Stop the Scam
How to protect against increasingly crafty fraudsters.
by Jill Lupine

The world is full of paradoxes; one might struggle to find anything more paradoxical than the world itself. It’s a paradise, of sorts, filled with beauty and kindness. It’s also a shadowy place, even dangerous, rife with malice and deceit.

While the internet has democratized information, it has also facilitated the growing threat of persistent and increasingly inventive fraudsters. In 2022, an estimated 88,260 complaints of fraud resulted in $3.1 billion in losses from people ages 60 and older—more than an 80 percent increase compared to 2021, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
The five most common scams perpetrated against older adults, according to the National Council on Aging (NCOA):
* Government impersonation scams. These fraudsters pretend to be agents of government institutions such as the Internal Revenue Service, the Social Security Administration, or the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and threaten arrest or deportation over unpaid taxes—unless the target of the scam pays up immediately. In another variation, the scammers say a person’s government benefits will expire unless the person provides their personal information, which is then used to commit identity theft.
* Sweepstakes and lottery scams. The scam: An older adult picks up the phone to hear someone say they’ve won a lottery or some other prize of considerable value. In order to claim their winnings, however, the older adult must send money to cover the associated taxes and processing fees. Of course, the prize never comes. Worse, the “winner” finds himself or herself victimized, often to the tune of several thousand dollars.
* Robocalls and phone scams. While there are legal uses for robocall technology, it can also be used to carry out a variety of scams for those who answer the phone. One common claim: A warranty on a car or device is expiring and payment is needed to renew it.
* Computer tech and support scams. These scams arrive in the form of pop-up messages or blank screens on computers or phones, suggesting the owner’s device is damaged. When the device’s user calls the support number for assistance, the scammer either requests remote access to the user’s device or demands that the user pay a fee to have it repaired.
* Grandparent scam. How it works: A scammer calls an older adult and says something along the lines of, “Hi, Grandpop, it’s me.” The older adult, recognizing familiarity in the caller’s voice, speaks their grandchild’s name in response. Then the hook is set. The fake grandchild then asks for help to solve some urgent need, such as overdue rent, via gift cards or a money transfer.
Older adults represent a favorite target among fraudsters for many reasons. While this may seem abhorrent, it makes sense to those who wish to part people from their money. Seniors tend to be trusting and polite by nature, and many have accumulated significant assets. Some are socially isolated, and they may fear retaliation by the scammer. Perhaps a decline in mental acuity may prevent them from making sound decisions or detecting the scam in the first place.
Emerging technology enables scammers to continually find creative and convincing ways to commit fraud. Fortunately, organizations such as the NCOA ( and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ( have an abundance of resources to help older adults protect themselves. The CFPB’s “Money Smart for Older Adults Resource Guide,” for example, provides a sweeping account of the risks. More importantly, it offers actionable advice for making oneself as scam-proof as possible against charity scammers, phantom debt collectors, and other practitioners of fraud.    
Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Life magazine, January 2024.