Latest Phone ScamsLatest Phone Scams

Americans are usually ready to help others, and we are often generous to those we feel are needy. Con artists know this, and often use this knowledge to prey on the elderly.

Older adults with dementia or other forms of memory loss can be easy targets for phone scams; they may not understand everything, and rather than ask repeatedly for clarification, they just agree to cover up their lack of understanding. They may be alone and feel isolated, making them more inclined to stay on the phone for longer.

It’s not just Alzheimer’s sufferers that are targeted, either – scammers know that many of us fear losing our memory, and they’ll use that to their advantage. A phone scammer may tell an older adult they have spoken before, which keeps them on the phone for longer, worried they’ve forgotten due to memory loss.

Here are the top five phone scams to watch out for.

1. Using Fake Timelines to Tell a Story

In one scam the caller says that they talked last fall (or some other appropriately long ago, vague date), and that Grandma asked him to call back at this time to talk about  (fill in the blank for an expensive item Grandma never even dreamed about). It could be a cruise ship vacation, a building or remodelling project, home repair, whatever.

2. Medicare

Another scam targets those on Medicare. Scammers either phone senior patients to ask for their health insurance information or provide phony services at a “mobile clinic.” Then the fraudsters bill Medicare for the services which they didn’t provide. Often, the senior doesn’t even know this has been done unless he needs a service that is allowed by Medicare only at specific intervals, like once a year. Then, the senior would be told that he had that test (or whatever) and he doesn’t qualify for another until next year without him paying for it. We all know how expensive medical services can be – that’s why Medicare exists.

3. Mourning or Loss

Sad to say, phone scammers even prey on those who are in mourning. Some frauds attend a funeral and tell the family that the deceased owed him money, trying to be paid back for a loan that was never made.

4. IRS Scammers

Over five million dollars has been bilked out of seniors in all fifty states who have fallen victim to the IRS scam. A caller says that back taxes are owed, naming a large figure. Then the caller threatens to have the senior arrested, sued in court or have his or her driver’s license suspended. Over 290,000 of these calls have been investigated by the IRS in the past eighteen months. Probably many more people wrote a check and mailed it to the scammers and they are too ashamed to report it. This is a common result with crimes by con artists, who often fool very intelligent people.

5. Faked Relatives

When a young-sounding voice on the phone asks, “Do you know who this is, Grandpa?” the best thing to do may be to hang up. If you guess with the name of one of your grandchildren, then you have given the fraud his fake identity. The caller will then tell a sad story about 1) needed car repairs, 2) being stranded in some town, 3) overdue rent or some other financial problem. After convincing the senior to wire the money by Western Union or MoneyGram, who sometimes don’t require ID to pick up money, the caller will beg, “Please don’t tell my parents. They would kill me.” Doting grandparents are often willing to oblige and they become victims of the scam.

Phone con artists are great at spotting where seniors are vulnerable and working on it. If someone you don’t know is on the phone asking for money, you should hang up. If you think it might be your grandchild, ask for their phone number and tell them you will phone them right back. This gives you time to Google the number (just type the number into a Google searchbar) – often it will turn up to be a scam, which you’ll quickly see if it’s listed as a fraudulent number on sites like Or, check with the parents of the child or the child herself; better to check and the parents would be glad to know if there is a problem the child is hiding from them.

How to Report Phone Scams

If you suspect that you have been the victim of a fraud, don’t be afraid to talk about it. It could save lots of other people from the same embarrassment. You can call the Eldercare Locator, a government sponsored national resource line, at 1-800-677-1116. They will give you the phone number of your local Adult Protective Services. Seniors have become the victims of the top crimes of the twenty-first century. You might not see it on TV because these problems aren’t considered glamorous. But financial scams targeting the elderly are rampant. Don’t let yourself become a victim. When in doubt, just hang up.

Senior Advisor's knowledgeable writers blog about senior care services, trends and more.

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