jackolanternsBy Pam Gennings, Executive Director Special Projects*

According to the National Council on Aging, financial scams targeting seniors are so prevalent these scams are now considered the “crime of the 21st century.”

Why target seniors? Many believe seniors have a lot of money sitting in their bank accounts; and unfortunately, financial scams often go unreported or can be difficult to prosecute. This is why financial scams are often considered a “low-risk crime.”

Scammers are out to make a quick buck and target wealthy and low-income seniors. It’s very sad, but family members perpetrate many financial scams.

To help protect you or a loved one from getting TRICKED, the National Council on Aging provides a list of the Top 10 Scams that Target Seniors.

Medicare/Health Insurance Fraud

In these types of scams, perpetrators may pose as a Medicare representative to get older people to give them personal information, or they will provide bogus services to elderly people at “makeshift” mobile clinics, then use the personal information they provide to bill Medicare and pocket the money.

Counterfeit Prescription Drugs

Counterfeit drug scams operate on the Internet where seniors go to find better prices for specialized medications. This scam is growing in popularity and has potential to cause physical harm. Besides paying money for something that will not help a person’s medical condition, victims may purchase and consume dangerous substances.

Funeral & Cemetery Scams

The FBI warns about two types of funeral and cemetery fraud perpetrated on seniors. In one approach, scammers read obituaries, call or attend the funeral service and take advantage of a grieving widow or widower by claiming the deceased has an outstanding debt with them. Scammers will try to extort money to settle fake debts.

Disreputable funeral homes will add unnecessary charges to a bill to capitalize on family members unfamiliar with the cost of funerals. One common scam is a funeral director will insist that a casket, usually one of the most expensive parts of a funeral service, is necessary when performing a direct cremation, which can be accomplished with a cardboard casket rather than an expensive display or burial casket.

Fraudulent Anti-Aging Products

Older Americans are seeking out new treatments and medications to maintain a youthful appearance, and scammers are ready to pounce. There is big money in the anti-aging business.


The most common scheme is when scammers use fake telemarketing calls to prey on older people, who as a group makes twice as many purchases over the phone than the national average. With no face-to-face interaction, and no paper trail, these scams are hard to trace.

The pigeon drop: a con artist tells an individual a large sum of money has been found and he/she will split it if the person will make a “good faith” payment by withdrawing funds. Often a second con artist is involved posing as a lawyer, banker or some other trustworthy stranger.
The fake accident policy: the con artist gets the victim to wire or send money on the pretext that the person’s child or another relative is in the hospital and needs money.
Charity scams: money is solicited for fake charities. This scam often occurs after natural disasters.

Internet Fraud

While using the Internet is a great skill at any age, the slower speed of adoption among some older people makes them easy targets for automated Internet scams. In this scam, seniors receive email messages, which appear to be from a legitimate company or institution, asking them to “update” or “verify” their personal information.

Investment Schemes

A number of investment schemes are targeted at seniors looking to safeguard their cash for their later years. Investment schemes like Bernie Madoff’s pyramid scheme have long been a successful way to take advantage of older people.

Homeowner/Reverse Mortgage Scams

Scammers like to take advantage of the fact that many seniors own their homes. The reverse mortgage scam has increased in recent years. There are legitimate secured reverse mortgage companies; however, unsecured reverse mortgages can lead property owners to lose their homes. It is important to do your homework!

Sweepstakes & Lottery Scams

We hear about these all of the time. A scammer informs someone that he/she has won a lottery or sweepstakes and needs to make some sort of payment to unlock the supposed prize. Scammers will often send a “prize” check that the senior takes to the bank for deposit. The scammer knows the deposit will show up immediately, but it will take a few days before the check is discovered as a fake. While the check is clearing, the scammer will collect money for supposed taxes and fees. The scammer pockets this money while the victim’s “prize money” is removed from his/her account as soon as the check bounces.

The Grandparent Scam

The scammer will place a call to an older adult and when the “mark” picks up the scammer will say something along the lines of: “Hi Grandma, do you know who this is?” When the unsuspecting grandparent guesses the name of the grandchild, the scammer has established a fake identity. The “fake” grandchild will usually ask for money to solve unexpected financial problems.

If you suspect you have been the victim of a scam, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to tell someone you trust. You can turn to the police, go to your bank if money has been taken from your account or seek help from adult protective services. In Missouri the adult protective service toll free number is 1-800-392-0210. To find the adult protective service contact information in other states, call the Eldercare Locator, a government sponsored resource line, at 1-800-677-1116 or at www.eldercare.gov.

*Pam Gennings has a Bachelor’s of Arts and has worked in the field of Geriatric Social Work and Care Coordination for more than 30 years. She started working for Oxford HealthCare in 1993. During the course of her career she has helped thousands of people find resources to remain in their homes as well as provided guidance to families that were facing difficulties with their aging loved ones.