Schemes preying on baby boomers?

It’s an old story: a con job targeting older Americans. The trouble is, these days that can include boomers like us. From Olathe, Kansas, Pat O’Donnell explains what he has learned about such scams, and how to avoid them.

I like to think that while I may be older, I’m not naive.

However, even the best of us can all fall these days for a well-conceived scam. As technology develops, it is a slipper slope, because it’s next to impossible to tell the difference between what’s real and what’s fake. So extreme caution is necessary.

The F.B.I. says cases of fraud against seniors— which includes more and more baby boomers every day— account for some $3-billion in personally losses annually, and the number is growing. There was a 69% increase in fraud complaints last year over the year before.

The pandemic and isolation have compounded these crimes, according to law enforcement. In just the past few months, I have received calls from a robotic voice claiming to be from Social Security, another claiming to be from Amazon notifying me about a problem with my credit card for the new iPhone I ordered. But, of course, these were scams. Then there are the sales phishing calls about my car’s warranty.

Maybe my most satisfying experience with a con artist though was when I received the “Grandparents” scam call. The voice on the other end said, “Hello grandpa, it’s me and I’m in trouble. I’ve been arrested and I need bail money.” Thankfully, I had heard of this before, and I knew where my grandkids were, so I told the caller, “Too bad, I never really liked you anyway.” The caller quickly hung up.

How do these cons get your personal information? They gather much of it from your social media. On the bright side though, law enforcement uses social media to track criminal activity too. One federal investigator told me, we need to keep making people aware of how criminals get your information. Remember, Social Security, the I.R.S., and most government agencies will not call you demanding money.

Pat O’Donnell

Here in Kansas where I live, the Overland Park Police Department says the “grandparents phone scam” is the one they see most often. In one recent case, a scammer actually sent someone to the victim’s house. The victim took cash out to the street and gave it to this courier. Other instances involved victims instructed by the scammer to purchase gift cards or to go to an ATM and withdraw some money.

Not everyone sees through it. That’s how the figure got up to $3-billion.

The F.B.I. says older Americans are targets because we tend to be trusting and polite. However, many never report these crimes as they feel embarrassed or concerned that family members may think they can no longer care for themselves.

A spokeswoman for the F.B.I. field office in Kansas City says Romance and Confidence scams are what they see the most. A Romance scam is where perpetrators gain the trust of their victims, eventually convincing them to send them money. A confidence scam is where criminals convince the victims they are acting in their best interest. The “grandparents call” is an example. If you get a call like this, police say hang up and call the agency reportedly holding your loved one to verify the claim.


If you believe you or someone you know may have been a victim of elder fraud, contact your local F.B.I. field office or submit a tip online. You can also file a complaint with the F.B.I.’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.


  1. Timely article, Pat! P.T. Barnum reportedly said there’s a sucker born every minute; the truth is, it’s a schemer born every minute. A high degree of disbelief is key to surviving these schemes, along with keeping an old adage in mind: If it sounds too good (or too bad?) to be true, it probably (definitely?) is.

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