Crime & Courts

How to protect senior citizens from scams

Photo illustration
Photo illustration Courtesy photo

Many are celebrating the arrival of Grandparents Day with extra attention bestowed on their loved ones. Unfortunately, scammers give seniors extra attention every day of the year – and they aren’t doing it by taking them to dinner. They’re more inclined to take them to the cleaners.

Here are tips and advice from the Better Business Bureau on identifying schemes to steal from senior citizens.

Older Americans are especially inviting targets for scammers for many reasons. There’s money to be had because seniors are more likely to have a “nest egg,” or to at least have their home paid off. Seniors are more likely to be interested in products that promise to offset the effects of aging. They are more inclined to be polite to strangers and therefore less likely to disengage from a scammers’ conversation.

The elderly are less likely to report that they have been taken advantage of. Sometimes this is because of unfamiliarity with how to report it, but it also may come from shame. Seniors don’t want to seem vulnerable out of fear of having their independence reduced.

Diligent watchfulness and familiarity with common elder scams are necessary to thwart the cruel deviousness of these crooks. These are some of the top scams aimed at seniors (but capable of fooling others as well):

▪  Fake charities. Especially during this destructive hurricane season, con artists are trying to trick those who want to help storm victims. Visit to read BBB reports about specific charities. Scammer charities may have names that are similar to legitimate, well-known organizations. Ask lots of questions about the charity – distribution plans, past experience, staff and infrastructure, general effectiveness.

▪  Grandparents scam. This one’s been around a long time and never seems to diminish in popularity. A crook will call a senior saying, “Hi, Grandma, know who this is?” Once a name is guessed the con starts with a sad story about being stranded somewhere and desperately needing money wired to them.

▪  Medicare/Insurance impersonators. Scammers call saying they are with Medicare or an insurance company and sending a new card. Personal information is requested, sometimes even an “initial payment.” It’s a phishing attempt, angling to hook your money and your identity.

▪  Telemarketing fraud. Callers offer free or low-cost health care products, supplemental insurance, prescription cards or inexpensive vacations. These too are phishing attempts.

▪ The “Can you hear me?” scam. All the caller wants is to get a “yes” response, record it and use it as evidence the victim agreed to a product or payment.

▪ Investment scams. Knowing seniors want to maximize their fixed incomes, crooks call or email with pyramid schemes, advance-fee schemes and other sometimes foreign fraud scams.

▪ IRS scam. Impersonating an IRS employee, a scammer demands personal information for a fictitious crime or tax fraud event they claim took place. It’s important to remember the IRS never contacts via phone.

▪ Jury duty scam. Crooks will impersonate a member of the local government and claim you are subject to immediate arrest unless you prove your identity, for having missed jury duty.

Unfortunately, this list of elder scams is far from complete. It’s vital that seniors stay informed, stay vigilant and have a support network of trusted friends and/or family to help act as gatekeepers thwarting scammers.

Denise Groene is director of the Better Business Bureau of Kansas. The BBB can be contacted at 800-856-2417 or