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Man on the phone being scammed into giving up his credit card numbers

A never-ending epidemic: scams facing older Americans

by Emily Koelsch | Contributor
May 2, 2021


While many things have been interrupted as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, unfortunately the frauds and scams targeting older adults have not. Instead, scammers have taken advantage of the increased isolation of seniors and pandemic lifestyle changes to find new ways to exploit elderly victims.

Sadly, frauds aimed at older adults continue to be on the rise and are becoming even more sophisticated and targeted. Yet, there are things older adults can do to protect themselves. The reality is that the best way to avoid these scams is to be aware of them and to be cautious when dealing with people you don’t know.

To help you avoid falling victim to fraud, here’s an in-depth look at the current state of frauds targeting seniors, some of the most recent common scams, and tips for protecting yourself against scammers.

How big of a problem is fraud aimed at seniors?

Over the last few years, elder fraud has only increased. According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, older individuals are the most common targets of fraud scams. It’s estimated that older Americans lose $3 billion annually to scams, yet this number is likely on the low end and could be as high as a staggering $37 billion annually.

Elder fraud is often underreported, as it’s thought that older Americans are either embarrassed, unsure of how to report fraud or concerned about losing control of their finances if they do report it. For all of these reasons, the National Adult Protective Services Association estimates that only 1 out of 44 cases are ever reported. This means that even though it’s clear that elder fraud is a major issue, it’s likely a much larger one than most people realize.

There are a few reasons why older Americans are so heavily targeted. A primary one is that they’re often lonely and more willing to listen to strangers than younger adults are. Unfortunately, this is a factor that has only been exacerbated during the pandemic, putting more seniors at risk than ever.

Other common reasons that older adults are targeted is that they’re generally more trusting and less comfortable with technology, making them easier targets for online and phone scams. Add to this the fact that most older adults have savings, own a home and have good credit, and it’s easy to see why scammers are so focused on this demographic.

What are the most common scams targeting older adults in 2021?

There are a few types of scams that have long been targeted at seniors. Medicare fraud, counterfeit prescription drugs and grandparent scams are among some of the most common. Additionally, romance scams, tech support fraud and government impersonation have become increasingly prevalent.

However, as behaviors have changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, so have scam attempts. Perpetrators have taken advantage of the fact that older people are more isolated, engaging in more online activities, and concerned about COVID-19 services to come up with increasingly sophisticated and targeted scams.

It’s unfortunate to say that there’s been an epidemic of frauds during the pandemic, but sadly it’s true. Here are five scams that all older adults should be aware of as they’ve emerged and specifically target seniors and some common lifestyle changes caused by COVID-19.

Zoom phishing emails

Many older Americans have started using Zoom and related remote-meeting services for the first time. It’s a good way to connect with family, participate in social activities and stay connected with friends. However, the fact that it’s new to many older adults makes them vulnerable, and it’s not surprising that a Zoom-centered fraud has emerged.

Here’s how it works. Potential victims will receive an email, text or even social media message that purports to be from Zoom and usually includes the Zoom logo. The message will include a link and direct the reader to click on the link to address some sort of issue – perhaps a missed meeting or a suspended account.

Once the link is clicked, the perpetrator can download malicious software on the victim’s computer and then gain access to personal information and passwords. This data is then used for identify theft or to hack other accounts.

While this might sound concerning, it doesn’t mean that you need to be afraid of Zoom or stop using it. Instead, be wary of any suspicious emails and never click on links in an unsolicited email. If you’re concerned about anything related to your Zoom account, go directly to the website, sign into your account, and address the issue there. And, if you receive a suspicious, unsolicited email, delete it without clicking on any links.

Fake online shopping

As e-commerce has become more prevalent in the last year, it’s not surprising that there’s also been a rise in fake shopping scams. These scams, which aren’t necessarily new, have become more sophisticated and more effective, in part due to the rise in older Americans engaging in online shopping.

This scam involves advertisements for products that encourage viewers to click on a link to purchase the product. Once the link is clicked, the user is directed through the buying process and eventually is asked to enter a credit card number. After “purchasing” the product, the victim either never receives anything or receives a product that is of a substantially lower value than the one they purchased.

It’s worth noting that these ads often have images from real companies, so they tend to look authentic and professional.

To avoid falling victim to this type of scam, never click on an ad to purchase a product. Instead, go directly to the retailer’s site and search for the product there. Additionally, it’s a good idea to only make online purchases with retailers that you know. If you’re going to buy a product from a new company, first check online reviews and the company’s standing with the Better Business Bureau.

Phishing attack through email

COVID-19 vaccine card scams

An especially new scam is directed at information obtained from COVID-19 vaccine cards. It’s become a trend for people to post pictures of themselves with their vaccine card on social media. The card contains the individual’s birthday, full name and location. Scammers access this information from social media and use it for identity theft.

