Senior scams to watch out for

A favorite target of scam artists is our senior community. The reason this is a popular scam is because once you wire cash somewhere, it is essentially unrecoverable. Typically, the cash is wired to a foreign country so any type of investigation is impossible. In an effort to raise awareness of these types of crimes, and to prevent you or your family from losing money, I will describe the scams that are most common.

The lottery scam

In this one, someone will call you and inform you that you have won some fabulous prize. It could be large amounts of cash, cars or even houses. All you need to do to secure your fabulous new wealth is wire some cash to a “lawyer” or some other type of lottery official. Common amounts range from $1,000-$2,000. This is a pretty simple one to recognize because if you think about it, you probably don’t remember buying a ticket for the Canadian Lottery or whatever lottery you supposedly won. Further, there is no prize in the world that requires you to pay them to receive your money.

Family member needs help scam

This one has the caller pretending to be a relative or close friend of yours. They will typically use the old psychic trick to fish information out of you to make their identity seem real. For example, “It’s me, your grandson,” to which you would reply, “Tom?” Now they know your grandson’s name, and you may not realize that it was you who told them. Remember also that there is a world of personal information available on the Internet these days, so when they call, they may already have all the information they need to seem legitimate. Next, they will make a desperate plea for help and ask for money to be wired. They will claim they have been in a vehicle collision and are in the hospital or that they have been arrested. In any case, they will need cash to be wired to their location, whether it’s for bail, medical bills, or whatever else they come up with. This one is highly targeted at seniors because they are usually quick to help family and friends, and very possibly don’t speak to extended family often enough to know them by voice. This scam can be fought simply by doing some follow-up before you send any money. Call another family member who knows where this person would be and confirm their location. Even better, call the person you supposedly just spoke to. If they are at home, then they are not in a Dominican jail cell.

In conclusion, almost anyone who calls you and wants you to wire money to them is trying to steal from you. These two are the ones I seem to deal with almost every time, but there are limitless variations on the theme.

As I said, the senior community is a favored target because they often have money, but also because the scam artists are hoping to find someone with some degree of dementia. If you have a family member living on their own who has dementia or even just gets confused more often than they used to, pay close attention to them. Try to make arrangements that they call you before making any large financial decisions. If you feel they are vulnerable, consult an attorney to discuss possible power of attorney arrangements to protect them and make sure they can continue their retirement in peace; they’ve earned it.

Scott Schroeder is a member of the Mercer Island Police Department. He can be reached at


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