Scam Alert: How to Keep Seniors Safer - Skip to content

Scam Alert: How to Keep Seniors Safer


reverse mortgage news, senior scamsNot long after filing his 2014 tax return, my father received a strange, somewhat sinister message on his answering machine: the IRS was going to sue him for back taxes! At 90, my dad is sharper than a premium kitchen knife, but he was still alarmed. Thankfully, he remembered what I’d told him about the Internet being a useful research tool. He typed the phone number of the purported IRS caller into a search engine, and the results screamed “SCAM!” It was a number in Washington, all right, but not Washington, D.C.: Washington State. And despite the many warnings about this well-known scam, even elders as alert as my dad fall prey to it every year. 

But IRS scams aren’t the only ruse older adults need to watch out for. We’ve looked at ways to protect seniors from financial fraud as well as identity theft and property crime. Here’s a recap of six senior scams that reverse mortgage professionals can share with their prospects and clients to help them stay safe. You may wish to print this list and hand it out to seniors and their families:

1.   “Grandma, can you loan me some money?” According to the National Council on Aging, scammers place a call to an older person and when the “mark” picks up, 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 most sounds like, the scammer has established a fake identity without having done a lick of background research.”

What to do: If you think the caller might actually be your grandchild, say, “Oh honey, I’m right in the middle of something! Give me your number and I’ll call you back.” A scammer will either hang up or try again to get you to guess their name. Hang up. Then call your local phone company and have Caller ID installed.

2.   You’ve just won our sweepstakes!” Though sweepstakes and lottery scams are old news, seniors still fall for them — along with the scammer’s request that they provide personal data so the winnings can be directly deposited into their bank account.

What to do: Hang up and install Caller ID.

3.   “Look younger by Monday!” Fake anti-aging product scams are mushrooming in popularity, especially as the Boomer generation ages.

What to do: Buy and use only those products that have been vetted by a health care professional you trust.

4.   Mock meds. Like fraudulent anti-aging products, counterfeit prescription drugs have proliferated as seniors increasingly shop online in order to save money.

What to do: Before buying a product that can harm your body as much as your pocketbook, check with your doctor or other healthcare provider to be sure both the product and the company are genuine. If you plan to do a lot of online shopping, open a separate checking account with a credit/debit card that you use only for this purpose; this way, any fraudulent charges will be easy to spot. In addition, keeping your online transactions completely separate helps protect your primary account(s) from being compromised.

5.   “This car needs a lot of work.” An RV repair shop tried this on me when I brought a new-to-me camping van in for leaking A/C. Along with the bill, the shop presented me with a list of other “necessary” repairs totaling $2000! I told them if I’d thought the van needed that much work, I wouldn’t have bought it.

What to do: Have a younger family member or trusted friend negotiate any repair work (such as auto repairs or yard work), or ask someone you trust to review the estimate prior to giving the go-ahead to start work.

6.   Upselling the bereaved. One of the most reprehensible scams involves preying on the grieving, by selling the most expensive funeral services, caskets, etc., or adding charges to the bill.

What to do: It’s difficult to think clearly while in deep grief. Ask a family member not as closely related to the deceased, or a trusted friend, to help with the arrangements.

These are some of the more common scams smart seniors should be aware of in order to keep their finances, property, health, safety, and sanity intact.


Leave a Comment


  1. Amara….you’ve done it again. This was a great little article that is useful to all. I’ve been a fan of yours for some time now. Keep up the good work. Burgess Kegan, Pres. MMBA

  2. Dear Burgess,

    I’m so glad to know you find these posts useful! That’s our goal: to provide HECM professionals with information you can use today to help the seniors you serve.


  3. Our next door neighbor is inundated with letter after letter from apparent religious organizations requesting money for what the letter describes as critical or extreme needs. Knowing her religious bias, these letters are very well written and based on their style, tone, word selection, and phrasing could have come from actual organizations she is spiritually vested in. A substantial number of the letters came from organizations which were not religious at all.

    Invoking God, promising blessings for giving, and employing other key phrases, the letters from real and fake religious organizations convinced the mother who is in her late eighties to give and give until she began using her line of credit for this purpose. Her daughter who is a little younger than me and whom I have known since she was three, was at her wits end and asked us to help. Worse the mother has dementia and the daughter lives about 70 miles from her mother but between them are some of the busiest traffic areas in the bedroom communities in the Los Angeles region; the daughter who had been a widow for several years is just newly married and works full time.

    The daughter is now seeking help and has a cash manager through the mother’s church who the mother is allowing to look at the letters before she gives more money. This has definitely helped the situation.

    Seniors need to learn about scams and find ways of protecting themselves from these worthless pretenders.

    Amara, thanks for the list!! This kind of fraud is on the rise and the more we can do to stop it, the better.

    • Critic,

      Excellent point. I did not address seniors with cognitive impairment here (though there will be another piece on memory published later this month), and it is indeed a HUGE issue ~ several years ago I learned of a 92-year-old woman with mild dementia who gave away all her savings to “charitable causes”. It seems as though in such a case the best recourse might be to persuade the senior to name a trusted financial POA. The daughter could also contact whatever resources are available to remove her mother’s name and address from mailing lists.

      Thank you for sharing!

  4. Another scam that seems prevalent in our area in Florida has been men dressed to appear to be military collecting money at busy intersections under the guise of helping veterans. They are not allowed to wear official designations.

    Let’s not forget to add to the list fake calls that identify themselves as IRS or bank employees trying to gather personal information that will lead to identity theft. The IRS and banks don’t call you on the phone for information they already should have. Don’t give it out – ever.

    • Dick,

      Thanks for this info ~ I hadn’t heard about the military collections scam!

      And all seniors should be cautioned never to give out any personal information over the phone unless they initiate the call (e.g., to tech support or customer service) ~ and even then, a written record is preferable.

  5. Twice about a year apart I’ve gotten a phone call from someone with a middle eastern accent. He asks me if I handle reverse mortgages. When I say, yes they say they have a friend that they’re going to have call me. So I receive a call from a little old lady (two different ones at two different addresses) asking me about the program. In one case the house was free and clear and the borrower wanted all cash out. I asked her if the person who called me is a good friend. In both cases I traced the phone number to a New York phone number which showed a scam warning. With new safeguards in place with FA this might not even pass counseling. .but be cautious if you get a call like this…

    • Nannette ~

      I hadn’t even considered scamming from the prospect side! Thanks so much for pointing this out. In the cyber age, it’s important to vet service users as well as service providers in every field.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Must Read:


Recent Stories