Three Holiday Scams That Can Drain Seniors’ Bank Accounts

Bay Alarm Medical

November 28, 2018

This may be the “season to be jolly,” but it’s also the season to be cautious.  During the holidays, most people look for ways to be kind and generous. Unfortunately, many crooks are just waiting to take advantage of that goodwill.  They target vulnerable seniors, hoping to steal their identities and/or drain their bank accounts.

Here’s how to recognize some of the most common fraud schemes so you can protect yourself and your family.

Senior Scam #1: The Charity Con

Charities receive almost one-third of their annual donations in the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. People are both filled with the holiday spirit and looking for tax deductions.  Scammers know this is a time when people open to giving, so they’re out in force.

Seniors are often targets.  They’re at home, often answer the phone (even if they don’t recognize the number), read junk mail, and open the door to strangers.  So when a “nice person” from a supposed charity offers a poignant story and asks for their help, many seniors open their checkbooks.

Sometimes, your relative may be “over-giving” to actual charities because of repeated solicitations.  People with mild cognitive impairment might forget they’ve donated previously or feel obligated to give after receiving a “free” calendar or mailing labels. Consumer Affairs magazine highlighted the problem , noting that even “legitimate” charities are bombarding seniors with repeated requests for donations:

Because many seniors don’t own or use a computer, these organizations rely on telemarketers and direct mail. It’s not uncommon for a senior’s daily mail to be largely made up of what many would consider “junk mail.”

Always verify a charity’s status before giving.  Charity Navigator rates and provides information on over 9,000 charities in the US.

Senior Scam #2: “Help Me, Grandma!”

Is there anything scarier than a frantic late-night call from a relative in distress – especially a child or grandchild?  Not for most seniors.  They’ll help any way they can, and criminals know it.

Here’s how it works.  A stranger, often pretending to be a law enforcement officer, calls to say a family member is in trouble and needs money for bail, fines, and/or legal assistance. Sometimes, the caller pretends to be the actual family member, but those calls are easier to spot as frauds.  In any case, the caller has enough information about the family member to make the call seem legitimate, and demands money immediately.  Often, they’ll ask that the money be wired or even loaded onto gift cards.

The US Consumer Protection Bureau warned about this fraud and suggested steps to take if you receive this type of call:

  • Check it out before you act. Look up that friend or family’s phone number yourself. Call them or another family member to see what’s happening. Even if the person who contacted you told you not to.
  • Don’t pay. Don’t wire money, send a check, overnight a money order, or pay with a gift card or cash reload card. Anyone who demands payment in these ways is always, always, always a scammer. These payment methods are like giving cash — and nearly untraceable, unless you act almost immediately.
  • If you sent money to a family emergency scammer, contact the company you used to send the money (wire transfer service, bank, gift card company, or cash reload card company) and tell them it was a fraudulent transaction. Ask to have the transaction reversed, if possible.
  • Report the message or call at

The prevalence of social media has made this crime easier. People post (and boast) about family members, vacations, new jobs, etc. Everyone probably shares a lot more personal information than they realize online, which makes it easier for burglars and other thieves to rob them.  Learn more about how social media activity can jeopardize your security.

Senior Scam #3: Phishing with Online Holiday Cards & Invitations

Loneliness and isolation increasingly affect every age group, but seniors are particularly vulnerable. As long-time friends and family members move or pass away, their social support systems shrink. Many will eagerly click on what appears to be an email invite to a party or open an ecard that appears to have come from a friend or relative.

Because many seniors crave social connections, they’re likely to click on these spam emails. Unfortunately, criminals know this too.  When the recipient opens the email to read the content, they may be asked to open an attachment and “download” the card or be required to click a “view card” link that actually takes them to another Web site.  In either case, a simple click of the mouse can install malware on the user’s machine or take the user to a malicious site that asks for personal information.

The holidays are a perfect time to hold a discussion about financial safety in general.

Senior financial scams are a growing industry because crooks go where the money is. The AARP recently wrote about the huge increase in scam phone calls, where the median loss of a phone-based scam is $720..  Elder financial exploitation affects millions of seniors each year. Educate yourself and your relatives on the warning signs so you can stay safe, not just in the holiday season, but year round.


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