How to protect seniors from phone scams targeting the elderly

Thad White profile image April 13, 2023 | 6 min read

Helen (not her real name) was a retired high school computer science teacher who considered herself tech savvy.

One day she received an alert on her home computer that the machine had detected a virus. Concerned, she called the number in the pop-up window, and a friendly voice told her they could resolve the issue for a few hundred dollars. She gave them her credit card number, along with remote access to her computer.

You can guess what happened next. “The problem is bigger than we thought”—the scammer needed an additional $500. Helen OK’d the charge. By the third request, she grew suspicious and canceled her credit card. But the damage was done. Arguably, the scammers hadn’t “stolen” anything: Helen had willingly handed over her personal data—and money.

When Helen told her daughter Jeannie what had transpired, Jeannie was appalled. She shared a Federal Trade Commission article about how to spot a tech support scam with her mom, who admitted that this was exactly what had happened.

This is just one story, and it could happen to anyone. Here are some elderly phone scam solutions to help protect your loved ones from phone fraud.

How to talk with elders about phone scams

Phone safety joins the ranks of identity theft and property protection as an area in which the families of seniors need to be vigilant. Your parents or grandparents grew up in a different era, when a phone was a useful tool to stay in touch with friends and relatives, or for emergencies. It wasn’t an extra appendage for ordering everything from dinner to a driver, or to text continuously (“What exactly is a text, dear?”), or to upload countless pictures to social media.

Of course, kids have always played pranks, so your elders are probably familiar with phone shenanigans, where someone hangs up after saying something strange or off-color. But they may not be aware of how scammers attempt to defraud them over the phone.

You might use the analogy of reading the fine print. Remind your mom (if she has a sense of humor) about that time she sent away for a “free” beauty product that only cost shipping and handling—but would continue to bill her credit card monthly unless she canceled before the first shipment. The company cleverly hid this requirement in the “Terms & Conditions,” which most people don’t read, so she lost $100 by not canceling immediately.

Phone scammers are similar to fine print: They hide the truth of what they do—and use fear or fantastic offers to lure unsuspecting elders in.

Most common elderly phone scams

Below are a half dozen common phone scams targeting the elderly. The best prevention is knowledge, so share these with your older loved ones. They’ll be better equipped to identify a potential scam and let you know if they receive such a call, so you can act.

  1. “Grandma, can you loan me some money?” A scammer will place a call to an older person, and when the “mark” picks up, say something along the lines of, “Hi Grandma, do you know who this is?” When the unsuspecting grandparent guesses the name of the grandchild the scammer sounds most like, the scammer has effortlessly established a fake identity. Now they can ask for money with confidence, because granny always says yes.

    What to do: If a senior thinks the caller might actually be their grandchild, they can say, “Oh honey, I’m right in the middle of something. Give me your number and I’ll call you back.” A scammer will either hang up or try again to get you to guess their name. Hang up and report it.

  2. “Someone may have stolen your Social Security number!” Many seniors depend on their Social Security income, so hearing that their Social Security number has been compromised is bound to be very upsetting. The scammer, posing as a Social Security Administration employee, asks you to verify your number to ensure it’s you.

    What to do: The Social Security Administration (SSA) will never phone someone and ask you to verify your number. If your older family member has been subjected to this type of scam, call the SSA fraud hotline at 800-269-0271 or contact the Office of the Inspector General at

  3. “It’s me (phone Clone!) and I’m in trouble.” This could be the plot of a sci-fi movie: a fraudster clones one of your family member’s voices, so it really does sound like your grandchild. Unfortunately, voice cloning is one of the newest and scariest phone scams, because if it sounds exactly like someone you know, why wouldn’t you assume it is that person?

    What to do: If there’s anything that gives you pause—perhaps the caller is asking for a wire transfer, or something out of the ordinary—say you’ll call them back. Then hang up and call the person directly.

  4. “You’ve won our sweepstakes!” Though sweepstakes and lottery scams are old news, seniors still fall for them—along with the scammer’s request that they provide bank data so the winnings can be directly deposited into their account.

    What to do: Hang up and install Caller ID. If you do win a sweepstakes, you’ll get an official letter in the mail or a knock on your door from someone carrying a giant check.

  5. “I’m so sorry for your loss.” The most reprehensible scams prey on the bereaved by attempting to sell expensive memorial services and mementoes.

    What to do: It’s difficult to think clearly while grieving. Ask a trusted family member or friend to help you handle the funeral arrangements, and just say “no” to calls from strangers.

  6. “You didn’t pay your electric bill.” Nobody wants to risk having a utility shut off or damage their credit rating.

    What to do: If you think you may have skipped a payment, hang up and call the customer support number printed on a bill. Never give credit card or banking information to anyone who calls you.

How to prevent elderly phone scams

Once your loved one is wise to scammers’ tricks, you’re halfway home. The best step besides information: installing Ooma Premier home phone service.

Ooma offers the option of Contacts Only Calling, which means your senior will only receive calls from people on their Ooma Contacts list, so spam and fraud calls can’t get through. It’s our most restrictive call blocking setting, available to all Ooma Premier members.

Ooma Premier also offers Call Blocking, another way to thwart scammers.

If your elderly relative has lost money to a phone scam, as in the case of Helen, you can report it to the Federal Trade Commission at

Be sure to report the actual number that appears on the person’s caller ID, as well as any number the scammer has asked them to call back. Keep in mind that caller ID can be misleading if scammers spoof, or camouflage, a number to make it appear local and legitimate.

You might also invest in tech training as another protection against phone scams. Many communities offer classes taught by experts with experience working with seniors who are technology novices.

While elders are becoming more tech savvy every day, the scammers are also becoming more devious and determined. Knowledge is power. Make sure your loved ones know how to safely use their phone and other devices, and that, when in doubt about a call, they hang up and report it.