Con artists are adept at identifying people who will be most vulnerable to their tactics. What makes people, especially the elderly, easy targets for scams?   Here are some common reasons according to the FBI:

Seniors are apt to have a ‘nest egg,’ own their home, and have excellent credit, making them attractive to con artists.

People who grew up in the 30s, 40s, and 50s were raised to be polite and trusting, making them less likely to hang up the phone or shut the door on a stranger.

Older Americans are less likely to report a fraud; they’re ashamed, fearful of retaliation, and don’t know where to turn.

It may take weeks or months for them to realize they’ve been swindled.  By then their memory of specific details has faded; this makes them poor witnesses.

As people struggle with health issues, they long for a higher quality of life.  This makes them susceptible to products promising increased cognitive function, virility, physical conditioning, anti-cancer and anti-aging properties, etc. 


Sadly, religious scams and fraudulent charities rely on tactics using guilt and fear to influence their victims.  The elderly or those facing a terminal illness will often feel a need to “make amends” at this point in their life and find comfort in doing “good works.”  In addition, they may not be able to think clearly/logically due to medications, dementia, emotional issues and more, which makes them prime targets.

It’s not just the elderly who are at risk.  Those who rely on the internet for information and entertainment may fall victim as well.  Sometimes boredom clouds their thinking causing better judgment to fly out the window.  There is also a level of excitement and accomplishment in making an independent decision.  Scammers rely on this.  The longer con artists have their attention, the more apt they will fall into the trap.

Phone calls and door-to-door salesmen can be a welcome distraction to those who don’t have as much opportunity for social interaction.  Your loved one may enjoy the attention they’re getting from this person, happily dragging out the conversation.  Now that they’ve taken this person’s time plus their own, they’re more apt to be agreeable to buying something or making a donation to a “good cause.”

Can you identify other reasons the person you’re caring for may fall victim to a scam?  Would he/she be willing to tell you about it, if it happened?

What Can be Done to Protect Them from Scams?

Talk openly about the possibilities with them.  Give examples of innocent people who have been scammed, and voice your specific concerns with them.

Explain that it’s okay to hang up the phone or shut the door on unsolicited callers. Try a role playing exercise with them so they have practice.

Do not show anger, or shame them, if they do become a victim.  This will only discourage them from confiding to you in the future.

Add their phone number to the national Do Not Call list.

Place a No Soliciting sign at the front door.

Make a point to have daily conversations with them about their day.  Ask specific questions about phone calls, people coming to the door, or internet sites they visited.

Be alert to unexpected deliveries or services.

Monitor their credit card statements and/or bank account.

Do not allow home health aides to have access to your family member’s  credit cards or bank account.  Make it clear to them that they must notify you if they need cash for a purchase, and not to be asking your loved one for it.

Report suspected scams and fraud attempts to the authorities immediately.

Visit the post “Safety: It’s More than You Think” to learn more about the various aspects of maintaining a safe environment.

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