Sense & Centsibility Blog
Older man and woman in the kitchen and pointing at their laptop.

Common scams targeting older adults [and ways to protect against them]

Do you remember when a handshake was enough to trust you had an agreement that the other person would uphold? If you don’t, your parents or grandparents do! Unfortunately, scammers want to take advantage of the trusting nature of many older adults. Older adults are also targets for scams because they might have substantial lifetime savings and equity in their homes. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, fraudsters stole $1.7 billion from people aged 60 and older in 2021.

Here are common scams targeting older adults and ways they can protect themselves.

Phone scams or telemarketing fraud

Scammers will say they are selling specialized products, awarding free prizes or providing health care or other services. Their goal is to get their target to give out personal health or financial information before they send the supposed product, prize, service, etc.

Ways to protect against these scams:

  • Don’t answer calls from numbers you don’t recognize.
  • Hang up on people you don’t know.
  • Don’t give out personal info unless you initiated the call and verified the number. Even if you say yes to innocent questions in a phone call, they could be recording the call and later attach your “yes” response to a different question in the call.
  • If a questionable voice mail is left, don’t call them back! The same goes for text messages. The scammer might charge fees for call backs or replies to texts.
  • Delete and block unwanted numbers and robocalls. Visit the Federal Communications Commission’s website for resources.
  • Don’t press any numbers that you are asked to dial during a robocall. You might get charged a fee for doing so.

Romance scams

The romancer lures in the older adult by showering that person with lots of attention and seemingly making a genuine connection. Then they say they need money from that person.  Once the older adult sends the money, the romancer is gone.

Ways to protect against these scams:

  • Listen with your head, not your heart.
  • Beware of anything that doesn’t add up or make sense.

Fake prize notifications

A company asks the older adult for money so they can receive a prize they have won. However, no legitimate sweepstakes requires payment to play or collect a prize.

Ways to protect against these scams:

  • Don’t send money or give out your ID or banking information.
  • If in doubt, contact the company to verify that the offer is real.

Emergency calls to send money to loved ones

Someone claims they are your grandchild or another loved one who is in an emergency and needs money immediately.

Ways to protect against these scams:

  • Call that relative or friend to see if they contacted you.
  • Don’t give money to anyone without confirming it’s really them.

Medical alert scams

A person calls saying they are from a company that provides medical alert systems that an older adult can use to call for help in an emergency. The caller says a friend or family member paid for this service for the older adult, then asks that adult to provide personal information to verify their identity.

Ways to protect against these scams:

  • Be wary of 'free' offers that require your personal information upfront. These companies will likely charge a service fee.
  • Call the friend or family member that the company claimed paid for the service to see whether the company actually called them.

Fake Medicare or discount insurance scams

Someone might call and say they are from Medicare or from an insurance provider. They offer fake medical discount plans and/or charge a monthly fee for discounts or medical services.

Ways to protect against these scams:

  • Don’t give out personal, financial and other private information over the phone to anyone making these types of calls.
  • Contact Medicare to be sure it was a person from that agency who called.
  • Do background checks of the company who called you.
  • If they claim to be affiliated with a legitimate company, check with that company to verify that it is true.

Other scams

Common forms of payments scammers request

  • Gift cards and wire transfers. If you are asked to pay in these ways, do not continue with the transaction/phone call/relationship.
  • Returning an “overpayment.” The fraudster will send the individual a payment for award winnings, a grant, a scholarship, or paycheck. The scammer will then ask that some of the money be returned to cover fees charged for the award or because of an overpayment.

Additional scam protection tips

  • Check monthly credit card and bank statements for unrecognized charges or unauthorized recurring charges.
  • Don’t click on any email links, even from people you know, unless it was expected.
  • Learn to recognize “phishing” emails; go to the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) website for more information.
  • Don’t announce travel plans on social media sites.
  • Use strong passwords, and don’t use the same password on different websites.
  • Watch out for fake websites posing for real companies.
  • Avoid making rash financial decisions. Don't feel the need to immediately respond to any demands or offers.
  • If you’re unsure something is legitimate, discuss it first with someone you trust.

Additional Resources

AARP Fraud Watch Network

FTC Identity Theft Tool; you can also call 877.382.4357.

Minnesota Attorney General Web Page on Older Adult Scams

Minnesota Attorney General Complaint Form

Minnesota Commerce Department Safe Senior Financial Protection Act

Minnesota Commerce Department Senior Financial Exploitation Reporting Form

National Elder Fraud Hotline; you can also call 833.372.8311.

LSS Financial Counseling has experienced, nonjudgmental financial counselors who can share additional information about protections against scams and provide support to individuals who have been harmed by scams. Call 888.577.2227 or get your support online.

Michelle Style


Author Michelle Style is a certified financial counselor with LSS Financial Counseling.