Elder Music and Shared Passions

Elder Scams and Cons

You're way too smart to be taken in by a con artist, right? You may worry about your parents and older friends being scammed, but you know you can see one coming a mile off. Or can you?

Elders are the most common targets of scams and frauds. A recent survey [pdf] conducted by Infogroup/ORC for Investor Protection Trust, a non-profit organization that promotes investor education, revealed that 20 percent of people in the U.S. age 65 and older – 7.3 million – have been victims of a financial swindle.

According to the FBI, elders are the most common targets of fraud and the number and types of scams on the FBI website is astonishing. You should know about these:

  • Health insurance
  • Counterfeit prescription drugs
  • Funeral and cemetery fraud
  • Anti-aging products
  • Telemarketing fraud
  • Internet fraud
  • Investment schemes
  • Reverse mortgage scams

It was the last item on the FBI list that brought me to this topic because I couldn't understand why there are so many warnings about reverse mortgages when it is no longer possible for lenders to sell borrowers other financial products while setting up a reverse mortgage.

According to the FBI, there are different, more creative ways involving real property to fraudulently separate elders from their money (see list here; scroll down to "reverse mortgages") and their last bit of advice is the best: “seek out your own reverse mortgage counselor.” That is, never set up a reverse mortgage with someone who contacts you.

As I got interested in following up on those other kinds of elder scams and fraud, that one simple idea became bleeding obvious: NEVER, EVER BUY ANYTHING FROM STRANGER WHO CONTACTS YOU.

Whether it is a reverse mortgage, diamond earrings for your wife or daughter, insurance or an investment, do your homework – the internet makes it easy. Call trusted friends for advice, talk your banker or other appropriate professionals with whom you have done business in the past to select a product or service.

For yourself or a parent, it is not hard these days to avoid many potentially fraudulent solicitations.

You can cut down on unsolicited calls from sales people with the national Do Not Call registry, managed by the Federal Trade commission. Sign up with your personal phone number(s) and except for political organizations, charities and telephone surveys, all sales calls will stop.

I've been signed up since the registry began in 2003, and it works. On the rare occasion I've received a call from a telemarketer (three or four times in seven years), I've told them I'm on the registry and they high-tail off the phone. Penalties are stiff.

If you receive an offer to have your telephone number removed from telemarketing lists – especially for a fee – run. Yes, scammers even try to scam the fraud protectors. Although it doesn't hurt to register your cell phone with the registry, federal regulations already prohibit most telemarketing calls to cell phones.

Here's all you need to know about cell phones and the registry at the FTC website.

The four credit rating agencies (Equifax, TransUnion, Experian, Innovis) have together created another opt-out service for what are called “firm” offers of insurance and credit – that is, “pre-approved” and “pre-screened” offers that usually arrive by snailmail.

At the website, you can opt out for five years, opt out permanently or, if you change your mind, opt in again. I've only just opted out, so I can't say yet if it works as well as the FTC Do Not Call registry.

Some con artists are – well, artists at what they do and anyone might be taken advantage of when they're not paying attention, so here are some reliable sources of fraud information:

FBI Elder Fraud page with tips on avoiding them

FBI List of Frauds with tips on avoiding them

AARP – Alerts and general information

And don't think that because a sales person is our age that he or she is honest. Just last week, Bloomberg published a story about aging con men who target elders.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Privacy


This has happened to a few of my elder friends:
Screen pop-ups that tell them they're infected with multiple viruses and trojans and tell them to activate their anti-virus by pushing a button that is made to look like the microsoft official logo.
It is not. By pushing the button they allow spyware of the worst kind - bank account passwords and credit card info is harvested, even key strokes are logged.
This is devastating and often discourages elders from using their computers again. Which adds to isolation, etc.
Please put word out not to click these buttons. Ever.

We are also on the no-call list but what I get anyway comes from financial institutions connected evidently loosely to our bank or credit union. They offer consolidations of loans etc etc and are generally just recordings where I hang up immediately. If you do business with someone, they can contact you for 'other' offers. Whenever I get a 'real' person, I do like you and tell them I never do anything from a phone call, but it appears to be a glitch in their system that nails us once in awhile.


It's true that companies with which you have a business connection can contact you. My phone service provider was driving me nuts with frequent sales calls until I emailed and let them know how angry I was.

Almost all financial/insurance corporations reserve the right to pass your contact information to their subsidiaries/partners/etc. But you can opt out.

At least once a year, they send out an announcement brochure telling you this - in a very tiny font. And, they usually require that you opt out by snailmail.


I have been on the Don't Call list for ages and am just now getting calls. It is always a recording and you are unable to reach a real person to tell them that you are on the registry. I think I will sign up again.

Thank you for the link to the Opt Out for insurance and investment offers. I was not aware of it and just signed up for five years. At my age that's long enough. ;-)

Like Darlene I didn't know about the other links & will sign both my mom (95)& myself up. Mom got a call last week from a person claiming to be from Social Security advising her to call a number to answer a few questions. She told my sister & me about it just to be certain that we too agreed that it was a scam. Which leads me to my next point: I find it awfully hard to believe that people actually buy into the "foreign lottery" winnings & the unclaimed funds mostly from African countries. But I guess there are some elders not informed or perhaps a occasionally befuddled. Hard to believe. Dee

Ronni, thank you for reminding us that WE are the elders those scams target. It's so easy to believe that such things happen to someone else; that kind of denial sets us up perfectly to ignore our own vulnerability.

I think it's axiomatic that we are not the first to spot the developing, age-related weak spots in our own judgment--and it is folly to assume that we're exempt from them.

We NEED simple rules to follow, or at least, I do. There's just so much to keep track of these days!

The smartest people in the world can be victimized by scams. So it isn't wise to believe one is immune. We have caller ID and an answering machine voice. I never answer the phone unless I know who's calling. I'm getting persistent calls from one outfit that has slipped by the no call list, but I just ignore it.
G-mail does a pretty good job of getting rid of spam, but from time to to time something slips through, and I inform them.
But I think face to face scams are the worst. Taking advantage of lonely old people strikes me as one of the meanest things anyone could do to a fellow human being. We were forever chasing people like this away from my mother in law who, though bright, was a little off in her judgment. This included threats to call the cops!

Thank you very much for this information.

And yes, the young aren't always the bad guys. Here in our town, we have the Geezer bandit...who carries his O2, sports wrinkles that aren't fake, and keeps on ticking when the banks wish he would quit.

It recently cost me $300 to Geek Squad to get one of those sites that locked up my computer virus...but I never clicked on anything...but it came anyways...what a pain that was $ and butt!!!! I always try to be careful and have my virus protection on but somehow it go through-not being able to access anything at all - it was a very frustrating and awful experience. BE CAREFUL!!!!

I'd been successful preventing sales calls since signing up when "don't call" list first came into being -- until the past year. I think a lot of businesses and/or individuals don't check any don't call list so I've been getting many calls. Frequently they're from contractors. Think it's a reflection of economic conditions. I always ask for the company name, then ask if they know the number is on the don't call list. They usually hang up right away, but one recently got cute, trying to be funny. I find myself feeling sympathetic to many of them since I think they may be struggling for income.

Thanks for the reminder about the credit rating agencies and may opt out on those pre-approved snail mail letters as getting sick of them weekly. I'm angry we have to opt out instead of our being asked for permission for us to opt in. We need to go after Congress to add this to a list of consumer protections.

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