Scams and Older Adults
What is a scam?
A scam is a rip-off or a fraud. “Scammers,” the people who try to cheat others,
look for an easy chance to get something of value in an easy way. Prize offers,
health products, mail lotteries, and charities can all be likely scams. By staying
aware and being prepared, you can reduce your chances of being a victim.
Why are older adults the targets of scams?
• It is often hard to tell if the “scammer” is valid.
• It may be hard to hang up on a caller because you do not want to seem rude.
• “Scammers” keep calling you, trying to break you down.
• Older adults want to trust and give people the benefit of the doubt.
• You may live alone, so it may be easy to deceive you one-to-one.
• You have ready cash or assets.
What kinds of scams should I look out for?
Identity Theft – When someone uses your personal information such as credit
card, bank account, or social security numbers, it is a crime. The thief can buy
things with your money and ruin your credit.
Charity Scams – Someone may call you or come to your door asking you to give
money to a charity but will not tell you how the money will be used.
Travel Fraud – Scammers may include extra fees in your travel package so that
they can make money off of you. You may be trapped into paying more money for
a hotel room than the travel agent told you or trapped into going to listen to
lectures on timeshares. If the travel deal seems too good to be true, watch out!
Home Improvement Scams – Someone may come to your door and offer a
service such as window washing, lawn care, chimney cleaning, or roof repairs.
They may also offer to come inside your house to test your water, inspect your
furnace, or check your plumbing, all for a price. These people may tell you that
their offer is only good that day or that they need the money right away to buy the
Bank Scams – Scammers may call you or talk to you outside of your bank asking
you to help them catch a bank teller who is taking money from your account. The
scammer will ask you to take out a large sum of money and give it to them so that
they can trace the bills. They will claim that they will give you back your money
and pay you for your help. Once you give the money to the scammer you will
never see it again.
Door-to-Door Sales – People trying to sell you something at your home should
carry a permit or valid ID with them. Ask to see it. They may be trying to sell you
insurance, magazines, or appliances. If you pay for these, you may never see them.
How can I recognize a scam?
Being able to tell what is different between a scam and valid business is hard.
Scams look very attractive. Whether over the phone, in a letter, or in person, the
“scammer” wants you to believe this is an offer you can’t refuse. Here are some
signs of likely scams.
• You have won a prize and then they ask for a payment.
• You must act right away or you will miss the opportunity.
• You can make huge profits with no risk.
• You are asked to donate but not told how the money will be used.
• You must send a payment by private courier or wire money.
• You are asked for cash.
• Someone comes to your house and calls you by name when you have never met
• The “scammer” asks for your social security number or bank account number.
• A company calls you even after you have asked them not to call.
• Finally, if it seems too good to be true, then it most likely is.
How can I protect myself against scammers?
Most older adults are challenged to deal with scams. Being alert to them is your
best defense. Here are some tips to protect yourself.
• Get a copy of your credit report once a year to make sure to check for errors.
To request a free credit report go to www.annualcreditreport.com or call
• Ask for all offers in writing before giving anyone money. This includes travel
• Tell the caller or door-to-door salesperson that you want to check out the
company and ask for a number to call back.
• Never give your “vital numbers” such as credit cards, phone cards, date of birth,
social security number, or bank account number over the phone or to people
you do not know.
• If you receive a phone call, ask a scammer not to call again, , hang up, and
report the caller to the Bureau of Consumer Protection. It is illegal to call
someone back after he or she has requested not to receive calls.
• Do not return calls to 900 numbers. These calls could cost you anywhere from
one dollar to hundreds of dollars.
• Hang up the phone for any reason you feel necessary!
• When taking a trip ask for everything in writing so you can see exactly what
you are paying for.
• Buy travel services only from a company that is well-known.
• Get recommendations from friends before hiring someone to do home repairs.
Talk to people that they have done business with before to make sure that they
got what the paid for.
• Don’t pay for a home repair before it has been done.
• Never sign a contract with blank spaces. Scammers may have you sign the
contract then add more fees or conditions in the spaces when you are not
• Cut up all old credit cards and applications for them. Scammers may look in
your garbage and apply for a credit card in your name but have the card sent to
• Rip up receipts and bank statements that have your account numbers on them.
Scammers may wait for you to throw these things away then take them from the
• If any deal seems too good to be true get more information and take your
time before making any decisions.
How can my friends and family help?
• Do not blame the victim for being naïve.
• Look for stacks of mail saying that your loved one has won something. Look
for piles of junk prizes lying around the house.
• Has your loved one recently ‘run out’ of money, asked to borrow money, or
become late on rent or mortgage payments? Ask questions!
• Learn more about scams against older adults and talk to them about being
prepared for phony calls. This will make them less likely to become a victim.
• Report scams right away!
Helpful resources for questions and reporting a scam
Wisconsin Bureau of Consumer Protection 1-800-422-7128
National Fraud Information Center 1-800-876-7060
American Association of Retired Person (AARP) (212) 434-2222
Federal Trade Commissions: Consumer Response Center 1-877-382-4357
Websites for more information
Federal Trade Commission. www.ftc.gov/bcp/consumer.shtm
National Fraud Information Center. www.fraud.org
National Institute on Aging: www.nia.nih.gov/HealthInformation/Publications/Crime.htm
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please
use it and call if you have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your
care, please check with your doctor. This is not medical advice. This is not to be used for
diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each person’s health needs are
different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using this
information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright ©9/2015. University of
Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of