Financial Fraud and Older Americans

By Nora Dowd Eisenhower, Assistant Director for the Office for Older Americans, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a proud supporter of America Saves Week. As ASW approaches, our Office for Older Americans would like to remind everyone to protect what they’ve saved! 

Having a savings plan is essential to building long-term financial security. However, we also need to guard what we save. This is never more important than when we near the end of our working lives. Older people are targeted, and fall victim to, financial scams and fraud more frequently than any other group of Americans. Older people are often retired or work less than others, making it very difficult for them to recover from financial losses.  As we gear up for America Saves Week, it’s a great time to talk about protecting the savings you and your loved ones have worked hard for. 

Complaints of fraud have been steadily increasing over the past decade[1]. Financial fraud is always changing, making it difficult to predict. However, if you learn about different types of fraud and what to watch for, you can reduce your chances of falling for the next scam. There are several types of exploitation and fraud that older people, their families, and their caregivers should be aware of. Let’s get a closer look at some important issues. 

Widows Take Caution

After a spouse passes, some people find themselves managing household finances for the first time in many years. Surviving spouses in this position are often women. One form of online fraud involves phony bank and credit card emails requesting updates to your information. In reality, these fake emails are designed to steal your account details.   If you are new to electronic banking, for example, you may fall for these “phishing” attempts more easily.  Anyone taking on new or unfamiliar financial transactions should take extra caution. Talk to friends and ask advice from those you trust if you are unsure about a financial transaction.

The Romance Scam

This form of fraud can affect people of all ages. However, the increasing popularity of social media among older people means they should be especially guarded against this crime. A common version of this scheme begins on dating and networking websites. In the set-up, a victim may receive flattering messages from an engaging, attractive person. After a period of courtship, the two arrange to meet in person. During the expected trip, the victim receives a message from the traveler in trouble, asking for financial assistance. The perpetrator may request additional funds due to ongoing “troubles”, or vanish after receiving a single payment. Long periods of courtship disarm victims and make this scam feel believable. 

The Grandparent Scam

This fraudulent scheme continues to snare victims despite recent media attention. In this set-up, a perpetrator calls an older person on the phone impersonating a grandchild. Sometimes they know family names and personal details. In other cases, they might say “Hi Grandma!” hoping the victim will respond with a name, “Sarah?”

From here, the perpetrator describes an urgent story of falling into trouble. They may need bail for a drunken driving arrest, or money to pay a fine in a foreign country. Schemes like these often work because the plea, “Please don’t tell Mom and Dad” makes sense under the circumstances. If the victim stays quiet, the crime goes undetected until after money has changed hands. This scam uses surprise and emotional urgency to take victims off guard. If you receive an urgent call from a family member asking for financial help, keep your wits about you. Ask the person on the phone to answer questions only your family would know. 

Prevention Tips

These scams continue to work on unsuspecting victims and new scams emerge regularly. It’s a good idea to follow the news on financial fraud to remain as aware as possible. Here are some other good practices to follow: 

  • Keep all of your passwords in a safe protected place. It’s a good idea to change them periodically.
  • Be extra careful with those you deal with online or over the phone. If you are asked for personal information such as a Social Security number, Medicare ID, or account details, talk to a friend, family member, or financial adviser first.
  • Review your monthly financial statements to make sure you recognize all of your account activities. 
  • Cash should never be used for large purchases
  • Never give money or personal details to someone pressuring you. If you feel threatened or intimidated, don’t hesitate to call the police. 

To learn more about our work, visit


[1] 2012, Federal Trade Commission. Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book for January, P. 5.

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