

Remember there are no fees for receiving your Medicare card, social security information, no arrest warrants issued by scammers posing as law enforcement or IRS agents.

Request help from a trusted loved one if you do not know how to proceed.

How To Report Senior Scams

Do not feel embarrassed to report a scam perpetrated on you by a fraudster.

Report suspected bank account fraud perpetrated by a stranger, family member or caregiver to your bank. Stop checks or credit card payments to sweetheart and grandparent scammers.

Report scams to your local police department or adult protective services agency. Inform Medicare, Social Security Administration, the IRS, or other government agencies when you receive calls from someone claiming they are from that agency.

Report foreign lotteries or foreign sweepstakes scams to the FBI.

When reporting senior scams affecting your loved one, provide as much information as possible to the police, agencies and financial institutions. Pay closer attention to mail and telephone calls to decrease chances that you or your elderly loved one becomes a victim of senior scams or fraud.

Written By

Jeff Hoyt

Editor in Chief

Since graduating from Harvard with an honors degree in Statistics, Jeff has been creating content in print, online, and on television. Much of his work has been dedicated to informing seniors on how to live better lives. As Editor-in-Chief of the personal… Learn More About Jeff Hoyt