Scamming the elderly

Older Americans are being targeted every day through email, regular mail, text and the telephone. Thieves assume older people have a lot of money sitting in their accounts just waiting to be stolen. These crimes leave their victims financially vulnerable, unable to recoup their losses.

The scams work by convincing seniors that something good will happen if they do as the scammer tells them (prize winnings), or by scaring the person into believing something bad will happen if they don’t do as the scammer says (default on taxes). In either case, they try to get their victim to send money or reveal personal information.

First things first

Your best protection against scammers making unsolicited contact with you is to hang up or not respond to their email, text or letter. Remember that no legitimate government agency, business or organization—including Oregon State Credit Union—will contact you and then ask you to provide your personal information. Nor will any legitimate contest, lottery or sweepstakes ask you to pay a fee upfront to receive your winnings, especially if you never entered that contest to begin with.

Seniors are vulnerable to all the scams going around, but the following scams are more common to the elderly.

Grandparent scams

This particularly insidious scam preys upon the bonds of family. Typically, the scammer contacts the victim posing as a relative in distress or someone acting on behalf of a relative, such as a lawyer or law enforcement. The contact may come via telephone, email, text message or social media. The scammer claims to be in trouble and needs the grandparent to wire them money or buy pre-paid gift cards to pay for bail, lawyer’s fees, hospital bills or similar. The scammer asks the victim not to tell anyone about the transaction because they don’t want to “get in trouble.” Remember: Be suspicious of any urgent request to wire money.

Medical scams

In one version of the medical scam, thieves pose as Medicare representatives to convince older people to turn over personal information. In another version, con artists set up makeshift mobile clinics, then bill Medicare for the “services” they provide using the older person’s personal information. A third medical scam involves selling counterfeit prescription drugs over the Internet. You’re always safer buying your prescriptions from a reputable pharmacy.

Counterfeit prescription drugs

Counterfeit drug scams operate on the internet where many seniors go to find better prices on their medications. This scam is especially dangerous because, in addition to paying money for fake medicine, victims may buy unsafe substances that can harm them.

Funeral and cemetery scams

There are at least two versions of this scam. In one version, the scammers browse the obituaries, then call the grieving family to claim the deceased died owing them money. In the other version, a disreputable funeral home may try to add unnecessary charges to the bill; for instance, by urging the family to pay for a fancy casket when the deceased is being cremated.


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