While getting the vaccine is an event worth celebrating, never post of picture of your card without covering up your name and birthday. Even better, use a vaccine sticker or another picture to document this momentous occasion.

Online connection scams

While romance scams have been a common type of fraud directed at older Americans, these efforts have become more pervasive in the last year. As more people have turned to online groups for connection and socialization, fraudsters have expanded their scope beyond just dating sites to things like book groups, online games and even prayer groups.

The basic idea is that a scammer makes a connection with an individual in an online group. At some point, they move the communication away from the original site – often either to email or text messaging. At some point, they’ll ask for money.

There are a couple of ways to avoid falling victim to this scam. First, be very wary about shifting channels of communication. For example, if you met someone through an online book group, it’s best to continue communicating in that group. Second, never send money to someone that you haven’t met in person. This is a good basic rule to follow and will protect you against a broad range of scams.

Medicare pandemic services frauds

Given the public health crisis, it’s not surprising that Medicare frauds associated with pandemic services have become common. This scam is not only online but also involves phone calls and even people going door-to-door.

The basic premise is that scammers contact seniors and offer some sort of Medicare service – perhaps special vaccine access. The objective is to get either the victim’s Medicare ID number or credit card number.

You can avoid being a victim of this scam by shutting down any unsolicited conversations about Medicare services. Additionally, never give out you Medicare ID number unless you know the person or business that you’re dealing with.

And keep in mind, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services has made it clear that it will never contact you without your permission for your ID number or any personal information. Further, they will never call to sell you anything.

How do you avoid being a victim of a scam?

Being aware of how common it is for frauds to target older Americans is perhaps the best thing that you can do to avoid being a victim. Additionally, staying informed about common scams and new frauds is a great way to protect yourself. Further, it’s a good idea to always be cautious when giving any personal information. As a rule, you should never send money to someone you don’t know or give out personal information to an individual you don’t know or a business you haven’t verified.

Besides these basic safeguards, here are a few more things you can do to avoid being a victim of elder fraud:

  • If you are suspicious about a recent contact – whether via email, phone or in-person – end the communication.
  • If any behavior seems suspicious, search online for the behavior – you might find that others have experienced the same thing and reported it as fraudulent.
  • Always be cautious when you receive an unsolicited call, offer or message.
  • Never allow yourself to be pressured to act quickly – scammers often create a false urgency to get victims to act quickly; legitimate businesses will not put this type of pressure on you.
  • Make sure that your computer is protected with anti-virus software and that it’s malware protected.
  • Never download anything that you receive from someone you don’t know.

Obviously, the first thing you want to do if you believe you’re being scammed is to end all communication. Once you do that, you should contact a friend or family member for advice and guidance. It helps to talk with a third party and to get an outside perspective.

Beyond stopping communication and seeking support, victims of fraud should:

  • Report the scam to federal authorities. This can be done by either contacting your FBI field office or by submitting a tip online.
  • Contact your financial institution(s) to protect your accounts.
  • Have a trusted professional or skilled family member ensure that your computer doesn’t have any viruses or malware.
  • Document all communications and compile as much information regarding the fraud as possible. When investigating, law enforcement will want as much detail as you can provide, so it’s helpful to compile the name of the individual or company that contacted you, the dates of contact, all channels of communication and specifics regarding any money or information that you sent to the perpetrator.

Reporting fraud can be hard, as many people are embarrassed to have fallen victim. However, the reality is that these are often sophisticated frauds and victims should not be ashamed, nor should they let any embarrassment keep them from getting the support they need. Further, it’s important for victims to come forward to keep others from being defrauded.


It’s unfortunate that older Americans are so frequently targeted by scammers, and it’s particularly upsetting that this pattern has only become more prevalent amidst the pandemic. While the end of the pandemic might be in sight, unfortunately there’s no vaccine or cure for the epidemic of elder fraud.

Yet even though scams targeting seniors are common, especially those involving technology, this doesn’t mean that seniors should shy away from online tools or resources, many of which have been invaluable during the pandemic. Instead, stay cautious and informed to avoid scams.

Staying informed and being vigilant both can help you avoid becoming a victim. Additionally, being cautious when dealing with people or businesses you don’t know is always important. And whenever in doubt, a little research into a request, offer or business can go along way toward protecting you and your money.

Alliance America can help

Alliance America is an insurance and financial services company. Our financial planners and retirement income certified professionals can assist you in maximizing your retirement resources and help you to achieve your future goals. We have access to an array of products and services, all focused on helping you enjoy the retirement lifestyle you want and deserve. You can request a no-cost, no-obligation consultation by calling (833) 219-6884 today.

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