Help ‘Slam the Scam’ for seniors and their families


The Social Security Administration has designated March 7 as a day of awareness for online crime, particularly for older Americans. “Slam the Scam Day” is an effort to alert seniors and their families to the wide array of frauds, schemes, and swindlers out there. The day is part of National Consumer Protection Week, March 3-9.

Seniors and older people are particularly vulnerable to a wide variety of scams. Online, seniors may be targeted for schemes ranging from romance, investments, purchases, ransom, fake social security, and government agency notices or threats. Or the scam may be phishing, the mass release of unsolicited emails or other messages meant to lure individuals to reveal personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers.

SafeOC, Orange County’s award-winning public safety website, is constantly updated on the variety of online frauds and scams all should be aware of. It also shares more specific information on how the elderly can remain informed and protect themselves.

According to SafeOC, “Being aware of frauds and scams is increasingly crucial in our digital society.… To stay vigilant, members of the public should remain informed regarding the most common types of scams and frauds. Below are helpful tips to keep you and your family’s information safe.”

According to the FBI’s most recent Internet Elder Fraud Report, over $3.1 billion was reported lost to scammers in 2022, representing an 84 percent increase in reported losses from 2021. That is only a fraction of actual losses. A 2016 survey by Stanford and the FINRA Investor Education Foundation found “only 14 percent of victims reported incidents to local law enforcement or a federal or state reporting agency.”

The elderly are targeted for a number of reasons. Many are not as savvy about their online vulnerabilities. They may also be lonely or isolated, making them easier to threaten or bully and less likely to reach out for help or know where to go if victimized. And, possibly most important, they often have deep pockets from a lifetime spent earning and saving money, or they might be desperate to pad their nest eggs for their golden years. Criminals know how to “follow the money.”

Kristina Rose is the Director of the Department of Justice’s Office for the Victims of Crime and oversees the National Elder Fraud Hotline, which was opened in 2020 with federal funding.

She told Behind the Badge in 2023 that one reason seniors are sought is, “They have savings accounts and good credit scores. That makes them more vulnerable.”

Recognizing some of the particular threats facing senior citizens, the Social Security Administration has released information on the scams targeting the elderly.

Among the red flags, Social Security says it will never:

  • Threaten arrest or legal action because you don’t agree to pay money immediately.
  • Suspend your Social Security number.
  • Ask you to pay with gift cards, debit cards, wire transfers, cryptocurrency, or cash.
  • Threaten to seize your bank account or demand secrecy.
  • Direct message you on social media.

Some of these may seem obvious but may seem less so in the heat of the moment. Many scammers do this full-time and are very adept at being manipulative. As a rule of thumb, be wary when dealing with anyone online.

You may not be able to completely shield yourself from scammers, but you can protect yourself through some easy measures.

  • Delete solicitations from businesses you didn’t expect to hear from, especially via email.
  • Don’t give out personal information or account numbers to anyone or any vendor you don’t know.
  • Anyone demanding payment immediately is likely a bad actor. You can request that bills be sent via the post office. If someone claims to be with law enforcement, make them prove it, then hang up and check up on them through your local police department.
  • Few get to old age without developing measures of “mother wit.” Use it.

Social Security also urges family and friends of seniors to assist by “educating them about government imposter scams” and to “let them know they shouldn’t be embarrassed to report if they shared personal information or suffered a financial loss. It is important to report the scam as quickly as possible.”

There are a number regional, state and national help and hotlines. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), is the largest for victims of all ages. Reports can also be submitted to the Social Security Scam Reporting site. The DOJ National Elder Fraud Hotline and AARP hotline are among resources tailored to the elderly. All will provide information and help get the ball rolling.

About SafeOC: To learn more about general safety, SafeOC is an omnibus source of information. The site is part of “If You See Something Say Something,” the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) national anti-terrorism public awareness initiative. The site has also expanded to include cybersecurity information to protect users and consumers on the internet.

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