14 Common Scams Targeting Retirees, No Matter How Smart We Think We Are

It takes a lot of savings to be able to retire in today’s world. So, the thought of losing all or even part of your hard-earned cash to a scam is devastating.

Unfortunately, many scammers target retirees, and they’re often successful. Fraudsters know how to find and attack people where they’re most vulnerable.

Even if you think you’re not at risk, your assets are likely more exposed than you realize. The best protection against a thief is to learn their game before they strike. This list describes some of the most common scams targeting older Americans.

Retirees Are Losing Hard-Earned Money

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According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), people over age 60 lost $28.3 billion in 2023 alone. And many experts believe that number is low. In a report for USA Today, Darius Kingsley, head of Consumer Banking Practices at Chase, said many theft victims feel a sense of shame that prevents them from reporting the crime.

However, there’s really no need to feel embarrassed if you fall for a scam. Many of the most savvy consumers have fallen for them at one point or another.

1: The Grandparent Scam

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Many retirees have a brood of darling grandchildren that they feel especially protective towards. Unfortunately, scammers know this, and try to take advantage.

In “grandparent scams,” fraudsters claim the victim’s grandchild is in trouble and needs money right away. They typically have a lot of personal information about the grandchild, which makes the story seem legitimate. Though they’ll often ask victims to wire money, fraudsters in a recent rendition of the scam asked for an envelope of cash to be delivered via Uber.

2: Government Imposters

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Fraudsters have no qualms about impersonating government officials. They might post as IRS agents, Social Security workers, or Medicare representatives. Often, they even spoof their phone number so that it looks like a government agency is actually calling your phone.

Once they get you on the line, they’ll ask for identifying information, like your Social Security number or Medicare ID. They’ll claim they’re using it to verify your identity, but in reality, they’ll use the information to steal your identity.

3: Tech Support Scam

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Tech support scams are some of the easiest to fall for because they often rely on you contacting them. Let’s say you’re looking for help with your computer or a social media account, so you try to look up the company’s phone number online. Sometimes, pop-ups or other top-of-the-page advertisements that look like search listings will appear with the supposed support number.

If you call that number, the people on the other end will impersonate the support team you need to reach. They may tell you your account has been hacked or that your computer is full of viruses and that they need more information to fix things. From there, they may ask for personal identifiers that they can use to steal your identity, or they could ask for payment for their fake services.

4: Elder Financial Abuse

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When you imagine a fraudster, you probably picture some stranger sitting in front of a wall of computers a thousand miles away. However, scammers who target retirees are often much closer to home.

A New York State Coalition of Elder Abuse study found that 52.3% of people reporting elder financial abuse were scammed by a relative. Children, grandchildren, and caregivers may trick older Americans into changing their will, signing over their power of attorney, or loaning them money they have no intent of repaying.

5: False Investment Schemes

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You had to save a lot of money to retire, and, unfortunately, that puts you at risk. Many fraudsters will try to target your savings by offering fake investment opportunities.

In this scam, the thief calls or contacts you via the mail, pretending to be a financial advisor. They’ll spell out the terms of an unbelievably lucrative investment opportunity and ask if you want to be involved. They may offer fake bonds or talk about some sort of low-risk, high-reward scheme that sounds too good to be true.

Of course, whatever they’re selling is fake. If you start sending them money, you’ll likely never see a return on your investment.

6: Phishing

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All Americans are potential phishing victims, but retirees may be particularly vulnerable. In a phishing scam, a fraudster calls or emails the victim, pretending to be a legitimate company.

If you engage by clicking on a link or returning the phone call, they’ll try to gain personal information they can use to steal your identity. Email phishing is particularly scary since the link could download malware onto your advice, giving the scammer remote access to your accounts.

7: Romance Scams

Woman using a dating app.
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Sometimes, people become lonely and isolated during retirement, making them particularly vulnerable to romance scams. If you decide to look for love via a dating site or app, you’ll want to be particularly careful about these schemes.

In romance scams, fraudsters create fake personas and interact with people on the dating app or site. Once they build rapport, they ask for favors or help. They might ask for money to cover “travel expenses” or “healthcare costs,” but, of course, it’s all a farce.

8: Sweepstakes Scams

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Many people have dreams of winning the lottery or a big sweepstakes prize, but you should be wary if someone informs you you’ve won a contest you didn’t enter. Scammers in this scheme call or email victims, telling them they’ve won some sort of prize. If the victim responds or clicks the link in their email, the scammer tries to obtain personal information or installs malware on their device.

Unfortunately, sweepstakes scammers often target older Americans. Memory problems that sometimes come with age can make it tricky to remember whether you entered a sweepstakes or not, making it easy for the scammer to get what they want.

9: Funeral Scams

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Unfortunately, as you advance through your retirement, you’ll likely have more funerals to attend, some of them for people you’re very close to. Even worse, at the funeral of a loved one, you may be especially vulnerable to this type of scam.

In a funeral scam, fraudsters read obituaries looking for funeral services to attend. They’ll show up at the service pretending to be a close associate of the deceased. Then, they start telling family members that the deceased owed them money, and they start asking for payment.

10: Reverse Mortgages

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By the time you retire, you may have built up a lot of equity in your home. While a legitimate reverse mortgage can provide you with a steady income stream, a reverse mortgage scam will steal your hard-earned equity instead.

Often, these scammers use billboards, fliers, or pop-up advertisements that claim they know how to help you access your home’s equity. In actuality, they’ll either steal your money or, worse, commit deed fraud and steal the title to your home.

11: Online Shopping

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Online shopping is convenient for retirees, but it isn’t always the safest way to buy products. Buying from a scam website or fraudster is all too easy to do.

Unfortunately, if you happen to purchase something from a fraudulent seller, they may steal your payment details, take your money, or sell you a fake product. This happens with everything from shoes to pharmaceuticals, and it’s more common than you think. According to the AARP, it’s the second most common reported fraud.

12: Fake Charities

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Many retirees choose to donate to charities, and sadly, scammers are all too willing to target them. In this type of scam, fraudsters create fake charitable organizations to steal victim’s money.

Often, scammers will call or email retirees after a natural disaster, asking for donations. Sometimes, the fraudster also asks for personal information and steals the victim’s identity.

13: Bank Impersonators

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Scammers sometimes attempt to impersonate trusted financial institutions, like your bank or mortgage company. They may call, email, or text pretending to be with a financial company that you use.

Answering these phishing attempts is a big mistake. If you do, the scammer may attempt to gain your account information, or they could install malware on your devices.

Instead, if you think your bank is calling or emailing you, don’t answer. Call them back later using the number listed on their website.

14: AI Calls

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In recent years, artificial intelligence (AI) technology has advanced significantly. Today, it’s possible to clone voices, and many scammers are taking advantage of this.

If you get a phone call from someone who sounds like a loved one and they’re urgently asking for money, beware. A scammer could have cloned their voice to cheat you out of your savings.

Avoiding Scams as a Retiree

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Scammers are constantly coming up with new ways to target retirees, but most scams still have a few things in common. If you’re aware of these commonalities, you’re less likely to fall for a fraudulent scheme.

Warning lights should come on anytime someone urgently asks for money or aggressively demands you share personal information. You should also be wary of answering numbers you don’t know or calls you aren’t expecting from known institutions, like your bank. Typically, your bank and government agencies will reach out by mail and won’t initiate phone conversations unless you’ve requested one.

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