Beware of Scams Targeting Older People During the Holidays

by Jenefer Duane, Sr. Program Analyst, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Office for Older Americans

The CFPB’s Office for Older Americans is working to provide older consumers and their families with the tools and information they need to protect themselves from frauds and scams.

Scams that target older people occur every day, but you can count on scammers to ramp up their efforts to prey on people’s generosity during the holiday season. These grinches, armed with their dirty tricks, may even weave the holidays into elaborate stories to pull at your heartstrings as they slip their sticky fingers into your wallet. 

During the holidays, the common scam known as the imposter or “grandparent scam” might be decorated with a special plea, a story of a relative in trouble who desperately needs money to fix a car or get out of jail - and home for the holidays.

The ruse known as the IRS scam may take on a vicious new twist with a grinch on the phone threatening an elder with being arrested and spending the holidays in jail for unpaid taxes or a fake debt. And then there is the predictable increase in false or imposter charities, which sound identical to the real ones. The pitch is wrapped in sympathy inducing requests for year-end, tax-deductible holiday donations.  These grinches stand ready to take your credit card or check routing information and charge you for bogus Nutcracker ballet tickets, or a holiday charity fundraising event.

These scammers may even scour the internet and social media sites looking for a special connection to your life, such as a family member or community connection, to get you to trust them so you’ll be willing to part with your hard-earned money. Some will go to great lengths to sound like they know you, or worse, your elderly parents.

Here are a few tips:

  • Before offering your help to someone who claims to be a grandchild (or other relative/friend), be sure to telephone your family to verify that the emergency or urgent request is genuine.

  •       ◦Beware of a caller who insists on secrecy. Never allow anyone to discourage you from seeking information, verification, support and counsel from family members, friends or trusted advisers prior to making any financial transaction.
  • Take the following precautions to make sure your charitable donations benefit the people and organizations you want to help. If a caller claims to be from an established organization such as a hospital, charity, or law enforcement agency, look up the number of the organization independently and verify the claim before sending money.  

  •       ◦Ask for detailed information about the charity, including name, address, and telephone number.
          ◦ Then, call the charity directly. Ask if the organization is aware of the solicitation and has authorized the use of its name. The organization’s development staff should be able to help you. 
  • If you have received a letter from the IRS stating that you owe taxes, call the IRS directly at 1-800-829-1040 for information.

  •       ◦The IRS will neither call to demand immediate payment, nor call without first mailing a bill. And, the IRS does not require you to use a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card nor will they threaten you with arrest for not paying.


    Share this information with your friends, parents and others in your community. For more information on identifying and preventing frauds and scams, check out Money Smart for Older Adults: Prevent Elder Financial Exploitation guide for consumers. In addition, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office for Older Americans has produced materials that include Managing Someone Else’s Money Guides for financial caregivers. To find these materials and to learn more, go to But most important, have a safe and happy holiday season!

    The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is a 21st century agency that helps consumer finance markets work by making rules more effective, by consistently and fairly enforcing those rules, and by empowering consumers to take more control over their economic lives.The CFPB’s Office for Older Americans is the only office in the federal government specifically dedicated to the financial health of older consumers.  Its mission is to help consumers 62 years or older (1) prevent unfair, deceptive and abusive practices, (2) build long-term savings as they plan for retirement and beyond, and (3) help older consumers make sound financial decisions as they navigate the marketplace.

    The CFPB accepts consumer complaints about credit cards and prepaid cards, credit reporting, debt collection, money transfers and virtual currency, mortgages, bank accounts and services, car loans and leases, payday loans, student loans, other consumer loans, and other financial services. Complaints can be submitted online at or toll-free by phone at (855) 411-2372.