Protecting our Elders From Scams

10/01/2016 3 By J. L. James

There are some very unscrupulous and callous people out there, and they prey on the elderly.  Empty nesters and midlife boomers are usually in the aptly named “sandwich generation”  between our college aged children and caring for aged parents. How can we protect our elders from scams?

I want this post to make people aware of what is going on in the world of scams today. I want you to understand how truly vulnerable our elders are to this type of  unethical behaviour.  I know my parents generation come from a pre digital world.  We encourage our elders to go online to communicate with us and the grandchildren, to share photos and events and help them keep in touch with their old friends.  We must also prepare them for the risks involved.

Becoming caregivers for our elders starts slowly.  Taking parents to medical appointments, and checking on their well being from time to time, as we know our parents want to maintain their independence. That being said, there are some scams out there that prey on the elderly.

Fellow blogger Gilly, recently wrote about e-mail scams.  Would you believe that a few weeks later, an elder I know would be the victim of the “grandparent scam”.

Grandparent Scam

Someone calls the victim and says “Hello Grandma/pa!  Do you know who this is?   So the grandparent gives the name of the most likely grandchild to call.  From here the scammer proceeds to  present a scenario of an accident, being stranded or in legal trouble. The story will be whatever is necessary to gain the grandparents trust and encourage the grandparent to send a large sum of money via Western Union to help the grandchild get out of trouble.

The key ingredient to this scam is secrecy.  This usually lasts until the grandparent tries to confirm that everything is okay with the unsuspecting grandchild. The  scam takes advantage of someone  wanting to help their beloved grandchild.

Think it couldn’t happen to someone you know?

We would all like to think that our elders would not be caught in such an obvious scam, but it continues because it has a high success rate.

Another scam that continues to be popular is the 419 Scam.

419 Scams

I am sure you have seen those letters or emails, more accurately those pleas for help.  I recently received one from a friend, who happens to be in her 70’s, who was on her way to East Africa from Canada. The letter indicated that she had somehow managed to get stuck in the Philippines and needed some funds until she could return home. 

Now I know some African airlines have a bad reputation for customer service, but how do you make an unscheduled stop in an Asian country on your way to East Africa, from North America?

That was the first clue that this letter was not really from my friend, but was one of those infamous 419 scams. Some are not so obvious, and some appeal to greed rather than our altruistic nature. Why is it called 419?  It is named after a section of the Criminal Code of Nigeria, which happens to be section  “419 Advance Fee Fraud 419 (AFF)”.  The section must be very overworked in that country, because it is definitely not keeping up with the flow.

Follow this link to one example.

Really!  There could be a whole section on the really bad, hilarious letters on the “Just For Laughs”  TV show.  Some are so funny and outrageous.  It is obvious that their authors are absolutely clueless about what it takes write a letter that will not end up in the 419 “fail” box.

Money order

Money order (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How does the Scam Work?

It seems very convoluted to me.  And I truly believe that the skills required to run this scam are transferable to run a legitimate business. There should be workshops for ex 419 offenders, maybe a 419 Anonymous, that could turn offenders around. This is how  419 works:

Excerpt from Nigerian 4.1.9 Scams Alert

419 Scams operate as follows: the target receives an unsolicited fax, email, or letter often concerning Nigeria or another African nation containing either a money laundering or other illegal proposal OR you may receive a Legal and Legitimate business proposal by normal means. Common variations on the Scam include “overinvoiced” or “double invoice” oil or other supply and service contracts where your Bad Guys want to get the overage out of Nigeria (Classic 419); crude oil and other commodity deals (a form of Goods and Services 419); a “bequest” left you in a will (Will Scam 419); “money cleaning” where your Bad Guy has a lot of currency that needs to be “chemically cleaned” before it can be used and he needs the cost of the chemicals (Black Currency 419, also called Wash-Wash) ; “spoof banks” where there is supposedly money in your name already on deposit; “paying” for a purchase with a check larger than the amount required and asking for change to be advanced (cashier’s check and money order 419); fake lottery 419; chat room and romance 419 (usually coupled with one of the other forms of 419); employment 419 (including secret shopper 419) ; and ordering items and commodities off “trading” and “auction” sites on the web and then cheating the seller. The variations of Advance Fee Fraud (419) are very creative and virtually endless, so do not consider the above as an all-inclusive list!

At some point, the victim is asked to pay up front an Advance Fee of some sort, be it an “Advance Fee”, “Transfer Tax”, “Performance Bond”, or to extend credit, grant COD privileges, send back “change” on an overage cashier’s check or money order, whatever. If the victim pays the Fee, there are often many “Complications” which require still more advance payments until the victim either quits, runs out of money, or both. If the victim extends credit on a given transaction etc. he may also pay such fees (“nerfund” etc.), and also stiffed for the Goods or Service with NO Effective Recourse.

If you have received one or been the victim, you can report it to your local police.  There is a website that gives international reporting advice information: Nigeria – The 419 Coalition Website


How to Prevent Elders Falling victim to Scams

Discuss the most common scams with you loved ones.  You can get a list online or check with the local police fraud unit for fraud alerts in the area.

This one will sound like something we did with our children when they were young, but it may save thousands of dollars.  Have a code word that only family members know and this will help to verify to elders that they are talking to the right person.

Advise them to check their account activity frequently, and to make sure it is accurate.  I know elders are proud and private people, and offers around checking money may be rejected, but at least you have highlighted things to look out for. Remember, “knowledge is strength.”

Equifax  and Transunion  checks alert you to credit and ID fraud.

Other types of Fraud include:

If you would like to share your experience with this type of fraud or have any tips for avoiding it, let us know via the comments section.


J. L. James
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J. L. James

Writer at EmptyBesters
Social Commentator, Original EmptyBester.
J. L. James
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