Scammers target senior citizens. It’s sad, but it’s true. Criminals prey on elderly adults because they assume that elders will either be too trusting to recognize the scam, or too polite to push back on the scammers’ pressure tactics.

Financial scams can affect any senior, even those who are smart and healthy. In fact, even Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has admitted to almost falling for a scam!

You can help your loved ones stay safe

The best way to avoid scams is to educate yourself and your elderly loved ones, so that you can recognize the signs of a scam. Here are some of the scams most frequently targeted at the elderly:

  • Fake IRS calls

Scammers will call someone and say they are from the IRS. They will say the person owes taxes, and demand payment. They might threaten the senior with lawsuits or even jail time if they do not comply.

In truth, the IRS never contacts taxpayers over the phone or by email. Instead, it always sends notices by mail.

  • “Family in trouble” scams

Sometimes, scammers will email pretending to be a family member who has gotten into trouble while traveling. Or they’ll call, pretending to be a grandchild. Often, they say something like “Hi grandma! Do you know who this is?” When the elder guesses a name, the scammer just goes along with that identity.

Ultimately, the scammer ends up asking for money. They’re hoping that the elder’s love for his or her family will outweigh any hesitation that the request might not be legitimate.

  • Sweepstakes/prize calls

In these scams, elderly people will get a phone call informing them that they have won a free trip, a large amount of money, or some other fantastic prize. All they have to do is make a small payment or provide the caller with some personal information to claim the prize.

As you might imagine, there is no prize. Instead, the scammers use their targets’ personal information to steal their identities.

  • Home repair scams

Scammers will show up at an elderly person’s home, pretending to be contractors or tradesmen. They’ll claim to notice something dangerous, like a damaged roof or overgrown tree, and will offer to fix it for a reasonable rate. They might use pressure tactics to convince the elder to take action right away.

Often, these scammers take their target’s money, but never return to do the work.

Talk to your loved ones about financial scams

The best way to help your loved ones stay safe is to teach them to recognize the signs of a scam. Remind them that no reputable business will ever use pressure sales tactics or ask for personal information over the phone.

You should also consider adding your loved one’s phone number to the National Do Not Call Registry. This will help prevent unwanted telemarketing calls.

For more information about common scams targeting seniors, the FBI provides a very helpful guide.