We need your help to make the difference!

Home/Advocacy/Scams, Fraud and Older Adults: Tips to Keep Safe

Scams, Fraud and Older Adults: Tips to Keep Safe

CaregiverIdeas and Advice When Caring For a Parent or Loved OnePress Release

By Kathleen Yanik, Area Agency on Aging 1-B Senior Commumications Manager

Scammers are busy people. Just when you think you’ve got their number—they think of a new, terrible twist. Older adults are some of their favorite targets. The FBI estimates that older adults lose over $3 billion a year to financial scams and fraud.

I recently had my own experience with scams. My 91-year-old father got a phone call when I was visiting. I could hear the voice on the other end of the phone when he picked up. “Hello, Grandpa,” he said in a distressed tone. “It’s your grandson. I am in trouble.” Of course, it wasn’t his grandson. It was a scammer trying the grandparent’s scam—where the scammer pretends to be a grandchild in desperate straits and need of money—fast.

My dad understood and quickly hung up the phone. I was grateful he knew what to do.

Tips to Help Protect Yourself or Your Loved One

My dad spotted the scam pretty quickly, but it would have been better if he hadn’t picked up the phone and given the scammers a chance to engage. I shared this with him after the call and then gave him some other tips. I wrote these tips down on a bright, green sheet of paper so he could keep them by the phone.

I wrote:

  • Don’t Pick Up:  Don’t answer calls from unfamiliar numbers. If it’s important, they will leave a message.
  • Don’t Share:  Don’t give sensitive info over the phone (bank numbers, Social Security or Medicare number) unless YOU initiated the call.
  • Slow Down:  Be wary of urgent requests or requests with unusual forms of payment (wire transfers or gift cards).

Types of Scams

My dad and I also talked about typical ploys. One of his favorite sayings when I was growing up was: “Forewarned is forearmed.” As with most things, it turns out my dad was right. Knowledge is power. Being aware of what scams are out there can do a lot to help you or a loved one stay safe. Along with the grandparent scam, we talked about:

Government Imposter Scams

Someone claims to be a government employee and asks for personal information, demands payment, or makes threats. These scams primarily use the telephone, but scammers may also use email, text messages, social media, or U.S. mail.

Real government officials will NEVER:

  • Threaten arrest or legal action against you unless you immediately send money
  • Promise to increase your benefits or resolve a problem if you pay a fee or move your money into a protected account
  • Require payment with gift cards, prepaid debit cards, wire transfer, internet currency, or by mailing cash
  • Try to gain your trust by providing fake “documentation,” false “evidence,” or the name of a real government official.

Romance Scams:

In these scams, cybercriminals use fake identities and reach out using social media. They start a fast-paced, long-distance romance over the phone or internet. Once they have you hooked, they start asking for money.

Some Tips:

  • Be careful online:  Use caution when strangers want to connect on social media. Use privacy settings to help limit who can see your profile and personal information.
  • Go slowly and ask lots of questions:  The internet makes it easy for people to pretend to be someone they’re not. Questions can help you make sure you know who’s really on the other end of the phone.
  • Don’t send money:  Someone asking for money when you have only communicated via the phone or online is a big red flag. Don’t do it.

Fake Technology Support Scams
Scammers call, text or email and pretend they are from a big tech company—like Apple or Microsoft. They tell you something is wrong with your computer, or you have a virus—and they need money to fix it. They might even contact you via a pop-up window.

Some tips:

  • Legitimate tech companies won’t contact you by phone, email, or text message to tell you there’s a problem with your computer. Hang up and don’t click on links.
  • Security pop-up warnings from real tech companies will never ask you to call a phone number or click on a link. Don’t call and don’t click.

The FTC has a webpage dedicated to fake technology scams. It’s worth taking a look and familiarizing yourself.

Medicare Scams

There are lots of scams that revolve around Medicare. Some of the most prevalent right now:

Plastic cards/chip cards: Callers are telling beneficiaries that Medicare is issuing new plastic cards with chips in them (Medicare uses paper cards). They then ask for a Medicare number and other personal information. The calls often threaten people and tell them they won’t be able to use their card if they don’t give them the information.

Covid-19 home tests: Scammers are calling and setting up fake websites and television ads offering “free” at-home Covid tests. They ask for your Medicare number, and then the tests never come. They use your number to make false Medicare charges. Beneficiaries can get free Covid tests from participating pharmacies. Here’s a partial list of participating pharmacies.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Medicare is NOT issuing plastic cards or any type of new card.
  • Medicare will not call you unless they are returning a call from you.
  • Medicare already has your Medicare number.  You don’t need to give it to them.

If you been a victim of Medicare fraud. Our Medicare Medicaid Assistance Program (MMAP) can help. Call them at (800) 803-7174. You can call them if you’ve received a call like this. They will document it and report it.

What Do You Do If You’ve Been a Victim of a Scam or Fraud

Luckily, my dad was not a victim. But we did talk about what to do if he had been. Many older adults are too ashamed to admit they’ve been scammed, so they don’t ask for help. The truth is, these scammers are good, and it can happen to even the most astute among us. Asking for help is important.

If you think you’ve been scammed or defrauded:

  • Tell someone you trust: An adult child or someone else in your trusted circle who may be able to help.
  • Make a report with your local police department.
  • Work to stop any payments and recover your money. Contact your credit card company, bank, wire transfer company, or company that issued any gift cards that were used.
  • File a complaint with the Michigan Department of Attorney General. You can use their online form or call (877) 765-8388. You can also file a report with the Federal Trade Commission.


Additional Resources


  • AARP has a web resource dedicated to scams and fraud for older adults.
  • They also have a scam hotline that help if you have experienced fraud or been the victim of a scam: (877) 908- 3360.

Wayne State University Institute of Gerontology Successful Aging through Financial Empowerment (SAFE)
The SAFE program provides financial education to both older adults and caregivers and can help older adults recover from fraud and scams. Their First Fridays webinars cover lots of different topics.  

Michigan Department of Attorney General

Their Consumer Protection webpage has information on avoiding and reporting scams.

Our Digital Newsletter Dedicated to Seniors and Caregivers.