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Learning from Scams that Target Older Americans

If it feels as if you are under attack by con artists every time you turn around, you might be correct. Fraudsters steal tens of billions of dollars a year from seniors and programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Studying the schemes crooks use can help you discover ways to protect yourself from becoming a victim. Let’s start learning from scams that target older Americans.

Why Scammers Target Older Americans

There are four reasons why fraudsters target older Americans:

  • Many seniors have built up value in their retirement accounts and house equity.

  • Con artists can prey upon the predictable health issues many older Americans experience.

  • Seniors are often too embarrassed to report it to family or law enforcement, when someone rips them off.

  • Older Americans grew up in a different time, when many people did not have to lock their doors, much less be on guard for people trying to steal their identity.

The Scope of Healthcare Fraud

Experts estimate that scammers steal at least $60 billion a year from Medicare. While that fraud does not take money directly out of the pockets of seniors, it puts money that should pay for older Americans’ medical bills into the pockets of crooks. That is $60 billion a year that is not available to pay for hospital and doctor bills, prescription drugs, chemotherapy, diabetes care and other help that seniors need.

Foreclosure Avoidance Scams

When an older person falls behind in mortgage payments, he faces the real possibility of losing his home to foreclosure. A foreclosure prevention program will sound like a godsend, so he can keep his home. The problem is that con artists set up companies that claim to use government funding to help the senior, who is vulnerable and afraid.

One such scammer stole over $10 million from older Americans and did not help them avoid foreclosure. The fraudster had people send him cash under the guise of “trial payments” and “reinstatement fees.” Instead of using the funds to prevent the foreclosure of the senior’s house, the crook kept the money.

Lesson learned: Contact your mortgage company about how you can get back on track and prevent foreclosure. Ask if they have programs for seniors. Contact your local agency on aging and housing authority for guidance on programs that could help you. Check with the Better Business Bureau and law enforcement, before sending money to a company that claims to help people in crisis.

Prepaid Funeral Scams

The pre-paid funeral plan industry has generated infamous scandals, by bilking seniors out of thousands of dollars with the promise of delivering the funeral of the senior’s choosing. Many older Americans fell victim to this scheme, because they did not want their surviving loved ones to have to bear their funeral and burial expenses.

The fraud happens when the senior pays for a future funeral, but when they pass on, the funds paid years before have disappeared. One such scam stole nearly half a billion dollars from almost 100,000 older adults.

Lesson learned: Rather than trusting some stranger with thousands of your hard-earned dollars on the promise of goods and services years down the road, open a savings account earmarked for your funeral and burial. Leave instructions with your closest loved ones and write a letter with the details of what you want to be done, when the time comes. To allow for immediate access to the funds, name the person who will make your arrangements as a joint owner of the account.

The number and types of scams that target older adults are limitless. You should talk with an elder law attorney in your area about how to avoid fraudulent schemes, and about how your state’s law may be different from the general law of this article.


AARP. “Meet the Faces of Fraud.” (accessed December 20, 2018)

Suggested Key Terms: scams that target older adults, how to avoid being a scam victim, tips for seniors on avoiding fraud