Frauds & Scams: Online & Phone

Sometimes, a call from a stranger or a suspicious email can take a few minutes  to distinguish between what is safe and unsafe. Dementia causes brain changes  that lead to poor judgment, impulsivity, and confusion, which can increase  vulnerability to scams.

Elderly woman on cell phone

Types of Telephone Scams

  • Government Official Scams. Scammers pretend to be agents from Medicare,  the IRS, or Social Security Administration to get personal information. They  might say money is owed or they’re in trouble. 
  • Funeral Scams. Scammers call loved ones of someone who died, saying the  person owed them money and the family needs to pay it back.  
  • Telemarketing Scams. Scammers pretend to be bankers, investors, or  charity representatives and offer advance loans, free trials, or investment  opportunities.  
  • Account Problem Scams. Scammers say there’s a problem with an account,  like bank accounts or subscription services, and ask for financial information.  
  • Lottery or Prize Scams. Scammers say they’ve won a prize and ask for money  to cover “taxes” or “fees”.  
  • Emergency Scams. Scammers pretend to be a relative and say they’re in  trouble and need money. They might say they’ve been arrested, robbed, in an  accident, or hurt.  
  • Law Enforcement Scams. Scammers say the call recipient is in trouble with border  services, has an arrest warrant, or a suspicious package arrived in their name.  They say they’ll go to jail if they don’t give their information or pay money. 

Types of Email & Online Scams

Here are other scams used in emails or online as ads on webpages.  

  • Sweetheart Scams. Scammers join dating sites and pretend to date them long distance, asking for money.  
  • Tech Support Scams. Scammers pretend to be tech support, saying the  computer is at risk for viruses and trick them into giving personal information,  device access, or payment for a product. 
  • Spam Emails. Scammers pretend to be a bank, subscription service, or the IRS  and ask for personal information. They might send an email telling them to  click a link that gives the scammer access to your care recipient’s device.
  • Emergency Scams. Scammers pretend to be a famous person asking for  money, promising they will reward them with more money later.

What To Do If You Suspect They’ve Been Scammed

  • Don’t yell or react impulsively. Stop and take a breath. If you get upset or  shame them, they might not tell you what happened and be reluctant to tell  you if something happens in the future.
  • Get as much information as you can. Calmly ask what the person said, what  information was shared, or how much money they gave (or lost). Write it down  or ask to see it.
Man using credit card online

Report it to:

  • The police. Call their non-emergency number (do not call 9-1-1).
  • Your state’s adult protective services or Area Agency on Aging.  
  • FBI. They will look into crimes over the internet, especially scams with  money involved.  
  • Federal Trade Commission. They deal with different types of scams.
  • Social Security Administration (if it possibly involved their SSN or funds).
  • Securities & Exchange Commission (if an “investment opportunity”).
  • Do damage control.  
  • Contact their banks and let them know what happened. If their  account or credit card information was stolen, they can help close or  protect the accounts. They can also stay on the lookout for fraudulent  transactions or new accounts opened in their name.  
  • If you suspect their identity has or could be stolen, put a security  freeze on their credit reports by going to the credit bureau’s website  (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian). This will ensure lines of credit  can’t be taken out in their name.  

Expert Tip

Consider purchasing identity theft protection monitoring of their accounts. You’ll get notified of any unusual activity that could be a sign of identity theft.

How Can I Help Protect Their Information?

Personal & Financial Information  

  • Keep personal documents, like social insurance numbers and Medicare  numbers, in a safe place where your care recipient can’t access them easily,  like a locked safe.  
  • Tell them not to respond to messages, emails, or phone calls from people they  don’t know, and to tell you if they get any. You can leave sticky notes near the  phone or computer to remind them. 
  • Only use secure wifi networks. For example, your home wifi.  Block scammers or strange phone numbers.  

Devices & Passwords  

  • Update passwords regularly. Make them long and difficult to guess.  Use a password app to keep track of passwords. Many use a master password  that needs to be memorized or kept somewhere safe and has multi-factor  authentication procedures to make sure it’s them.  
  • On the computer, use browser extensions that block unsafe or  unsecured websites. 
  • Run antivirus software regularly.  

Extra Tips  

  • Have a set time of the day for computer or phone usage where they’re most  aware. You can be around to monitor.  
  • Use the computer or phone together.  
  • Regularly ask them what activities they’ve been up to lately online.  Remind them that banks, government agencies, or companies will never call or  email asking for passwords, pin numbers, or other personal information. 

Additional Resources

  • Caregiver hugging elderly woman

    Stages Of Dementia: What To Expect

  • Safety Systems

    Predict The Risk: 50 Safety Checks To Do Today

  • Two people and a dog riding in a car

    Quick Explanation of Power of Attorney (POA)

  • Caregiver Hands

    Where To Look For Support