Combat Robocalls and Scams Targeting Seniors

How can you combat the relentless tide of robocalls and scams targeting seniors? Just follow these tips and tricks to stay safe.

The other night, I got a strange phone call. The number had my same area code, and a lot of other digits that were similar to my phone number.

“Hello,” said the voice on the other end. “This is Kate, I’m calling about a significant problem with your health insurance.”

Something didn’t seem right.

“Sorry,” I said, “This seems like a robocall.” I wasn’t sure why I was talking to a robot. Maybe I was too polite.

There was a pause on the other end of the line. Then Kate finally answered. “…No,” she said in a slightly monotone voice. “Do you want to solve the significant problem?”

At this point, I hung up. I couldn’t believe I’d almost been fooled. I should have known better. But robocalls are designed to scare you into answering – into interacting in any way. These scams can be especially dangerous for seniors, who usually haven’t had as much experience dealing with bots.

Robocalls are typically scams targeting seniors. That’s because seniors usually have landlines (which are more susceptible to robocalls), they answer unknown numbers more often (not having grown up with caller ID) and they have less experience with the world of internet scams.

With just a little bit of background knowledge, you can be savvier about how to avoid robocalls and other scams targeting seniors.

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Why Robocalls?

The internet has made scammers and con artists a lot sneakier than they used to be. It’s also made it a lot easier to run thousands of automatically-dialed robocalls at once. Don’t have your number in the phone book? It doesn’t matter – that’s not what these phone farms are relying on. They can scrape phone numbers from almost anywhere, across the internet and beyond.

Think you’re getting more robocalls than you used to? That’s because you are. According to the Federal Communications Commission, U.S. consumers received nearly 4 billion robocalls per month in 2020.

Scammers want to lure you into revealing private information. They do this by scaring you into going along with their schemes. Robocalls prey on common anxieties and desires among Americans, like health insurance, COVID-19, student loans, Social Security, tax errors, interest rate scams and get-rich-quick schemes. Robocalls are one of the main ways that telemarketing scammers prey on their victims. They are depending on you being naïve and unaware of their tricks.

scams targeting seniors

How Do I Avoid Scams Targeting Seniors?

Caller ID can be helpful when you’re trying to avoid phone scams targeting seniors. Be wary of unknown numbers. Not every unfamiliar number is dangerous, but there are some red flags you should be looking out for. Exercise caution when the number is unfamiliar to you or is simply marked “unknown.”

Many phone scams rely on “spoofing,” which means that the number you see on your Caller ID might not be the actual number that is calling you. Spoofed numbers will usually look very similar to your own phone number – down to minute differences like one or two different digits. Spoofed numbers are trying to trick you by throwing you off with a number that is familiar to you. They’re hoping you’ll answer – at least out of curiosity, if nothing else.

Not all robocalls are bad, however. Some robocalls could be your pharmacy notifying you of a new prescription, or an automatic system notifying you of an upcoming appointment at the dentist. If you have any doctors, pharmacies or other services that use automated calls, save their numbers in your phone so that you know they’re safe to answer.

It’s not the end of the world if you accidentally answer a robocall – but it does mean you’ll most likely get more of them. Whenever you answer a spam call, you are filed as an “active phone number,” which means that the scammers know there’s someone who will pick up at the other end of the line. Answering robocalls only begets more robocalls.

What if I Answer?

Answering a call doesn’t automatically mean you’ve fallen victim to the scam. When you pick up the phone, just be vigilant.

Phone bots don’t sound the same as they used to. Most of them sound almost like real people. Sometimes they’re prerecorded tracks from actors, making it even more difficult to tell.

The best way to tell if someone is really a robot is to be familiar with what modern phone bots sound like. Phone bots are often incapable of answering questions that their programmer hasn’t anticipated. That’s why, when I said “This seems like a robocall,” Robot Kate said “No.” I wasn’t technically asking a question, and “No” didn’t technically answer. Kate was almost there, but she didn’t quite make sense.

