Legal

9/15/2020 | By Seniors Guide Staff

In general, scammers most commonly target the senior population. Unfortunately with the uptick of COVID-19, there have been a lot of coronavirus scams popping up. Here are some to look out for.


Every year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), releases a report detailing the “top” frauds and scams of the year, and how much money people have lost.

In 2019, the amount was $667 million – and that was up by almost $200 million from 2018.

And once COVID-19 hit in March, scam artists immediately began inventing new scams to take advantage of seniors’ sudden isolation, fear and anxiety.

Below are just a few of the scams that have proliferated in the time of COVID-19.

Grandparent Scams That Target Seniors

The “grandparent scam” has been around forever. But thanks to the uncertainty brought about by the coronavirus, with grandparents isolated from their loved ones, the number of victims has surged.

In the grandparent scam, someone posing as a grandchild will text or even call a grandparent; in panic-stricken tones say they are sick in hospital, or are stuck in a foreign country and can’t return home because of the COVID-19 travel ban, so need money to live while they are in that foreign country.

They’ll ask for money via iTunes or gift cards or via a money transfer service like Western Union. A trusting grandparent will do as instructed and send the funds – buying the cards and then texting the numbers to their “grandchild.” Once the scammer has the numbers on the back of the card, they can easily spend it all online or sell the numbers to someone else.

In a “new twist,” some scammers will actually offer to send a courier to someone’s house to speed the process along!

Here’s how to avoid the grandparent scam:

  • Do not get bulldozed into making a decision immediately. Ask the caller questions that only they would know if they were truly a grandchild. If the caller identifies himself or herself as a “friend” of the grandchild, have the friend ask the grandchild a question and get back to you.
  • Call the grandchild’s phone … and see if he or she picks up.
  • If the grandchild is supposedly out of the country – call his or her parents and verify.
  • Do not let someone pressure you into sending money immediately. Do some research first.

Finally, if the caller suggests that you use iTunes or a loadable debit card, or that you send money via Western Union or online via a variety of money transfer services – it is a scam.

Read more about grandparent scams at the AARP website. Here’s an article about an 88-year-old woman who sent a scammer $17,000 on two separate occasions; both times, she thought he was her grandson.

Charity Scams That Target Seniors

Charity scams pop up whenever there is a natural disaster anywhere in the world; including the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scam artists have created fake charities and built sophisticated websites designed for one thing: to allow someone to donate money that goes directly into someone’s pocket.

With modern technology, they are able to manipulate Caller ID to give the name of an actual legitimate charity; or sometimes, the name is so similar to the real one. They end up giving their credit card number over the phone as well as the amount they wish to donate. Of course, the scammer then will max out the credit card.

Research a charity online through online independent sources like IRS Select Check, BBB Wise Giving Alliance, or Charity Navigator.

Here’s how to avoid the charity scam:

  • Do not give out your credit card number over the phone or in an email.
  • If you’ve been phoned, ask for the name of the charity and tell them you’ll look it up online – and then hang up.
  • If you receive an email, do NOT click on any links. (They may lead to fraudulent sites or download malware to your computer.) Open up a new browser window and search for the name of the organization and put “scam” after that name, to see if there have been any complaints about it.

Remedy Scams That Target Seniors

Snake oil salesmen have been having a field day with COVID-19. Many people – the elderly and those with underlying health conditions – are desperate for a cure or for a vaccine that will prevent them getting the disease at all.

Even “big names” are getting into the act. In March 2020 televangelist Jim Bakker was sued for selling a product on his website called “Silver Solution;” it supposedly killed the virus within 12 hours. A four-oz bottle costed $80. The state of Missouri moved swiftly to prevent him from continuing to sell this “natural” medicine.

Additionally, other companies, that specialized in selling teas, essential oils, and tinctures for various health maladies, were also warned to stop advertising that these products could cure or prevent COVID-19.

Therefore, until the FDA announces that it has approved a vaccine, or medicinal treatment for COVID-19, do not respond to anything; this includes phone calls, emails, or advertisements that proclaim that they offer such things.

For more information:

Grandparent Scams: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2020/04/grandparent-scams-age-coronavirus

Charity Scams: https://oag.dc.gov/blog/consumer-alert-beware-covid-related-charity-scams

Remedy Scams: https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/coronavirus-update-fda-and-ftc-warn-seven-companies-selling-fraudulent-products-claim-treat-or

Seniors Guide Staff

Seniors Guide has been addressing traditional topics and upcoming trends in the senior living industry since 1999. We strive to educate seniors and their loved ones in an approachable manner, and aim to provide them with the right information to make the best decisions possible.

Seniors Guide Staff