Top Scams Targeting Seniors – And How to Avoid Them

Newsletter | Apr 25, 2017 | Hook Law Center

It’s no secret that the elderly are frequently the target of scams, financial abuse, and exploitation. A senior’s declining cognition may make it more difficult for him to distinguish between a legitimate phone call or e-mail and one designed to take advantage of him. Combine this with hearing or vision loss, and it becomes even less of a challenge for unscrupulous individuals to obtain and make use of one’s personal and financial information.

The United States Senate Special Committee on Aging recently issued its 2017 ranking of the top 10 scams targeting senior citizens, based on data collected through its Fraud Hotline from January 1, 2016 through December 31, 2016. The most frequently reported scams of 2016 were as follows:

  • IRS Impersonation Scams

Generally, the scammer will call an individual, pretending to be an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agent, accusing the individual of owing back taxes and penalties, and threatening the individual with arrest, foreclosure, or deportation if immediate payment is not made.

  • Sweepstakes Scams

The scammer contacts an individual and informs him that he has won a lottery – frequently the Jamaican lottery. In order to “claim” his winnings (or to improve his chance of winning), the individual must pay a fee.

  • Robocalls/Unwanted Phone Calls

The scammer uses technology to dial large volumes of phone numbers and distribute pre-recorded messages to reach a broad audience of potential victims.

  • Computer Scams

The scammer contacts the victim by computer, poses as an employee of a technology company, and convinces the victim that his computer is infected with a virus. In order to get rid of the “virus,” the scammer convinces the victim to give him access to his computer, often in exchange for payment by wire transfer. Sometimes, the scammer obtains the victim’s passwords and uses them to access his financial accounts, as well.

  • Elder Financial Abuse

The Committee’s report defines financial abuse as the “illegal or improper use of an older adult’s funds, property, or assets.” It is often committed by a loved one or an agent under a power of attorney.

  • Grandparent Scams

The scammer calls a senior pretending to be a family member, often a grandchild, and asks for money to pay for an emergency (frequently a medical bill or legal problem).

  • Romance Scams/Confidence Fraud

A form of “catfishing,” this scam involves the fraudster creating a fake online dating profile, gaining the trust of the victim over a period of time, then requesting money to help out in an “emergency” or to allegedly visit the victim.

  • Government Grant Scams

The scammer contacts the victim, pretending to be from a “Government Grants Department” (which does not exist), and informing the victim that he or she will receive a grant after paying a fee.

  • Counterfeit Check Scams

The scammer sends the victim a check and instructs him to cash or deposit the check, then turn around and wire some of the money back to the scammer. For his trouble, the victim may keep a portion, he is told. The victim later learns from the bank that the check has bounced, and now he is liable for the funds wired.

  • Identity Theft

The Committee’s report categorizes several forms of “identity theft,” including online impersonation, actual theft of a wallet or mail, and illegal efforts to obtain a person’s identifiable information. Use of someone’s personal information to apply for a credit card is a common form of identity theft, as is filing an income tax return using someone else’s personal information, generally to obtain a refund from the government.

To avoid becoming the victim of these and other scams, exercise caution when you are contacted by someone you do not know personally or are not expecting to hear from. Almost all of the scams above involve someone else contacting you, either by phone, mail, or e-mail. If someone purportedly calling from your financial institution contacts you and asks for identifying information, hang up and call the institution back at a known, legitimate phone number to verify whether the call was legitimate. Avoid opening e-mails from unknown senders and clicking on links in e-mails unless you are absolutely certain that the e-mail or link is legitimate. Shred documents containing personal information such as dates of birth and Social Security Numbers, rather than throwing them away. Keep in mind that anything that sounds too good to be true (lottery winnings and free trips, for example) most likely IS too good to be true. And when in doubt, if you receive a phone call, piece of mail, or e-mail that doesn’t seem quite right, get the opinion of a loved one or an attorney before responding.

If you receive a suspicious call or message, contact the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging’s Fraud Hotline at 1-855-303-9470. For more information relating to each of the above scams, you may access the 2017 report online at

Ask Kit Kat – Follow the Bears

Hook Law Center:  Kit Kat, what can you tell us about the bears in Yosemite National Park?

Kit Kat:  Well, this is so interesting! The rangers at Yosemite now have a website in which the public can follow the location of black bears throughout the park. The bears are outfitted with tracking collars, and they can be followed as they go about their daily routines. There is a time delay, so industrious visitors cannot know where they are in real time, but you can see them doing a lot of things like climbing 5,000-foot canyon walls, foraging for food, etc. There are approximately 500 black bears in Yosemite.

The reason behind the tracking system and website is twofold—one is to satisfy the public’s curiosity about the bears, but secondly, and most importantly it is to give the rangers and the public information about the bears. With more than 5 million visitors to the park last year, rangers hope the public will be more aware how to interact with bears—slowing their driving in places bears frequent most and properly storing food at campsites. Last year alone, 28 bears were hit by cars, and for some, it was a fatal encounter. Ryan Leahy, a wildlife biologist at the park says, ‘It’s our responsibility to keep bears wild.’ Another expert, Jesse Garcia, a black bear specialist from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, says, ‘You’ve got to give them their distance and always be aware, knowing that they’re there.’ In other words, visitors are encouraged to enjoy the bears, but at a safe distance for both parties.

The tracking system has resulted in learning more about black bears, which in Yosemite, tend to be more of a brownish color. One of the things they have learned is that mating season begins in May, about a month earlier than previously thought. Continued monitoring will help us learn more about these powerful, yet beautiful animals. (By Associated Press, “Keeping track of Yosemite’s busy bears,” The Washington Post (Kids Post), April 4, 2017)

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