Senior scams in an unconventional holiday season

Holly Beth Niemczura

By Holly Beth Niemczura
Compliance consultant for senior and vulnerable adults under MassMutual's Financial Crimes and Fraud Prevention unit.
Posted on Nov 25, 2020

This holiday season may be a perfect storm for financial scammers looking to take advantage of seniors. While most people look forward to the holiday season, the holidays can sometimes be lonely and leave some people feeling vulnerable, especially the older generation. Add in a pandemic and social isolation, plus the growing reliance on complex and sometimes confusing technology, and the vulnerability may increase.

Here are some of the common scams that seniors are susceptible to, including ones that we’ve seen with MassMutual clients, that may be more prevalent during the holiday season:

  • Romance scams. The internet is a valid place to meet people; it’s also a place that can be dangerous when others don’t have good intentions. It’s easy to connect with someone who is telling you things you want to hear, especially at a time when sentiments and emotions are running high. However, it’s important that seniors are aware that their potential online romantic connection may be someone looking to take advantage of them financially. (Related: How to protect against romance scams)
  • Familial or person-in-need scams. In the time of COVID-19, some people may have more limited resources than in years past. As a result, strangers, some acquaintances, or even family members may reach out to a senior with a sad story in order to obtain money. Often, it may be about “gifts for the children.” Although our seniors may want to help, the situation may not warrant it. It could be simply a case of a loved one overstating a holiday need or an out-and-out scam. It’s wise to be vigilant for both.
  • Charity scams. The holiday season is a special time to donate to charities. However, scammers take advantage of less tech-savvy individuals and set up fake charity websites. It’s easy for a scammer to generate a website, using a familiar logo and marketing verbiage, to trick people into donating. Being alert for these scams can be the difference between donating to a legitimate charity and a fake.
  • Shopping Scams. Like charity scams, scammers can set up lookalike websites for stores in hopes of tricking holiday shoppers into thinking they are doing business with a legitimate retailer. It’s dangerous not to check if a store or small business is legitimate before giving any personal or financial information.
  • Delivery Scams. Because of the increase of online shopping this season, delivery scams are becoming more prevalent. These are not the typical porch-pirate thefts, but more advanced scams. Calls, texts, or emails about deliveries of gifts not purchased — asking for a senior’s details in order to deliver — can be an attempt to steal credit card numbers or personal information.

Some of these scams are not new; they are the same ones we’ve always known about. They just may be amplified during the holidays.

So, what are some steps that can be taken to protect our seniors’ safety?

  • Keep communication lines open. We all have our own things going on and must adapt to a very different holiday season this year. But it only takes a little effort, so make calls or FaceTime those relatives or senior acquaintances that you’d normally see in person. Loneliness will be a bigger factor this year than in the past. Perhaps discuss any calls or solicitations you may have recently gotten that are scams, just to make your older relatives and friends aware such dangers exist. (Related: Talking money with an aging parent)
  • Website safety. Explain how important it is to pay attention to website details no matter what transaction is occurring. Looking for valid URLs, lock symbols, and complete web addresses — websites ending in .com and not .cm, for example — are some ways to circumvent these scams.
  • Don’t send information. The Federal Communications Commission advises to never provide your financial or personal information via email, by text messages, or over the phone. As stated above, information should only be sent via secure websites. Make sure your loved ones remember this.

People sometimes wonder why others fall victim to scams and claim they never would fall victim themselves. However, this may not be true. Think of the season and the unconventional, unsettling circumstances we currently live in. It results in people not always making the most rational decisions.

Maybe your loved one or senior friend wants someone to connect with because they are lonely. Maybe they want to buy a grandchild a toy and do not know how to identify safe websites to enter credit card information. That’s where you can make a difference.

These are our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, and mentors who are searching for a way to connect in this world that is in remote mode and that relies on technology more than ever. Unfortunately, while we are trying to help our seniors connect with others via technology, we are also opening them up to more vulnerabilities. That’s why living mutual means helping our seniors understand how to protect themselves from financial scams.

Discover more from MassMutual …

Real cases of senior financial exploitation

Protecting your loved ones from elder financial abuse

Seniors and mental fitness: What’s normal, what’s alarming


The information provided is not written or intended as specific tax or legal advice. MassMutual, its employees and representatives are not authorized to give tax or legal advice. You are encouraged to seek advice from your own tax or legal counsel. Opinions expressed by those interviewed are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company.