Don’t be duped! Guarding ourselves against fraud

By Regina Salmi

Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan


Every year, millions of Americans are victims of scams or fraud. It is estimated that approximately 11% of the population experiences loss of money or personal property annually. While it can happen to a person at any age, older adults are often the most frequent targets for fraud. Older adults often have access to funds, have excellent credit and own their homes, making them attractive targets for criminals. In fact, older adults lose an estimated 2.9 billion dollars a year to fraud.
These are the current scams particularly targeting older adults:

  • Grandchild Scam: A caller will sound distressed and claim to be a grandchild in trouble or in danger and beg to have money wired to them immediately. The best thing to do is to hang up and call family members to insure everyone is safe and sound.
  • IRS Scam: A person could receive a call, an email or an official-looking letter, demanding immediate payment. They are told information will be forwarded to local law enforcement officials for arrest if they fail to pay. This is not the way the IRS collects debts. If you don’t owe taxes, hang up immediately or delete the email without opening it. If you do owe on your taxes, call the IRS at 800-829-1040 for assistance to pay them.
  • Gift Cards: Many people are being tricked into buying hundreds of dollars in gift cards or pre-paid money cards and sending them to a person in order to receive a prize, pay off a debt, purchase goods or services, or to help a grandchild pay off student loans. There isn’t any legitimate business conducted this way, so refuse any request to pay with gift cards or pre-paid credit cards.

While it seems there are scams everywhere we turn, there are a few ‘rules of thumb’ we can use to protect ourselves from being fooled:

  • If it sounds too good to be true — it is. Criminals feed on our desires by offering us goods or opportunities we wouldn’t, in reality, be able to attain: vacations, money, miracle cures, property, etc. You can be sure there is always a hidden cost and we end up losing much more than we would have ever gained.
  • Never send money to someone you do not know. Any business or government agency you owe money to will send you the request through the mail. If a paperless billing notice arrives in your email and you didn’t initiate it, call the company directly to confirm it is from them.
  • Do not give personal or financial information to someone who calls, emails or shows up at your door. Avoid giving out your bank account, credit card or Social Security number unless you are positive you know who is requesting the information. Businesses you have accounts with will ask you to verify some information to make sure it’s you, like the last four digits of your social security number, but they are confirming your information — not receiving it for the first time.
  • If you get an email or pop-up message that asks for personal or financial information, do not reply, open any attachment or click on any link in the message. Legitimate companies don’t ask for this information by email and you’re often opening a door to identity theft. You also risk downloading viruses or software that collects your personal information and/or disables your computer’s security.

It’s important that we protect ourselves and share tips and information with family and friends who might also fall prey to these schemes. If you’re ever unsure about whether you might be the victim of a scam there are several resources available to you.


The Kent County Elder Abuse Coalition updates current scams frequently on their website: You can call them at 855.444.3911.


The Michigan Attorney General also has a consumer alert web page here. If you believe you may be a victim of a scam, you can call them at 877.765.8388.