Common Scams That Target the Elderly

· Updated: April 09, 2024

Scams targeting older adults are all too common in today's world. Many scammers think of seniors as prime targets because of their retirement savings or because they may live alone. Many outdated and downright inaccurate stereotypes about older adults make them popular targets.

Luckily, there are plenty of ways to stay ahead of the fraudsters and avoid getting scammed. In this guide, we'll walk you through the most common scams that target older adults, so you know exactly what to look out for.

This guide covers the various fraud tactics that scammers commonly use, followed by more detail on each type of fraud. Last but not least, if you suspect that you or someone you know may be a victim of a scam, briefly review the resources you can turn to.

Expert Insight on Senior Scams

Before delving into the common scams that target older adults, let's take a look at some insight that experts have to share about the topic:

expert insight on senior scams

Common Fraud Tactics Used on Seniors

Con artists employ a wide variety of tactics to get older people to fall for their schemes. Below are some to be cautious of:

  • Being friendly, approachable, and sympathetic so that the victim feels like the solicitor is on his or her side
  • Instilling fear or giving a sense of urgency so people don't have much time to think or act rationally
  • Appearing to be helpful to gain someone's trust and make that person feel inclined to return a favor later on
  • Using emotional arousal to skew proper judgment; not long ago, researchers at Stanford found that when senior individuals are in a state of high emotional arousal, they become more interested in buying things that are falsely advertised
  • Pretending to be associated with a credible company, government agency, or charity to fake legitimacy
  • Being ambiguous about the subject or changing it throughout a conversation to distract the victim

Popular Scams Targeting Seniors

The National Council on Aging (NCOA) lists the following scams that are most commonly targeted at seniors. Review each type below so that you can identify a potential scam. A few other kinds of scams are covered as well.

Health Insurance Scams

Every citizen who is 65 years or older qualifies for Medicare benefits, making seniors an easy target for medical-related scams. Because scammers don’t have to do extensive research on seniors’ insurance providers, they can carry out fraudulent schemes pretty easily via the phone or even at the door. These solicitors typically claim to be a Medicare representative, for example, and do the following:

  • Tell a senior that he or she needs a new Medicare card, and to be issued one, would need to provide a Social Security number
  • Ask an older adult to contribute a fee to help navigate the new Obamacare landscape
  • Tell an older adult that he or she needs new supplemental policies
  • Gather personal information provided to bill Medicare and take the money for themselves
Quick Tip:

Quick Tip: If you're shopping for a Medigap plan, and you want to avoid being scammed, visit our list of the best Medigap plans for older adults. All of the companies on our list are well-known, reputable insurance providers, so you can rest easy knowing you won't be scammed.

Telemarketing Swindles

Telemarketing scams are one of the most common scams to happen to seniors, due to no face-to-face interaction and convincing charades of being an authority figure.

Scammers can hook seniors by pretending to offer:

  • Free trials
  • Extended warranties
  • Can’t-miss investment opportunities
  • The chance to travel for cheap or free
  • Incredible prizes
  • Advance loans

Scammers may also get seniors' money by representing themselves as:

  • IRS agents
  • Investors
  • Bank officials
  • Family members

One of the worst parts of a telemarketing scam is that if it is successful, the victim’s name will likely be passed on to other con artists as an easy target to prey on.

The best way to prevent falling victim to any telemarketing scheme is to know that any legitimate financial institution or large corporation along with agencies, such as the IRS, will not call and ask for personal information over the phone.

Should you receive such calls, it’s best to hang up immediately and find the direct number to the company claiming to require your information. Then, call to see if it is actually trying to reach you. Below are a few of the most common scams over the phone.

The Pigeon Drop

A pigeon drop is when a “suspect offers a larger sum of money to the victim in exchange for a smaller sum of money”. There is usually a second or third person in on the scam to act as a lawyer or ‘innocent bystander' to make the scam more convincing. These are often done in person at tourist spots, but they also occur over the phone often.

If someone contacts you saying that he or she recently inherited money from an uncle but needs a smaller amount of money from you to transfer the inheritance, this could be an example of a pigeon drop. You would be promised something like half of the inheritance.

The Fake Accident Scenario

Scammers will call and claim that someone related to or known by the victim has been injured. They'll also say that the person is currently in the hospital and needs money to be sent immediately. The scammer often pressures the victim to send the money before verifying the validity of the injury and their relation to the person who is injured. Another con artist is often involved in acting as the police officer, doctor, or lawyer at the scene of the “accident.”


A scam that seems to have arisen in 2017 uses pre-recorded robocalls to get the victim to say, “Yes.” Questions such as, “Are you there?” tend to prompt this answer, and scammers who have someone's “yes” reply recorded may be able to use that voice signature to put charges on credit cards and the like.

Apps to Help Protect Against Telemarketing Scams

Several free smartphone apps use crowdsourcing to identify phone numbers involved in scams or frauds and that can be automatically blocked. Here are a few of the top caller ID and scam-blocking apps for both Android and iOS.

Hiya – Hiya is one of the most widely used apps for caller ID and blocking spam calls. You can set it to automatically block calls from numbers that have been reported as a scam or spam repeatedly, and block new numbers that scammers use. You can also report the number so others using the app know to avoid it.

