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The Most Common Financial Scams That Target the Elderly

— December 13, 2023

More education and awareness can keep us all privy to the latest threats—especially those targeting our older and most vulnerable citizens. 

Financial scams are ubiquitous. 

Tens of thousands of people fall victim to them every year around the globe, resulting in billions of dollars lost—and the numbers just keep climbing. 

I live in Australia, where combined losses from scams exceeded $3 billion in 2022. That was an 80% increase compared to 2021 records. In the United States, Federal Trade Commission data revealed that consumers lost nearly $9 billion in scams in 2022, which was a 30% increase from the previous year. 

The FTC reported that people between the ages of 60–69 suffered the most losses, roughly $836 million. A similar story unfolded in my part of the world: there were 50,000 scam incidents involving older Australians in 2022, leading to more than $120 million in losses. 

It’s an unfortunate truth that financial scammers prey on older and elderly people. Part of that is because they think the older you are, the more money you have (which, of course, isn’t always true). 

But senior citizens can also be more trusting by nature; some even have cognitive issues, making them more susceptible to exploitation. 

It’s also an unfortunate truth that financial scams are difficult to prosecute. Much of the time they go unreported, so criminals consider them low-risk. They use the Internet, phone calls, text messages, and even door-to-door tactics to carry out their fraudulent behaviour, often leaving their victims in devastating financial predicaments. 

Here are some of the most common financial scams that target the elderly. 

Imposter Scams

Imposter scams occur when criminals trick people into sharing personal information or sending them money. They can be broken down into two categories: authority and familiarity. 


It’s usually not a good idea to question an authority figure, right? Scammers go all-in on that fearsome societal mindset, threatening elderly targets with consequences while posing as the government, banks, and utility suppliers such as gas and electric companies. They leverage false claims of unpaid taxes or bills to extract money from victims, or in some cases, personal identifying information that can be used to commit identity theft. In the U.S., health insurance scams related to Medicare are also extremely prevalent. 


“Grandma, I was just in a car accident and need $2,000 for the hospital bill. Can you help me?”

Of all the financial scams out there that target the elderly, the ones that leverage familiarity might be the most nefarious. These are exactly what they sound like: scammers pretend to be a loved one of the victim and exploit that relationship to get money or personal details. It’s referred to as “The Grandparent” scam (or the “Hi Mum” scam here in Australia), and it typically involves a fictitious, urgent situation. Sometimes, scammers even pose as doctors or police officers and use high-pressure tactics to capitalise on an older person’s emotions. 

Other types of imposter scams: Door-to-door scams can be a mix of authority and familiarity. Home repair scams, for instance, might sell fake goods and services, while bogus “surveys” simply prompt elderly people to share delicate personal details. 

Online & Technology

Older people tend to lack knowledge about computers and technology in general, so they aren’t keen on cybersecurity. Criminals utilise that lack of understanding in numerous ways:

  • Tech Support Scams: Victims receive a pop-up on their computer or phone informing them their device needs fixing. They contact the provided “service” and readily pay the repair fee or grant remote access to their device.
  • Robocalls: A common robocall asks, “Can you hear me?” When the elderly person says, “Yes,” the criminal records their response—and instantly has a voice signature to authorise fraudulent charges on stolen credit cards. Other robocalls use scare tactics, such as impending lawsuits or expiring warranties, to extort spurious fees.
  • Romance Scams: With online dating as popular as ever, scammers scan dating sites and social media for older people who are recently divorced or lost a partner. They create fake profiles, build trust while professing strong emotions, and ultimately exploit the victim’s loneliness for money.

    Online romance – man and woman joining hands through computer monitor; image by Don Hankins, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0, no changes.
    Online romance – man and woman joining hands through computer monitor; image by Don Hankins, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0, no changes.

Other types of technology scams: Countless other tech-related scams target the elderly, including phishing emails and texts, investment scams involving cryptocurrency, and online marketplace scams where buyers never receive the items they paid for and sellers get tricked into paying fictitious fees. 

Fake Money

Financial scams that target the elderly are obviously designed to take money from their victims—but some scams work by promising the opposite. 

Lottery and Sweepstakes

You won!

Everybody loves hearing that. Scams involving the lottery and sweepstakes promise big payouts and fast cash. It’s a familiar setup: scammers contact older people (via phone, mail, email, or even sometimes in-person) and tell them they’ve won a prize. To claim the prize, victims are asked to send money to cover taxes, shipping and handling, and processing fees. Fake check scams have also become more prevalent since modern technology makes it easy to create counterfeit documents. 

Other types of fake-money scams: Additional scams revolving around fictitious earnings include inheritance scams, rebate scams, and even imitation online job ads that utilise fake checks and other phoney transactions to deceive older folks out of cash. 

How to Avoid Financial Scams

It goes without saying, but fraudsters seize any opportunity they can to scam victims out of money. During the height of COVID, for instance, they targeted elderly people with promises of vaccinations and testing in exchange for money and personal information. Even a global pandemic couldn’t stop financial scammers. 

Scams are meant to catch their targets off guard and often exploit fundamental human emotions. Untold numbers of people have been victimised

Of course, knowing how to recognize a scam and stop it before it happens is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones.Here are some tips to help older people avoid getting duped: 

  • Be suspicious: Keep in mind the old adage, “If it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.” Remain extra cautious about requests involving money, even if they seem legit.
  • Don’t feel pressured: Many scams work by creating a sense of urgency with fake emergencies and threats of legal action.
  • Verify identities: If you do not know the person, simply do not engage with them. Suspicious emails, phone calls, or pop-ups on the computer should be deleted — or at least verified through an independent source.
  • Use caution online: If someone on social media or a dating website professes strong feelings quickly or asks to move the conversation to a private chat or email chain, that should be a glaring red flag.
  • Notice unusual payment methods: Many scammers don’t ask for cash, opting instead for peculiar forms of payment that are harder to trace including gift cards, preloaded debit cards, and virtual currency such as Bitcoin.
  • Secure devices: Utilise security software and passwords, including for WiFi networks. Share passwords with trusted loved ones only, and do not share access to devices with anyone else—even remotely.

Again, financial scams happen and there’s no shame in falling victim to one. They occur in such a wide variety these days that it’s difficult to keep track of what’s safe and what isn’t, but hopefully, more education and awareness can keep us all privy to the latest threats—especially those targeting our older and most vulnerable citizens. 

If you or someone you know has been victimised recently, be sure to report it to your local authorities in an effort to prevent it from impacting others. 

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