Seniors With Dementia Are a Top Target for Con Artists

Senior woman with piggy bank

Fraud targeting older adults has been called an epidemic — and that isn't just a figure of speech. Seniors are defrauded of $2.9 billion of their money each year, which not only threatens their financial health, but also their physical health when they no longer have funds to pay for healthcare, housing and nutritious food. Many family caregivers are impacted as well, forced to step in to help their loved ones financially when the money is suddenly gone.

Why are seniors so often targeted by con artists? The FBI says a top reason is that many seniors have a "nest egg" — lifetime savings that is intended to support them during retirement, which presents a tempting target to crooks. The FBI also says that seniors may be more trusting; raised to be polite, they're less likely to just hang up when a con artist calls, allowing a smooth-talking scammer time to set the hook. And fearing a loss of independence, seniors may hesitate to report that they've been defrauded, fearing that family will think they are incompetent.

Seniors who have Alzheimer's disease and other memory and thinking problems are even more vulnerable to the wiles of con artists. Indeed, according to a recent study from Rush University, falling prey to a scam might be one of the earliest signs that a senior is developing dementia. In the study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the team noted that changes in "social judgment" might occur before any noticeable changes in thinking or memory!

Thieves not only target people with dementia, but also sell the names of these vulnerable victims to other thieves. The FBI says it's hard to catch the thieves who target people with dementia, in part because these victims may not recall all the details of the scam.

Who can help?

The first step in fighting fraud is to raise awareness of scams — not only among older adults who might be targeted, but also among professionals who work with seniors, such as elder law attorneys, financial advisors and doctors. This should include anyone who routinely deals with seniors and money, like bank tellers who might spot a red flag if a senior suddenly makes a large withdrawal and store clerks who might notice a senior purchasing a large number of gift cards (a top strategy crooks use to siphon a senior's money undetected). A few months ago, CBS Boston even reported on a cab driver who, instead of taking an elderly passenger to Home Depot to purchase gift cards, drove her straight to the Quincy Police Department. It takes a village!

Family members, too, can serve as a first line of defense.

The Alzheimer's Foundation of America (alzfdn.org) recently shared a list of steps family caregivers can take to protect their loved ones from being defrauded:

Woman helping senior mother with paperwork

Talk with your loved one. Remind them not to give out personal information over the phone, especially their Social Security number, bank information or Medicare ID number. Also, remind them not to open the door to strangers.

Monitor credit card accounts and bank statements. Regularly check credit card and bank statements for suspicious or abnormal charges or withdrawals. Notify bank and/or credit card companies immediately of unauthorized activity.

Consider minimizing spending limits on credit cards and cancelling unneeded cards. Lower spending limits help lessen the potential damage an identity thief can cause. If a card is no longer being used, consider cancelling it; this helps prevent someone from using it without authorization.

Review credit reports. Federal law entitles consumers to one free copy of their credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) per year. Reviewing credit reports is an important way to see if someone is opening up accounts or applying for credit in your loved one's name. Visit annualcreditreport.com to learn more.

Add the person's phone number to the federal government's Do Not Call Registry. The Federal Trade Commission has a National "Do Not Call" Registry which can help reduce telemarketing phone calls and the chances that someone may be able to get your loved one's personal information over the phone. Visit donotcall.gov to register a phone number or to check if it is already on the registry.

Report scams promptly. If your loved one becomes a victim of identity theft or a consumer scam, report it immediately to your local law enforcement agency. You also may wish to contact your state's Attorney General's Office and your state's consumer protection agency.

The U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging recently released a booklet identifying the top scams that target older adults. Download the booklet here and share the information with family and friends. When it comes to fighting fraud, awareness is the No. 1 weapon!


Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned providers of in home care services.