A scammer will place a call to a senior citizen and when the mark picks up, the fraudster will say something like: "Hi, Grandma. Do you know who this is?" When the unsuspecting grandparent guesses the name of a grandchild the scammer most sounds like, the scammer has established a fake identity. Once they establish a relationship, they ask for money.
"They'll know just enough information that they get from Facebook and other social media websites, such as where the grandkids live, where they are vacationing or other personal details, and use this information to get (the senior) to open up," Burke says. "If the scammer is calling from a cellphone with bad reception or a Bluetooth, it's not always easy to decipher and know it's not the relative."
Prescription and anti-aging drug scams
Because of the rising costs of some prescription drugs, senior citizens are going online to look for cheaper drugs. But these drugs can be counterfeit, making this scam extremely dangerous.
Or, in another iteration of the prescription drug scam, the fraudsters just take the money without delivering the drugs. These are referred to by Bonnie Russell, founder of the Stop Elder Financial Abuse website, as faceless online pharmacies.
This scam is growing in popularity. Since 2000, the Food and Drug Administration has investigated an average of 20 such cases per year, up from 5 per year in the 1990s, according to the National Council on Aging.
"The same goes with some anti-aging products," Burke adds.
Whether it's fake Botox, like the scam in Arizona that made its distributors $1.5 million in about a year, or bogus homeopathic remedies, seniors are being targeted by fraudsters offering anti-aging products.
If it's too good to be true, it is," Burke says.
Burke advises seniors who are faced with dubious transactions or products to contact their local police department. Many police departments have a fraud unit. If not, they likely will refer them to the state police or FBI.
The obituary scam
In the obituary scam, con artists read obituaries from the local paper and call the deceased relative's family and demand money for a supposed outstanding debt that the deceased left behind.
Another version of this scam is when fraudsters read the obituaries to pinpoint recent widows as targets. After identifying their next victim, a messenger arrives at the home of the recent widow with a cash-on-delivery package, claiming the recently deceased spouse ordered something and then demands immediate payment. After taking the money, the messengers are long gone before the victim realizes the box contains old magazines or newspapers that are worthless.
Scammers in this case are identifying targets and preying on them during a vulnerable state.
"Sometimes when we are in a state of grief, we act quickly under all the emotions we are experiencing, and do not think through the situation," says Amy Nofziger, regional director with the AARP Foundation which works with the AARP Fraud Watch Network.
Keep in mind that legitimate companies do not operate by intimidating or threatening you.
If someone calls unsolicited, stating they are from the bank and that there is a problem with the account, hang up, Nofziger says. Then call the bank using the telephone number from a bank statement to find out if there is really an issue with the account.
"Do not give any personal or financial information over the phone to anyone requesting information about the deceased," says Nofziger.
To prevent this kind of scam, pay attention to the information you put in the obituary -- everything you publish will be public.
"Scammers will stop at nothing to steal from you, and they will use your vulnerability to their advantage," Nofziger says.
Even some shady funeral homes have been caught doing dishonest business. They will have seniors buy the most expensive casket, even if they are performing a cremation, Burke says.
They will say things like, "You need this casket because you want to be able to remember them this way," Burke says.
When going to a funeral home, it's best to have all the questions you want answered written down ahead of time, he says. Seniors should give themselves time to do their research. Go with a family member or a close friend.
Cemetery plot scams
Another tactic of disreputable funeral homes is to capitalize on family members' unfamiliarity with the considerable cost of funeral services to add unnecessary charges to the bill.
These scams can affect anyone, but seniors tend to be targeted more often, Burke says.
Tech support scams
Tech support scams typically begin with a call from a blocked or international number. Often targeting trusting seniors, the caller claims to be a technician certified by Microsoft or another major brand.
Cybercriminals often use the names of well-known companies like Microsoft to convince people their services are legitimate, says a spokesperson for Microsoft.
Using scare tactics, the scammer urgently claims that he has detected a virus or malware on the senior's computer. The caller may even ask to take over the personal computer remotely to install software that allows him to assist. And to clean the PC and fix the problem, the scammer inevitably asks for payment of several hundred dollars via credit card or online payment. Resist, and the scammer may get angry and threaten to destroy the computer, according to a Microsoft blog post about the scam.
Of course, there's no real problem with the PC. And nothing gets fixed.
Anyone can fall victim to this type of scam – not only seniors. Yet seniors have been some of the most vulnerable, Microsoft says in a blog post.