Android | iOS

Truecaller – This is another reliable and popular app to protect yourself against unwanted calls and to know immediately if a new number is a scam as reported by others who received the same call.

Android | iOS

Whoscall – Whoscall has over 1 billion numbers in its database, and the figure constantly increases as users of the app report more and more unknown numbers as spam and scams. Hopefully, this app helps you know when you're receiving a call from a legitimate business or a scammer.

Android | iOS

To safeguard against robocall and telemarketing scams, join the Do Not Call Registry. When you sign up, you'll be protected from legitimate telemarketers. This way, if you get questionable calls, you'll know that they are more likely to be scams.

In addition, when you get a question such as, “Do you hear me?” just hang up. Some callers may encourage you to press “1” to be removed from a call list or to speak with a real person. Don't do this. It just shows the scammers that you are responsive. Your aim is to avoid engaging at all.

Charity Scams

These scams are unfortunate as they prey on the goodwill of others. Scammers either call or approach a senior in person, saying they are looking for donations to a worthy cause. In reality, the perpetrators have nothing to do with the charity or cause and are looking to take the victim's money for their own gain.

Did You Know?

Did You Know? Security systems can keep you protected in your home and monitor who shows up at your door, so you can avoid scammers who visit your home. Read our guide to the best home security systems for more details.

Sometimes the goal is to steal the victim's identity as well. Charity scams tend to happen most after natural disasters on the international level like a major hurricane or on a local level like helping to fund local firefighters.

Internet Fraud

The internet has been rife with scams targeting seniors since its inception. Examples include fake-virus pop ups to trick the victims into paying money, real viruses that may hold victims hostage until they make a payment, phishing scams, and attempts to steal identities through fake websites and emails.

Phishing Scams via Email – Phishing is the main internet method scammers use to get personal information from unsuspecting people through email. The scammer creates an email address and template that looks like an official email from a bank, credit card, or other business. The email looks legitimate and claims that your password, banking number, or other personally identifying information is needed to fix an issue.

Pro Tip:

Pro Tip: Identity theft protection services can help you avoid becoming a victim of online scams and alert you to potential fraud attempts. We've put together our picks for the best identity theft protection services to help you find the one that's right for your needs.

A related scam is to suggest downloading software like a “Free VPN” or “Free Virus Checker”. This software may actually be designed specifically for hackers. Legitimate VPNs and antivirus software are useful tools, here are some resources for selecting a VPN or software used for protection from identity theft and viruses.

No bank or other business will ever ask for any personal information through an email. If you are concerned about your account, you can go to the website directly (don't click on any links in a suspected phishing email), and check your account information there, or call your bank directly.

Tech or Computer Support Scams

Tech or computer support scams tend to be the most successful. In some versions, seniors get a call from someone who promises to do tech support on their computers/devices or to clear their computers of viruses, malware, and the like. To sweeten the pot, scammers may offer this so-called service at a senior-citizen discount. Later, the scammers do rudimentary work such as installing free security programs, and seniors may never realize they have been scammed. In other versions, scammers use internet ads to entice older adults to contact them for help.

Did You Know?

Did You Know? Many internet providers offer security suites to protect your computer from viruses and other scams. Head to our list of the best internet providers for seniors to learn more. You can also visit our guide to internet services for seniors for our top online safety tips.

The primary aim of many scammers doing tech or computer support schemes is to access bank account passwords and other sensitive financial information. Because they pose as tech support personnel, they may get permission to link their computer with the victim's. Sometimes, the scam turns mean immediately when a scammer locks the victim out of his or her computer until a fee is paid. Disengaging from the scammer and restarting your computer may solve the issue sometimes.

Lottery and Fake Prize Scams

Thousands of seniors are tricked into believing that they won a large sum of money but are told that they have to wire money in “taxes and fees” or to free the grand prize up from customs officials. After going through with this and receiving a check that doesn't clear, the victim realizes that he or she has been scammed.

Unfortunately, once people fall for this scam, they are at higher risk of getting more lottery and fake-prize scam calls, emails, and offers. Astonishingly, a scammer may even call the victims and claim to be a police officer or detective investigating possible lottery and fake-prize scamming. To investigate, the detective needs to know the victim's financial information. On it goes. According to the U.S. Attorney General and the Solicitor General of Canada, this mass-marketing fraud takes about $1 billion a year!

Counterfeit Prescription Medications

Since many older people are on a fixed income or living off retirement funds, it's only natural that they are often on the lookout for cheaper drug alternatives to save money. Unfortunately, scammers are fully aware of this, and they prey on seniors' vulnerability.  Criminals use the internet to operate these scams, offering “better prices” on prescription medications that are counterfeit and often detrimental to one's health. Older adults should consult with their loved ones before buying any type of medication online to be extra safe.

Fake Anti-Aging Products

Speaking of counterfeits, fake anti-aging products are another big focus of scammers who target seniors. The NCOA states that seniors often feel pressured to look younger to keep up in social circles or to fill a void in their lives. This results in them seeking out new treatments, medications, and products that will help them achieve “youth.” Perpetrators prey on this and capitalize on this demand. The scam can be executed in different ways, such as offering costly treatments that turn out to be either harmful or simply homeopathic remedies that do nothing but cost money.

