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Email scams are as old as the internet itself, and telephone scams have been around even longer. Each year, scams become more and more sophisticated and harder to spot, especially for people who grew up without the internet. According to a tally by the Canadian government, 156 million email scams (called “phishing” emails) are sent each day around the world. In addition to email scams, there are many types of telephone scams and other fraudulent activity where people are victimized. While many people are cyber-savvy and can easily identify an email scam, older people who may not have the same level of internet knowledge often fall victim to these scams and can lose thousands of dollars—every year, older Americans lose over $12 billion to scams! Below, we analyze the different types of popular scams that target older people — we point out how to spot a scam so you can avoid them.

Types of Scams

There are many different types of consumer cons. They might target you via email scam, through the phone, or pose as a fraud charity or organization. Take a look at some of the different kinds of scams so you can be aware:

  • Phishing emails: Phishing is a broad type of scam in which an email is sent in order to dupe you into providing information such as passwords, PIN numbers, or credit card numbers. This is one of the most common types of email scams today.
  • Fake phone calls: Callers claim to be from computer tech support, from the IRS, or even pretend to be grandchildren in desperate need of cash.
  • Credit card skimmers: Scammers construct pieces of technology that fit directly over the credit card slot on an ATM and can store each credit card number and PIN. Before inserting your card, wiggle the plastic around the card slot. If it’s loose or pops off, report it to the bank and do not use that ATM.
  • Fake charities: It is now easier than ever to donate money to charity or a cause you believe in. Scammers have taken advantage of this and set up legitimate-looking charities in order to con people into donating money to cancer research or another popular cause. Check all charities on charitynavigator.org before donating.

Identifying Scams: Beat the Scammers!

The best way to fight telephone scams is to verify who the person is who is calling. If they claim to be your grandchild, hang up and call their parents first. If you can’t call their parents, ask them personal questions that can’t be easily found out via the internet, like “What do I always make you for dinner when you visit?” or “What did I get you for your last birthday?”  Companies like Microsoft and Apple and organizations like the IRS never conduct unsolicited phone calls, so anyone claiming to be from such a group is likely a scammer.

There are many simple ways to spot an email scam and avoid becoming a victim of fraud. If you get an email from someone you don’t know, follow these steps:

  • Do not click on any link in the email. This could give your computer a virus or install programs that can read and store your passwords, banking information, and more.
  • Look for spelling mistakes. Many phishing emails are poorly written, with bad grammar and spelling mistakes. If there are a lot of odd phrases and misspelled words (and it’s not from your seven-year-old grandchild) it’s likely an email scam.
  • Do not give any personal information. If you don’t know the sender of the email, do not reply to them and do not give them any information.
  • Be wary of urgent language. If the subject line or body of the email seems urgent or threatening—like “Account has been suspended” or “Need bank account now”—it is likely a phishing attack.

If you get an email and any of the above applies, just delete the email. Also, it is important to know that in most cases, opening an email will not give you a virus or expose you to fraud. Do not click links, open attachments, or reply to these emails—those actions will leave you vulnerable to fraud.

It’s easy to fight against email scams and other types of fraud if you’re smart about it. Follow these steps we provide and be on the lookout for telltale signs of fraud. Keep a clear head and use common sense, and you’ll be able to steer clear of fraud!


By: Elena McPhillips, Updated in 2021