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The Nitty Gritty

Common elder fraud scams and warning signs

In 2021, scams targeting the elderly resulted in $77 million dollars lost in Pennsylvania alone. Thankfully, you can avoid becoming a victim and help loved ones reduce their risk by learning more about the most common elder fraud scams and their warning signs.

Why online scams frequently target the elderly

Anyone using the internet can be vulnerable to fraud and scam attempts, but elderly people in the United States are especially at risk. Elderly people are prime target because they are on average more financially stable. They tend to have an easier time trusting others online and they are the least likely to report being a victim of a scam.

“Please talk about elder fraud with older relatives and friends, to make them aware of the different ways criminals may try to steal their hard-earned money,” FBI Philadelphia Special Agent in Charge Jaqueline Maguire said. “And, if you’re being victimized or know someone who is, please reach out and report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at or call your local field office.”

Common Scams that Target Elders

Some of the most common types of elder frauds and their warning signs include:

  • Tech Support Fraud is when a scammer acts like they are a representative from a tech company. They will offer a product to help keep you “safer” online in return you have to send money to an overseas bank account, purchase a large sum in prepaid cards, or send them a big amount of cash through the overnight mail service. This is the most common reported fraud type, according to the FBI’s Elder Fraud Report 2021.
  • Romance and Grandparent Scams happen when the scammers attempt to play on the emotions of those over the age of 60. They will act as a potential romantic partner, make up a scenario where they are in need of money and ask the elderly to help them out. They want to establish a deep trust and then ask for money. Many times, the scammer will act as if they are overseas for work or are in the military. Grandparent scams also fall into this category. This is when the scammers will pose as their victim’s grandchild or a niece or nephew and say if they need money quickly to help them get out of trouble. They often will use a general phone number or make a clone of one of their social media accounts. 
  • Lottery/Sweepstakes Scams occurs when the scam artist either calls, emails, or send physical mail stating that the target has won a lottery draw or a vacation sweepstakes. They also say that to claim their winnings they must pay a fee or tax on the prize. Scammers are very consistent with this and will contact the person for years. The sweepstakes and lotteries are fake and were never entered by the victim and the victims, who are chosen at random.
  • Government Impersonation is the least reported but also one of the most frequent. Scammers will pose as some sort of government official and say that the person owes some sum of money that needs to be paid immediately.
  • Investment scams take place when scammers attempt to pose that they share a common interest such as age, religion, or even ethnicity in order to gain someone’s trust. Then they will try and sell their victim an investment deal similar to a Ponzi or pyramid scheme that they claim will give huge returns. When the person being scammed begins to show any interest, the scammer will begin to use complex terms to sound more convincing.

“If you should receive a computer pop-up message, phone call, email, or text message that ends up with you being asked to purchase gift cards or send money, you may be a target of a scam,” said Linda Johnson, Manager, BSA Compliance Officer/Fraud Investigations, of Ardent’s Risk team. “The first thing you should do is notify your financial institution immediately by calling the number on your statement. We are here to help stop the fraud and assist you in reducing further exposure risk.”


Knowing how to remain safe is important at any age and recognizing the warning signs of fraud is the first step. It’s also important to know that while scammers often try to isolate their victims, no one is alone in the fight against fraud.

“Financial institutions have procedures and training for staff on how to detect scams and unusual activity,” Johnson said. “The red flags they are trained to look for may initiate a representative to ask you questions about your transaction. These questions are designed to detect and prevent scammers from getting your money.”

For further information on avoiding financial scams, Johnson recommends reviewing the Federal Trade Commission’s prevention strategies.