The “Grandparent Scam”

This scam usually entails a perpetrator calling or emailing seniors pretending to be a family member in trouble or an authoritative person representing the relative (a lawyer, for example). The “relative” then asks for money to be wired to him or her to pay rent, lawyer fees, medical bills, or some other fake expense. The victim is often asked to not tell anyone, such as other family members, because the caller wants to keep the problem from being known. The older adult never hears from this “relative” again and is out of hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.

Variations of this scheme include scammers contacting seniors through online dating sites or social media platforms such as Facebook. A senior with a legitimate profile or account chats with a scammer, who builds trust and perhaps romantic interest. When the request for money comes after an “emergency,” the senior is all too happy to indulge. Sometimes, scammers may even pretend to be lonely U.S. soldiers serving overseas.

Investment Schemes

Con artists know that seniors may have planned for retirement for years. So, scammers take advantage of retirees by acting as financial advisors to gain access to their savings and account funds. Once they get the information they need for access, they take the money and run.

Another type of investment scheme entails the scammer taking advantage of the senior citizen's religious affiliation or other essential part of his or her identity. For example, for just $500, the senior citizen could invest in an illustrated Bible for children and earn part of the royalties.

Investment schemes can also be about property and timeshare deals. They often use a sense of urgency and/or the promise of free gifts. If you have only a few hours to make an investment decision and can't call anyone about it, it's probably a scam.

Pro Tip:

Pro Tip: Check out our crime prevention guide for seniors for more tips on how to avoid cyber crimes, financial scams, and more. We also cover what to do if you fall victim to a crime.

Mortgage Scams

Many older adults own their homes, which makes them an increased target for scammers. Con artists send out official-looking letters from an office such as the county assessor. The letters claim that the homeowners can reduce their property tax burden, but only after paying a fee. The letter does not have any information that is not available to the public, so that is one giveaway of it being a scam. If homeowners believe there is any validity to a letter, they should call the county assessor's office directly.

Homeowners who are doing a reverse mortgage are also a target of con artists, as the reverse mortgage is a sign of unlocked equity that can be taken advantage of.

Funeral Fraud

Sadly, there are con artists who try to take advantage of grieving widows and widowers at funerals. Con artists keep track of obituaries to find their targets and either show up at the funeral or get the contact information of the surviving family members to say the recently deceased had outstanding debts that must be paid off.

Another funeral-related scam is by the funeral house itself. People generally don't go through funerals often and are unaware of the costs associated with one. Dishonest funeral homes tack on additional charges, so it is important to be aware of what a funeral should actually cost.

Bogus Magazine Sales

This type of scam entails young people knocking on doors to sell magazine subscriptions to “raise money” for a good cause, a school trip, or some other charity that older adults are likely to fall for. Once the victim gives money, he or she will not receive any magazine subscriptions nor know where the money went.

IRS Impostor Scams

One of the most common scams is when someone pretends to be an IRS agent. This can happen over email, mail, phone, or in person.

So-called IRS agents say that you owe taxes and demand that you pay immediately or face consequences such as jail time or hefty fines. In many cases, they say that the IRS has contacted you via mail or email already and never heard back, hence the need for dire measures now.

In some cases, they'll instead say you are owed a tax refund. In both scenarios, the goal is to get your credit card numbers or other financial information, and sometimes, money transfers.

If this happens via phone, hang up. If you feel the contact could be valid, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 to ensure you are speaking with someone legitimate. Signs of an IRS scam include:

  • Arrest threats
  • Rude language and behavior
  • Requests for credit card or debit card payments over the phone
  • Requests to pay with gift cards or prepaid cards
  • “Agents” refusing to give badge numbers and other ways to verify their legitimacy
  • Demands for payments right away
Did You Know?

Did You Know? Many cell phones come with built-in scam blocking protection to help you avoid falling victim to phone scams. Read our guide to the best cell phones for seniors to find the right phone to keep you protected and connected.

Are You a Victim of a Scam?

If you think you might be a victim of a scam, reach out to someone you trust such as a close friend or family member. Don't be afraid to talk to someone because doing nothing could make the situation worse.

Unfortunately, once money has been wired out, it is more than likely gone. However, that does not mean that there's nothing left for you to do. Other senior victims are counting on you to report the details so that the scams can be shut down. The AARP breaks down a handy list of resources that are useful to keep readily available. Additionally, keep the phone numbers for your local police station and bank close by.


Con artists and scammers who prey on seniors rely on two key things: The assumption that older adults are unfamiliar with modern technology and that they are unaware of all the different ways to have their personal information stolen.

This guide covers most of the scams that target seniors, but it always helps to be aware of anyone and anything trying to get money or personal information out of you.

Whenever you feel the least bit suspicious of an email, phone call, personal visit, or anything else, you can try a simple Google search about your suspicion. If the search pulls up something, then you'll know for a fact it is a scam to report and then ignore. If nothing comes up, it could be a new scam or one that hasn't been well documented. Be safe and aware!