How to Protect Grandma from Scams

Elderly folks are scammers' favorite targets. Because they tend to be more trusting than others, more likely to live alone, and more likely to have assets like a retirement nest egg, scammers make an effort to find elderly people and trick them into sending over their hard-earned life savings.

A study in 2014 showed that 1 in 20 seniors was being financially exploited. Unfortunately, seniors are less likely to report the fraud because of embarrassment, and fear that they will lose financial control of their lives.


In this article, I talk about protecting Grandma from scammers, but the same advice rings true for any elderly or disabled family member or friend.

Most scams happen over the phone. Unlist grandma's phone number so that scammers are less likely to call her. If she has responded to a scam before, it's likely that she is on a list of "likely suckers" that scammers compile and sell to one another.

AARP advises that you don't just tell grandma to hang up or throw out the letter. "Have a talk about why," they advise. "You can't win a contest you didn't enter, Dad. You never have to pay fees to collect lottery winnings, Mom. Government agencies don't make unsolicited phone calls and never ask for personal information-- why would they? They've already got it on file."

Make sure grandma knows about the three most common scams for elderly folks:

Sweetheart Scams


Sweetheart Scammers strike up an email relationship with lonely elderly folks. They know all the tricks to form a deep and genuine-seeming bond.

Once they've wormed their way into grandma's heart, they'll start telling a sob story about how they went through a huge loss and need some money to get through.

They'll convince grandma that their child was killed, that they lost their passport, that they need a new roof, or any other pitiful tale. Over the months, a little money turns into a lot of money, potentially tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Impostor Grandchild Scam


"Hi grandma, it's me."

"Tommy? So nice to hear from you!"

"Yes grandma, it's Tommy. Listen grandma, don't tell my parents, but I took a quick trip to Spain this weekend with some friends, but it all went wrong. We got mugged."

"Oh, no! Tommy, are you OK?"

"We're OK, just a little shaken up. They took everything. Can you wire me $900 so I can get home? Please don't tell mom and dad, I don't want them to get upset. You can just wire it to my friend's account, here, let me get you the info."

This is how the impostor grandchild scam works. The scammer might get the grandkid's name from public records or leaked account info, but he also might be vague until Grandma gives it up herself.

Notice how secrecy is a big part of this scam. The "don't tell mom and dad" part is an integral part to keep grandma from consulting with anyone who might dissuade her from wiring money to an unfamiliar foreign account.

Fake IRS Scams


This is one of the most common scams hitting people of all ages. A scammer, usually calling from a fake number, tells grandma that he is from the IRS and she has a judgement against her name. If she does not pay thousands right now - usually in iTunes gift cards or by Western Union - the police will arrive in 30 minutes and drag her off to jail.

People of all ages lose their minds with fear when faced with the IRS. While you may think that both you and grandma know better than to send gift cards to someone claiming to be from the IRS, so many people actually do it. Have a talk with grandma about IRS scammers. Remind her that the IRS does not take gift cards as payment.

If you, or grandma for that matter, are unsure whether it's the real IRS that's calling, hang up the call. Then call 800-829-1040 : the REAL IRS phone number. But don't take my word for it: go to IRS.gov and call the number listed on the official website.

Of course, the scammers will say, "Don't hang up! If you do, I will alert the police and they will arrest you immediately!"

That, of course, is nonsense- and not the way tax arrests work here in America. Trust me, if the IRS hauls you off to jail, it will not come as a surprise.

Keep an eye on Grandma's mental condition.


 If grandma is unable to understand what is going on, it may be worthwhile to consult a lawyer about adding layers of protection to her accounts, such as putting the assets in a trust and giving her an allowance that covers her monthly expenses. This way grandma can't withdraw all of her life savings to buy iTunes gift cards for a scammer without letting anyone know.

If Grandma's condition is truly deteriorating, it may be time to secure a caregiver for her. If you are caring for grandma yourself, there are resources available to you. Here in New York, we have some resources to help you take care of your elders. Check out what your own state has to offer.

Check Grandma's credit report at least once a year.


Earlier on I wrote an article about how and why you should check your credit report. The same goes for grandma! If someone was out there running up a credit card debt in her name, wouldn't you want to know about it?


Have any other tips to help protect our elders from scams? Let me know in the comments!

XOXO, Meow

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