Common Scams Impacting Older Adults

Financial scams targeting older adults are increasingly common and often go unreported. Share this information with a friend. You may not have experienced these scams, but chances are you know someone who will - if they haven't already.

If you, or someone you know, has been the victim of a scam don't be afraid or embarrassed to talk about it with someone you trust. You're not alone, and there are people who can help. In Maine, you can report suspected scams or fraud to the Maine State Auditor:

By Phone: 207-624-6250, Monday through Friday 8am-4pm (except state holidays)
By Mail: Maine State Auditor, 66 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333-0066
By Email:
By Web-Based Form - You will be taken to the website upon clicking on the link.

Charity Fraud

Someone contacts you asking for a donation to their charity. It sounds like a group you've heard of, it seems real, and you want to help.

How can you tell what charity is legitimate and what's a scam? Scammers want your money quickly. Charity scammers often pressure you to donate right away. They might ask for cash, and might even offer to send a courier or ask you to wire money. Scammers often refuse to send you information about the charity, give you details, or tell you how the money will be used. They might even thank you for a pledge you don't remember making.

Take your time. Tell callers to send you information by mail. For requests you get in the mail, do your research. Is this a real group? What percentage of your donation goes to the charity? Is your donation tax-deductible? How do they want you to pay? Rule out anyone who asks you to send cash or wire money. Chances are, that's a scam.

Grandkid Scams

You get a call: "Grandma, I need money for bail." Or money for a medical bill. Or some other kind of trouble. The caller says it's urgent - and tells you to keep it a secret.

But is the caller who you think it is? Scammers are good at pretending to be someone they're not. They can be convincing: sometimes using information from social networking sites, or hacking into your loved one's email account, to make it seem more real. And they'll pressure you to send money before you have time to think.

Stop. Check it out. Look up your grandkid's phone number yourself, or call another family member.

Health Care Scams

You see an ad on TV, telling you about a new law that requires you to get a new health care card. Maybe you get a call offering you big discounts on health insurance. Or maybe someone says they're from the government, and she needs your Medicare number to issue you a new card.

Scammers follow the headlines. When it's Medicare Open Enrollment, or when health care is in the news, they go to work with a new script. Their goal? To get your Social Security Number, financial information, or insurance number.

So take a minute to think before you talk: Do you really have to get a new health care card? Is that discounted insurance a good deal? Is that "government official" really form the government? The answer to all three is almost always: No.

Stop. Check it out. Before you share your information, call Medicare (1-800-MEDICARE), do some research, and check with someone you trust.

Impostor Scams

You get a call or an email. It might say you've won a prize. It might seem to come from a government official. Maybe it seems to be from someone you know - you grandchild, a relative, or a friend. Or maybe it's from someone you feel like you know, but you haven't met in person - say, a person you met online who you've been writing to. Whatever the story, the request is the same: wire money to pay taxes or fees, or to help someone you care about.

But is the person who you think it is? Is there an emergency or prize? Judging by the complaints to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the answer is no.

Stop. Check it out - before you wire money to anyone. Call the person, the government agency, or someone else you trust. Get the real story then decide what to do. No government agency will ever ask you to wire money.

IRS Impostor Scams

You get a call from someone who says she's from the IRS. She says that you owe back taxes. She threatens to sue you, arrest or deport you, or revoke your license if you don't pay right away. She tells you to put money on a prepaid debit card and give her the card numbers.

The caller might know some of your Social Security Number and your caller ID might know a Washington, DC area code. But is it really the IRS calling?

No. The real IRS won't ask you to pay with a prepaid debit card or wire transfers. They also won't ask for a credit card over the phone. And when they IRS first contacts you about unpaid taxes, they do it by mail, not by phone.

Stop. Don't wire money or pay with a prepaid debit card. Once you send it, the money is gone. If you have questions, go to or call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040.

Online Dating Scams

You meet someone special on a dating website. Soon he wants to move off the dating site to email or phone calls. He tells you he loves you, but he lives far away - maybe for business, or because he's the in the military.

Then he asks for money. He might say it's for a plane ticket to visit you, or emergency surgery, or something else urgent.

Scammers, both male and female, make fake dating profiles, sometimes using photos of other people - even stolen pictures of real military personnel. They build relationships - some even fake wedding plans - before they disappear with your money.

Stop. Don't send money. Never wire money, put money on a prepaid debit card, or send cash to an online lover interest. You won't get it back.

Tech Support Scams

You get a call from someone who says he's a computer technician. He might say he's from a well-known company like Microsoft, or maybe your Internet service provider. He tells you there are viruses or other malware on your computer. He says you'll have to give him remote access to your computer or buy new software to fix it.

But is the caller who he says he is? Judging by the complaints to the Federal Trade Commission, no. These scammers might want to sell you useless services, steal your credit card number, or get access to your computer to install malware, which could let them see everything on your computer.

Hang up. Never give control of your computer or your credit card information to someone who calls you out of the blue.

"You've Won" Scams

You get a card, a call, or an email telling you that you won! Maybe it's a trip or a prize, a lottery or a sweepstakes. The person calling is so excited and can't wait for you to get your winnings.

But here's what happens next: they tell you there's a fee, some taxes, or customs duties to pay. They ask for your credit card number or bank account information, or they ask you to wire money.

Either way, you lose money instead of winning it. You don't ever get that big prize. Instead, you get more requests for money, and more promises that you won big.

Keep your money - and your information - to yourself. Never share your financial information with someone who contacts you and claims to need ti. Never wire money to anyone who asks you to.