‘Tis the season — for scams. What older Americans need to watch for this month.

Scammers are lurking around every corner this holiday season — on the phone, online, in your emails and even in your mailbox. 

The holiday season comes with advertisements for thrilling sales, calls from relatives and requests for donations to people in need. But they’re not all legitimate, and the fraud can have lasting and destructive consequences.

Scams are also becoming more advanced. The Senate Special Committee on Aging recently held a hearing on “modern scams” that use artificial intelligence, such as those that impersonate family members calling about made-up emergencies.

From the archives (June 2023): Artificial intelligence is coming for seniors: AI’s dark side targets older adults in scams

People 60 years and older lost $3.1 billion to fraud in 2022, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. The average loss per victim was $35,000. 

Brain chemistry is partly to blame, said Steve Weisman, the editor of, who spoke as a witness during the Senate hearing. As a person ages, the part of the brain that manages skepticism “is less viable” — and with a lifetime of accumulated assets, this makes older adults more vulnerable to scams, he said. Scamicide offers visitors a “Scam of the Day” to raise awareness.

Here are some of the scams older Americans should watch out for, according to Weisman: 


Scammers use a technique called “spoofing,” which changes the details of incoming calls and emails. With this technology, an incoming call may look like it’s coming from a reputable institution, such as the Social Security Administration or an investment firm, but it’s really someone else trying to acquire personal information. Emails might look like they’re coming from well-established retailers, but try to persuade the recipient to click a malicious link.

Be wary of any unexpected calls, and understand that certain organizations — such as the Social Security Administration — will not engage in such correspondence. One option is to tell the person you’ll call the organization back at a legitimate number, such as the one found on the agency’s or company’s website.

With emails, check the email address sending the note and cross-examine it with the company’s information. Don’t click on any links unless they can be proven legitimate first.  

Fake emergency calls 

An unexpected call from a loved one in distress can be emotional and stressful — and prompt immediate action. Fraudsters are using artificial intelligence to replicate relatives’ voices and make these calls sound realistic, and are able to do so by recording just a few seconds of their voices. 

Cybersecurity experts suggest creating a family “safe word” that isn’t shared online, only exchanged in person, in order to verify a caller’s identity in the event of an emergency call. “If they don’t give it, you know that the thing is a scam,” Weisman said. 

The Federal Trade Commission also issued a consumer alert earlier this year warning about voice cloning. 

Also see: That may not be your daughter crying on the phone. Here’s what to know about AI-powered scams. 

Charity scams

The end of the year is often a time of giving, and scammers can use that against donors. Recipients may get phone calls, emails, text messages or even snail mail about charities — such as organizations for firefighters or people affected by diseases — that turn out to be illegitimate.

Before donating to any charity, confirm its legitimacy. will alert donors to any scams, as well as provide more information about an organization, such as how much it spends on fees, administration and charitable purposes, Weisman said. Charities are exempt from the federal do-not-call list’s rules, Weisman said. 

Consumer scams  

December is also a time for shopping, which means consumers should be on the defensive about scams. Weisman suggests never using a debit card over a credit card, since the latter has more consumer protections and the former is directly linked to bank accounts. 

When shopping online, confirm sites are legitimate before making a transaction — and remember that if a price seems too good to be true, it just might be. Check that sites aren’t counterfeit versions mimicking those of major retailers, such as Target

or Walmart
by looking at their URLs in the address bar and making sure there’s a padlock next to them. Clicking the padlock will open a drop-down menu that shows whether the site has a validity certificate and other site settings, according to the antivirus company McAfee.

The first result from a search engine doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the correct one, Weisman said: “It’s good to confirm.”

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