Elder scams – how to protect yourself

December 12, 2023

People who are 65 and older are by far the most common targets of scammers. While protecting yourself or your loved ones can sound intimidating, there are concrete steps you can take.  

Scam methods

The vast majority of scams are perpetrated over the phone, by text or by email. Rather than hacking into your computer like a scene from The Matrix, scammers aim to manipulate you into giving them your login details along with your personal or banking information.  

This type of manipulation is called phishing, a form of social engineering.  

“Attacks such as phishing, smishing (SMS or text phishing), and various phone scams are still very successful,” says Tony Rogerson, information security officer at Manitoba Blue Cross. “These can lead to all sorts of nefarious activity such as loss of personal information, compromised usernames or passwords, financial loss, and stolen social insurance numbers which can then be used to access your online accounts, steal your money or to commit identity theft.”

Why are elders targeted?

Scammers seek any opportunity to gain personal information or money – and that includes targeting people of all ages and backgrounds. But elders are usually preferred targets.

There are four main factors that leave elders more vulnerable to scams, according to the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime (CRCVC).


Elders are seen as an ideal scam target because they are retired, less mobile, and available for calls,” says the CRCVC.


Elders tend to be isolated from their family, friends, and communities, making them more receptive to those friendly cold callers,” says the CRCVC.


“Chronic health issues mean that many older adults have difficulty maintaining their property,” the CRCVC says. “As some elders may rely on outside sources for help, scammers may take advantage of this situation.”


Scammers see elders as a supply of wealth,” the CRCVC says. “Elders who manage their life savings, own their homes and property, and have other assets are at higher risk to be scammed.”

Protecting yourself

“It’s in many people’s nature to implicitly trust, and attackers know this and try to exploit this, so we really need a shift in mindset,” Rogerson says. “Assume something unknown is bad until you can verify that it’s not, and if you can’t verify that it’s not, do not open, connect or access.”

In 2022 alone, elders across Canada lost $9.2 million to the “emergency” scam, according to the RCMP. In this scam, elders receive a call from someone claiming to be a grandchild or other relative – or even law enforcement. The scammer will claim that the victim’s loved one is in trouble and needs money immediately.

“Attackers are very good at exploiting the cause of the day, so always have your guard up if any of these calls or messages make their way to you – especially if they are unsolicited,” Rogerson says.

A tell-tale sign that you’re being targeted is a sense of urgency. Regardless of whether you’re being targeted over the phone, via text/email or in person, the scammer will have you believe that you must act immediately to avoid negative consequences.

In general, it’s good practice to keep your passwords and login information to yourself – no matter how urgently a caller or contact claims it’s required.

It's also important to practice good cyber hygiene, Rogerson says. He recommends:  

  • Using strong and unique passwords for all of your online services
  • Using a password manager to keep track of passwords  
  • Using multi-factor authentication (where logging into a service will send you a text or call to verify that it was actually you who logged in)  
  • Staying informed of emerging threats and scams that attackers are using through sites such as the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre
  • Keeping devices up to date

Even if you’re not being asked for your login details, be careful of what information you share online. People have fallen victim to scams after innocently sharing personal information – like the street they grew up on, or the name of their first pet – which happen to be common answers to password security questions.

What to do if you’ve been scammed

If you think you’ve been scammed, it’s important to act quickly.  

“In the short term, immediately change passwords for any accounts you think might have been affected,” says Rogerson. “If you believe that scammers have access to your bank account or credit cards, immediately reach out to your financial institutions to report the issue. You should also report it to law enforcement. You can also do things like check for any suspicious changes to your accounts, check your social media pages for any unusual activity, and monitor your credit report for a period of time.”

To report fraud to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, visit their website.

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