Tips to Protect Seniors from Scams

Hook Law News | Feb 24, 2021 | Letha Sgritta McDowell

Unfortunately, financial abuse of seniors in the form of scams and fraud have existed for quite some time. With every new version of a scam comes new tips for how to avoid such scenarios. However, 2020 saw a milestone in this arena which makes protecting an unsuspecting senior more difficult. For the first time in history, seniors were victimized more often online than by telephone. While internet use among seniors has risen and seniors are becoming more tech savvy, so are abusers. With online fraud sky-rocketing, it is critical to monitor and protect seniors from online abuse.

Many internet users know not to open an e-mail or attachments sent by individuals they don’t know. However, it is also critical to not only look at the name of the sender, but also to look at the e-mail address from which the message was sent before opening any mail or attachments. It is possible to use the name of person that will likely be familiar to the potential victim but to use a different e-mail address. Since the name is familiar, the potential victim may give out information that can be used against them in the future.

When you receive spam e-mails be sure to flag spam so that subsequent e-mails will automatically be filtered out as spam, making it less likely that you click on an unwanted e-mail or link. In addition, be sure to unsubscribe to marketing e-mails. E-mail lists are often bought, sold, or traded and abusers will often phish for potential victims using lists.

In addition to carefully screening e-mail, it is also important to remember not to provide your credit card or banking information in response to a solicitation. That is much different that searching for an item or service online and purchasing online. Most online retailers have enacted security to ensure that online purchases are safe and secure. However, scammers will create official and safe looking solicitations in order to gain access to desired information.   

It is also critical to monitor your funds or have a trusted loved one monitor funds for you. With the right information, scammers or abusers can obtain access directly to assets or credit cards and often take money without knowledge or consent. Often the theft or deception is not discovered until long after funds have disappeared and proving who took such funds can be difficult or impossible. The more you or a loved one monitors your accounts, the more likely any theft will be discovered quickly and be stopped.

While focusing on internet scams, it is important to consider that the internet is not all bad. In fact, one way to protect a loved one (or yourself) from becoming a victim is to switch to online account statements delivery and to pay bills electronically. Electronic delivery reduces opportunities for friends, family members or caregivers from obtaining information which can be used for purposes of manipulation or to obtain account information in order to steal.

One of the most important steps you can take in order to prevent scams or abuse is to ensure that the senior is not isolated. More times than not, limited mobility or increased illness and certainly, increased risk of illness, often results in a senior being at home alone or otherwise isolated for very long periods of time. Isolation is a primary risk factor for financial abuse.

If you are concerned about a senior and think they may be at risk or have been scammed, look for unpaid bills such as utility bills or a mortgage which could indicate a lack of funds in their accounts. Also look for piles of sweepstakes mailings, magazine subscriptions, or envelopes that say “free gift” on the outside. Also be wary if a caregiver or other individual won’t allow access to a senior.

Finally, be sure to remember that, while those abusers who sit behind computers seem to be threatening and are increasing in numbers, most financial abuse is perpetrated by a close friends, family members, or caregivers.

Ask Dan: Jackets for Dogs

Hook Law Center: Hey Dan, do dogs get cold?

Dan: Absolutely! Just like people, dogs get cold and they’ll show you by shivering, whining, or acting anxious. Unlike people, dogs have their coats built right in. Dogs with thick coats like huskies, Labrador retrievers, or shepherds, their coats allow them to play outside in the cold for long periods of time. Smaller dogs or dogs with thin coats like greyhounds or bulldogs may still go outside, but for shorter periods of time. Some people put coats and sweaters on dogs who aren’t built for the cold so they can play outside longer, just as long as I like to do!  

Letha Sgritta McDowell

Attorney, Shareholder, CELA
757-399-7506 | 252-722-2890
[email protected]

Letha Sgritta McDowell is a Shareholder of Hook Law practicing in the areas of estate planning, elder law, special needs planning, estate and trust administration, asset protection planning, long-term care planning, personal injury settlement consulting, guardianships & conservatorships, and tax law. Ms. McDowell’s clients range from high-net-worth individuals with over $75 million in net worth to families with limited assets.

Ms. McDowell is a past President of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and was named as a Fellow of the prestigious American College of Trusts and Estates Council (“ACTEC”) in 2020. She is certified as an elder law attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation (“CELA”) and Board Certified as a specialist in Elder Law by the North Carolina State Bar Board of Legal Specialization. Furthermore, McDowell is accredited to prepare and prosecute claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Ms. McDowell is currently the chair of NAELA’s strategic planning committee, a member of the Board of Directors for the North Carolina Chapter of NAELA, and a member of the Board of Directors for the Purdue Center for Cancer Research. She is the former Chair of the North Carolina State Bar’s Elder Law Specialization Committee and is the former Editor-in-Chief of “Gray Matters”, the newsletter for the Elder Law Section of the North Carolina Bar Association. She is a consultant for InterActive Legal and has worked on several law and technology initiatives including IBM’s Watson project. Along with her experience practicing as an attorney, she has dedicated much of her time writing for national publications including, but not limited to: Wolters Kluwer,, the NAELA Journal, Trust & Estates Magazine and many more.

Practice Areas

  • Elder Law
  • Estate & Trust Administration
  • Estate Planning
  • Asset Protection Planning
  • Long-Term Care Planning
  • Special Needs Planning
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