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Elderly Phone Scams

Updated on March 26, 2016

We’ve all gotten phone calls with someone trying to sell us something. But telephone scams are not sales calls. They are outright attempts to steal our money. In fact, according to the Federal Trade Commission, telemarketing fraud costs American consumers more than 40 billion dollars a year.

And to whom are most of these telemarketing scams being aimed? The elderly. Scammers want to take advantage of senior citizens because they are likely to have a bank account, savings, and have grown up thinking it’s rude to hang up on someone. Telephone swindlers also figure it will take a while before the senior realizes he or she’s been swindled, and will then be too embarrassed to tell anyone about it.

Read on to find out about typical telemarketing scams aimed at geezers and some actions you can take (or tell your parents or grandparents to take) to protect themselves.

Typical Elderly Phone Scams

These are some of the common phone scams thieves use with senior citizens.

Help settle the estate. In this scam, the phone thief has previously read obituaries to find the names of recent widows. They then call the widow and claim to be with Social Security, a bank, credit card company, etc. They tell the widow they want to help settle her late husband’s estate. What they are looking for is personal financial information such as a bank account number. The scammer may then either sell the information or attempt to clean out the account by posing as the widow.

Family member in trouble. This is a typical scam used with the elderly in which the caller pretends they are a relative who needs money for an emergency. For example, they might say, “Hi, this is your grandson.” The worried senior asks if it’s [fill in the name of your grandson] and the scammer says “Yes.” Then the caller says they’re in jail because of car accident or a fight and they need money wired to them – immediately.

Uncollected retirement money. When telephone scammers buy their lists of people to call (how do you think they get your name?) the list may contain a current or former employer. The scammer then tells the senior that the company he or she worked for has found it owes them money from its retirement fund or 401K. Then the scammer asks the person to send some money to pay for “attorney” or “processing” fees.

Medicare scams. Scammers know that people over 65 are enrolled in Medicare so they try to use this as a way to get at their personal financial information. In one example, the phone scammer calls claiming to be able to help the senior enroll in the Medicare prescription program. All they need, they say, is a Social Security number and bank account. In another version, the caller tells the senior their Medicare card has expired and they need a new one. Again, they ask for bank account information under the guise of “verifying your information.” They pressure the senior by telling them that without the information they will lose their medical coverage.

Lottery/Sweepstakes Winnings. In this telephone scam, the caller tells the senior that they’ve won a large sum of money either in a lottery, sweepstakes, or contest. The scammer may even tell them it’s from a neighboring country to make it sound more legitimate. They tell the geezer that to receive their winnings they have to wire money to pay for taxes, a processing fee, customs, or whatever. Of course, after the money is wired, the senior will discover there are no winnings.

Scam recovery. Once someone has been taken by a scam, they can expect to get a follow up scam call. This time someone will ask the senior for an upfront fee to help them recover their losses. This is just a follow up scam. If you respond, you could lose money again.

Protecting the Elderly (and Yourself)

Here are some of the things you or your elderly relatives can do to protect themselves from being taken advantage of by telemarketing thieves.

  • Never give out any personal information over the phone. This includes your Social Security number, bank account or credit card numbers, the name of your bank, ID numbers, your address, and so on. Keep in mind that your bank and credit card company should already know your account numbers.
  • Ask for a name, company, and call back number of the person talking to you. If they refuse to give it, you’ve likely got a phone scam. And remember that the person may have a partner answering the number you are given. Instead, call back the main number of the company or governmental agency and ask for the person by name. If they’re not in the directory, it’s a red flag.
  • Scammers like to pressure you to make a quick decision. Legitimate businesses are willing to give you time to think about what they’re recommending. If you hear something like “You’ve got to make a decision now,” you’re probably dealing with a telephone scam.
  • Never send cash immediately. That means no wiring cash, sending it by messenger or overnight mail, or agreeing to having money picked up at your home.
  • Let the answering machine pick up the calls. Then you have time to decide if it sounds like a legitimate call or a telemarketing scam.


It’s difficult to recover money lost to a telephone scam. So learn to protect your hard earned savings. Hang up!

For a more humorous take on this topic, see Phone Scams Alert!

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