Stay Safe from Scams! E.C. Sheriff's Deputy Outlines Frequent Frauds

how to avoid frauds that target seniors

Tom Giffey

Every year, millions of seniors across the U.S. fall victims to financial scams – from telemarketing frauds to fake sweepstakes to home repair swindles. Criminals may gain seniors’ trust over the telephone, the Internet, via the mail, through TV or radio, and sometimes even in person. Scammers frequently prey on their victims’ fears and emotions, taking advantage of romance seekers or even impersonating seniors’ grandchildren. And some victims are too embarrassed to speak about when they realized they’ve been cheated.

On a recent episode of The Journey Ahead Podcast, host Lisa Wells of the Aging and Disability Resource Center of Eau Claire County talked with Eau Claire County Sheriff’s Deputy Melissa Sommers about the variety of scams that target seniors and how older folks and their families can avoid being financial exploited. Here’s a condensed Q&A from the podcast, which can be found at or through most podcast apps.

Lisa Wells: Why are older adults targeted so often?

Deputy Melissa Sommers: I think that scammers look at the elder community as “easy targets” for a couple of reasons. (Seniors) lack understanding of technology. They don’t realize there is so much of their information out on the Web, that it’s so easy to look up their names and addresses, basically everything about them.

I think another reason that they might be considered easy victims is that adults tend to be very trustworthy. They believe in people, and they easily fall target to people preying on that type of personality. Scammers know that seniors are financially secure in older age. They’ve got savings. Their houses are usually paid off. They don’t have debt. They have more money than, say, somebody in their early 20s who is just starting off.

What are some of the tactics that people use to take advantage of older adults?

These scammers are really good at using technology. They use fake emails and websites that appear to be legitimate. Anybody can create a fake email, a website, Facebook, other social media accounts. There are also spoofing apps out there where they can add a fake phone number that looks like it’s a local phone number, so you think it’s coming from Eau Claire, and people are more apt to answer it seeing that it’s a local call.

What are some other ways that you’ve seen here in the Chippewa Valley of folks getting scammed?

The grandparents’ scam is basically when a scammer poses as a relative, usually a child or a grandchild, and claims to be in an immediate financial need.

We have romance scams, where they pose as an interested romantic party on social media or on a dating website to capitalize on the desire to find companionship.

Tech support scams, where they pose as technical support representatives, and they offer to fix nonexistent computer issues.

Governmental impersonation scams, where they’re posing as a governmental entity, like Social Security or the sheriff’s office, and they threaten to arrest you or prosecute victims unless they agree to pay some sign of bond or payment.

There are still sweepstakes and charity or lottery scams. They say that you’ve won money, but then you have to pay money. If they’re saying you just won $5,000, but in order to get this money you owe me $50, it’s a total scam.

Home repair scams: We get a lot of those. They say, “I can come and fix your roof or patch your driveway,” and people end up paying for it, and then they don’t do the work. Or they do the work, but they quoted you $400 to seal your driveway, but then when it’s said and done, they say, “No, it’s $6,000 now.”

Regular TV and radio scams: reverse mortgages or credit repairs, saying, “We can help you out with your credit report if you have bad credit.”

Financial and caregiver scams. Unfortunately, relatives prey upon other relatives, take advantage of them to get their money.

On Facebook and social media, we have scams running where people are looking for pets, and so they buy pets online, and are told “In order to ship this pet, I need this amount of money.” And then they pay that money, and they’re told, “Oh, it’s going to take a little bit longer, and we need more money.” I’ve come across that where people end up paying lots of money for animals that don’t even exist.

How could older adults and families protect themselves?

First off, if you receive any of these possible scams, don’t be so quick to send them your money, your information. Stop and think and say, “Let me do some research here.” It’s OK if you hang up on them. For example, if a bank is calling you and saying you owe them money, call your financial institution and verify that. … Financial institutions have all that information, so they shouldn’t be asking for it. Ask, “Did you call me on this?” They should be able to verify if it was them or not. If you’re on social media, make sure you limit your personal information that you put out there so it’s not so readily accessible.

How about for adult children? Are there things they can do to protect Mom and Dad?

Ask questions with your older parents. Be in their world. Ask them questions about how things are going financially. Maybe ask, “Can I look at your bank account?” Just have that flat-out conversation: “Have you been contacted by any people asking you for money?” They might be leery or not really want to tell you if they’ve been involved in anything because they might be ashamed. But if you don’t have those awkward conversations, you’re not going to know.

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