Exposing Elder Scams and Abuse 7/29/2023

Exposing Elder Scams and Abuse: Knowledge Is Power 7/29/2023

Speaker: Mary Knox, Deputy District Attorney, Contra Costa County


Seniors are prime targets for scam artists because 72% of this country’s wealth is controlled by seniors. Scammers have one goal: they want to get YOUR money. Seniors become targets because they are trusting and kind. When they were young and working, the world was much simpler. Now they are older and not working, they tend to 1) answer the phone, 2) check their emails, 3) surf online for shopping or learning, and 4) visit social media sites even if they do not contribute contents to those sites.


The main types of scams discussed are summarized below. I also included some of my notes based on my personal and professional experience working with senior clients.


  1. SCARE OF THE AUTHORITY – IRS or other government agencies including the police or fire departments calling regarding the money you owe. They want you to bring cash or gift cards to a certain location or simply get gift cards online in lieu of cash payments.

DEFENSE: IRS or any other government agencies will not call you on the phone or send you email to ask you for money, especially not cash.


  1. EMOTION JERKING – They call and let you know that your loved ones are in danger or hospitalized and need a large amount of cash to get them out of danger.

DEFENSE: Take a deep breath. Think about when you saw or talked to the loved ones in danger the last time. Would it be possible that they got into the kind of danger as described by the caller. When in doubt, call your loved ones to verify.


  1. GRANDMA’S KINDNESS – They call you and address you as “Grandma.” The “Grandson” or “Granddaughter” will tell you that they got in trouble or got caught and got put in jail. They need cash to get out of jail, etc.

DEFENSE: Think of a male name and a female name that none of your kids or grandkids have. When someone calls you “Grandma,” you will answer, “Is that David?” when you do not have a David in your family’s multiple generations. The scammer will get busted right away.


  1. SHOPPING, DELIVERY AND REFUND – You will receive an email, rarely phone calls, saying that your order with a value varying between a few hundred and a few thousand dollars is about to ship. If you did not place the order, please click the link below or call the 800 number provided. When you click the link, your computer information, including passwords, will get hacked. When you call, they will pretend that they will give you the refund on the credit card you used for the purchase. That’s how they get your credit card information including the credit card number, expiration date, zip code and the verification code on the back of your credit card.

DEFENSE: 1) Do not click on any link to prevent scammers from entering your computer. 2) Do not call any phone number provided by the scammer. 3) Check the websites you frequently shop on and make sure the order history is correct and no additional items appeared without your knowledge. 4) Be sure to check the email and website addresses. Quite often those addresses could appear legitimate. However, when you take a closer look, you will see something like “Amazon123@gmail.com” or “WellsFargoe.com” – just couple of examples. Also, there are usually typos in the contents of the email as short as it may be.


  1. ELDER ABUSE – Granddaughter asked if she could move in with her grandma. Grandma said yes. Granddaughter moved in and later her boyfriend moved in and occupied grandma’s house. Grandma was confined in one bedroom when the granddaughter gained access to grandma’s bank accounts, credit cards and enjoyed a good time.

DEFENSE: Set ground rules if you would allow any family members to move in with you. Set the stage to let it be known who is in charge of that house. Better yet maybe to say that you would welcome their visits but would prefer to limit them to just short visits.


It is unfortunate that most of the elder abusers are family members. Many of them will start with befriending and helping grandma. Once they gain access to the core of grandma’s personal and confidential information, especially the financial information, it will spiral downward quickly. That has caused some of the title companies not to accept escrows for transactions being sold with a durable specific power of attorney even though it has been properly signed and recorded.