“Grandma, can you help me? There was an accident and I’ve been arrested in Canada….I need money wired for bail right away….please don’t tell Mom and Dad!”

The “grandparent” scam goes something like this: you get a phone call from someone who pretends to be your grandchild in trouble. The caller’s story is so convincing and urgent, your first instinct is to want to help, and you wire the money. Unfortunately, people have lost millions of dollars over the years to these thieves who target older adults.

In addition to the threat of identity theft posed by data breaches, seniors are also victimized in more old-fashioned ways: by telephone scams, people going door to door, and by mail. Some of the most common scams are:

  • Phone scams: Callers pretending to be IRS agents or officials from Social Security demand money or gift cards to resolve a tax issue. Other gimmicks include callers stating you’ve won a prize, trip, or sweepstakes, but need to pay a small fee to claim it.
  • Door-to-door solicitations for cheap home repairs or other services: Often the person asks for money upfront. The repair is not finished, is never started, or the work is substandard.
  • “The Nigerian Prince” scam which has been going on for decades, maybe an email, letter, or call from someone posing as a foreigner who offers to transfer a substantial amount of cash to the person’s bank account. The scammer asks for bank account numbers and other sensitive information to “deposit the funds.”

Whether it’s a pitch by phone, the Internet, or in person, scammers are pros and can be very convincing. Their victims may be too embarrassed to report the crime, and few ever get their money back.

Tips for seniors to avoid becoming a victim:

  • Never respond to letters, emails, texts, or phone calls asking for personal or financial information.
  • Don’t routinely carry your Social Security card or other sensitive information.
  • Be wary of door-to-door solicitors and high-pressure sales tactics.
  • Never allow strangers into your house.
  • Report suspicious activity to the police.

Families can help protect seniors against identity theft by ensuring their electronic devices are kept secure with up-to-date virus and firewall protection and reviewing credit reports and monthly credit card and bank statements.

A red flag may be a large amount of junk mail, such as sweepstakes, investments, and “miracle health products,” which may indicate that the older adult is being targeted by telemarketers. One way to limit telemarketing calls and letters is to put the senior’s phone number on the National Do Not Call registry by phoning (888) 382-1222 or visiting www.donotcall.gov, as well as the Direct Marketing Association. AARP’s Fraud Watch Network also offers information on common scams and how to avoid them.

In Florida, a special crime prevention project of the Attorney General called Seniors vs. Crime partners with police and Sheriffs’ departments in many counties, including Sarasota, to help seniors combat fraud, deceptive advertising, high-pressure sales tactics, and criminal conduct. Volunteers called Senior Sleuths report on scams and assist law enforcement with scam investigations. For more information, call 1-800-203-3099.