senior woman getting help on device by younger adult

By Heather Ward, Coordinator of Middlesex County Programs

With today’s technology and information sharing websites, fraud is more prevalent than ever. Everyone is susceptible to fraud, but older adults are targeted at greater rates than other ages because fraudsters see them as less tech-savvy and easier to scam. According to the F.B.I., older adults were scammed out of 1.7 billion dollars in 2021. It is thought to be more, but older adults do not always report being scammed because they are embarrassed and/or do not want to be seen as incapable of having control over their finances.

There are multiple scams and schemes fraudsters use to entice older adults into giving money willingly in hopes of a greater return. The following are some of the more popular strategies used to con older adults and how older adults can protect themselves. Lottery scams, government unclaimed funds scams, or any scams involving winning other prizes, are problematic. Who wouldn’t want to win big? Fraudsters are very savvy in convincing someone they have won big but you need to know that the lottery or specific agencies like Publishers Clearing House will never call or reach out to an individual that has actually won. Fraudsters will call, email, text stating “you have won” and then proceed to ask for money or bank account information to get you your winnings or owed funds. Sometimes it is even stated, “you will get your winnings once you pay the tax on it.” These are ways to just access accounts and take money from older adults that allow the money to switch hands and no way to get it back. It is important to know that paying taxes on winnings happens AFTER the prize is claimed, not before.

Sometimes, fraudsters use scare tactics to get information out of people. They use agencies like the I.R.S. to get someone’s attention and then claim a certain amount of money is owed from back taxes. The fraudster will then request gift cards as payment. None of this is true! The I.R.S. will only reach out via mail and will never call, text, or use social media sites to contact someone. Using threats or scaring individuals, as well as requesting gift cards as payment, are not government-approved methods.

With Spring Break approaching quickly, there is another scam older adults need to be aware of. It is called the Grandparent Scam, and it prays on one of the most sacred relationships an older adult may have. There are fraudsters who will call older adults pretending to be the police saying their grandchild has been arrested and they need help. With out knowing it, older adults are likely to give away information like their grandchild’s name when they reply with “Oh no, Tommy needs help?” The fraudsters can then keep the conversation going using names and seeming more convincing. Usually, they will ask for money in gift cards or wire transfers, as well as say things like “Do not tell anyone able this, we can make things go away for your grandchild.”

All of this information was gathered at the 2024 Senior Fraud Prevention Conference, held at the East Brunswick Cultural Arts Center on February 16. There were presentations from many government agencies including the Middlesex Cunty Prosecutors Office, The U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the Middlesex County Office of Weights and Measures. There are some universal prevention measures that were commonly stated throughout the conference on how older adults can protect themselves from scams. If using social media, keep profiles set to private, meaning only certain people can access your posts, and try not to post details about family or where you are. If you receive a call from someone you do not know and they are trying to say a prize or money has been won, do not act too quickly. Ask for details about where the prize or money is from and when you entered the contest. If you do not remember entering a contest or they ask for money upfront, it is ok to hang up. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. The biggest piece of advice was twofold. First, if you receive a call from an unknown number, you do not have to answer it! If you do answer it and the caller sounds like a fraudster, it is ok to be rude and hang up. Second, You DO NOT need to stay on the phone. It is ok to follow your gut and keep yourself safe.

Another tip is to remove your number from the phone list. According to the Federal Trade Commission, it is free to remove your number and it can help in knowing what is a scam. Once you call 1-800-382-1222 or go to and remove your phone number, if you continue getting calls it is most likely a scam. Remember, you do not need to answer numbers from anyone you do not know.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

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