Stranger Fraud: Common Scams Targeting Seniors

Why It Matters:

• Elderly people are often particularly vulnerable targets of con artists and scammers.

• Criminals employ a wide variety of tactics to steal identities and dollars.

• Knowing what to watch out for can be a good defense against becoming a victim.

Transamerica tkc.profilePicture Written by: Transamerica | Transamerica
June 29, 2017

3-4 Min readClock Icon

Unfortunately, seniors remain a regular and lucrative target for conmen and scam artists.

As a group, the elderly have often had a lifetime to accrue hard-earned — and often sizeable — bank accounts. Add to that the natural cognitive impairment afflicting some people as they age and it’s not surprising crooks go to great lengths attempting to bilk this segment of our population.

Types of so-called stranger scams vary widely. Perpetrators may sometimes use aggressive, strong-arm tricks to prey on the fears and vulnerabilities of would-be victims. Or they might employ a more subtle approach to take advantage of someone’s charitable nature. Whatever the con, the goal is the same: to steal information and, ultimately, money from unsuspecting seniors.

The National Adult Protective Services Association states one in 20 older adults indicated some form of “perceived financial mistreatment occurring in the recent past.” The organization also notes only one in 44 cases of financial abuse is ever reported. According to The True Link Report on Elder Financial Abuse, $12.76 billion is lost each year to criminal fraud.

Several common stranger-perpetrated scams are described below. A few suggestions are offered to help you (or someone you know) avoid each con and better understand where to go for help.

Types of scams perpetrated by strangers:

Email phishing

You receive an email, seemingly from a reputable company, requesting personal information.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, says legitimate companies never ask for sensitive information through insecure channels. So never reply to email, text, or pop-up messages asking for personal or financial information.

• Emails filled with poor grammar, misspellings, or awkward language can be a red flag.

• Forward phishing emails to and to the organization impersonated in the email. You can also report suspicious emails to

IRS impersonation

An aggressive scammer impersonating an IRS agent claims an error has been found on your return and you owe additional taxes. You are threatened with criminal prosecution if you don’t make an immediate payment.

• If you receive this call, hang up immediately because the IRS will never initiate contact with a taxpayer over the phone, and the agency will never demand anyone pay taxes without having a chance to question or appeal.

• Report the call to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) or call 800-366-4484.

• Register all phone numbers with the FTC and the National Do Not Call Registry.

Sweepstakes or lottery

Telemarketers claim you’ve won a sweepstakes or lottery, but you can’t claim your prize until you pay a processing fee. The caller says he will continue to the next winner if you don’t act immediately.

• Tell the fraudster you’re reporting him to the FTC. If you enter and win a legitimate sweepstakes, you don’t have to pay insurance, taxes, or shipping charges to collect your prize,” the FTC says. “If you have to pay, it’s not a prize.”

• Know that it’s against federal law to play foreign lotteries. Also, if you enter foreign lotteries or other sweepstakes, your name and number could be sold, leading to increased telemarketing calls.

Charitable donations

A caller requests money for a specific cause, such as one related to a disaster in the news that appeals to your emotions. What should you do?

• Before making a donation, research the charity to determine whether it’s trustworthy. The Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance is a good place to start. Other organizations that can help you vet charities include Charity Navigator and Charity Watch.

• Keep records of your donations and check your monthly credit card statements to ensure the proper amount is charged to your account. This can also help you spot any unauthorized recurring charges to charitable organizations.

• If you suspect you’re the victim of a charity scam, file a complaint with the FTC.

Identity theft

Thieves attempt to steal personal information such as your name, date of birth, address, and Social Security number, and then use it to open credit cards in your name.

• Consider a “credit freeze,” which makes it more difficult for thieves to open a card in your name. You can request a freeze by contacting each of the three primary credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Fees range from $5 to $10. A freeze won’t affect your credit score, nor will it prevent you from getting your free annual credit report. It also won’t stop you from opening a new account, applying for a job, renting an apartment, or buying insurance. You’ll simply need to lift the freeze temporarily before doing any of these.

• An alternative is a “fraud alert,” a free service that requires creditors to speak with you before they run a report. Contact any of the three primary credit reporting companies above to place an alert. The company you call will then notify the others to place an alert on their versions of your report. These strategies might be especially helpful to those experiencing memory loss.

Home improvement

A contractor insists you pay him up front for work he never intends to complete; or you might be overcharged for completed work or charged multiple times for the same project.

• Always check with your local Better Business Bureau before hiring a contractor.

• Ask contractors to share references from other homeowners who have hired them.

These are just a few of the many types of stranger scams perpetrated against seniors. Based on the prevalence and cunning nature of the perpetrators, it’s likely going to be hard to put a stop to this criminal activity any time soon. But with a better understanding of the warning signs of con artists, you can help to protect yourself from becoming a potential victim of this form of fraud.

Have you experienced any form of fraud? If you’re able to share with our community, you might help others to avoid being victimized in the future.

Things to Consider:

• Common ploys perpetrated against seniors include email phishing, IRS impersonation, fake sweepstakes and lotteries, identity theft, phony charities, and home improvement scams.

• Never share personal information with someone you don’t know or trust – online or over the phone.

• If you think you’ve been targeted, report the incident immediately.



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