Phone bots will often take a couple more seconds than the average person to reply to what you’re saying. This is because it has to understand what you have said, then choose from a script what the best answer would be. They usually can’t keep up with the pace of a normal conversation.

Do not give out any personal information to a stranger who has called you unexpectedly over the phone. You don’t know what they’re planning on doing with it. This includes your name, birthdate, passwords and other sensitive information.

Avoid saying the word “Yes.” Scammers have been known to record your “yes” response and use it as proof that you agreed to something that you didn’t, like a credit card charge. Do not press any buttons that the bot might ask you to press (like to speak to a human being, for example). It’s a trick.

If you feel that a call is suspicious in any way, go with your gut. The best thing you can do to combat scams targeting seniors is to hang up.

Keep a close eye on your personal information with identity theft monitoring and protection from ProtectMyID.® The Essential plan is free for AAA members. Enroll now.

Learn more about common scams and how to protect yourself. You can report phone scams to the Federal Trade Commission, robocalls and unwanted telemarketing to the Do Not Call Registry and Caller ID spoofing to the Federal Communications Commission.  

Have you ever gotten a suspicious robocall? What did you do? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!


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72 Thoughts on “Combat Robocalls and Scams Targeting Seniors

  1. I NEVER answer any call that is not from someone in my call list. They can leave a message if they want. I sometimes don’t even answer when I do know who’s calling. If they want to talk to me about something important they will certainly leave a message. A few people have asked me if I scan my calls and I say YES- I DO. There is no shame in being careful or busy.

    1. Using voice mail is the best way to screen your calls. My voicemail says if you’re trying to sell me something I’m not buying it otherwise leave me a message and I’ll get back to you soon as I can. Any legitimate person would leave a message and I’d be able to tell whether I knew them or wanted to know them. Most calls just hang up as soon as my voicemail says I’m not buying anything. I get more Robo calls then I get real calls but every once in a while a plumber or an electrician calls me back from their cell phone and at least I catch it in my voicemail.I got a call from what was supposed to be my health plan but she needed me to confirm my identity in order to give me some important Plan information. Caller ID said it was my health plan but I don’t know if it was or it wasn’t. I decided it wasn’t worth the risk as I had all the information I needed and she refused to tell me even theoretically what it was about.

    2. Received a call saying that the utilities, gas & electric co. We’re giving a rebate because of Covid . To receive your check press 1. Needless to say I hung up. Too good to be true!






  2. If the number is not recognized, then I let the answering machine get it. That way it gives me time to think about the message and whether or not I want to respond to it.

      1. I have Spectrum and nomorerobo is free. I just signed up, and I have almost no more robo. If I do it rings once.

        1. I have Spectrum and I get 4 or 5 spoofed caller ID and robo calls A DAY. NoMoRoBo isn’t as good as they make it out to be.

  3. Consumer Reports recommends a number where you can add your own phone number to a list. Once set up a robot call rings once on your phone and is diverted to well deserved oblivion by this free service. If it is not a robot call it rings through to your system. I let them fall into my voice mail and 99% the rest don’t leave messages at that point. It works. Check out Consumer Reports for the details on this service.

  4. the simplest thing to do is juts ignore these calls or do not will get thme even if on the governments “do not call” registry,so there isn’t much you can do..i get several a day on my landline and on my cell, and they all are from area codes I don’t recognize, and they all say unavailable or the like..a doctors office,a friend,a business you associate with, will all flag the callers name or id..

  5. I got a call from “Apple” on my cell phone. This scam works since Apple adds their customer service number in the contacts list on their phones. Even if you block calls that aren’t in your contacts, this gets through. Most iPhone owners aren’t aware that its in their list of names. Apple never calls – EVER.

  6. We never answer our phone and let it roll to the answering machine. If we recognize who it is we’ll pick up. We don’t have caller ID because by the time I find my cheaters to see the number it will have rolled to the answering machine anyway.

  7. I was called from the “grandchild in trouble ” scam. I knew immediately it was not my grandson because he spoke in a southern accent, we are from MA, and called me “Grandmaw”. I am known as Grammy, or “the cool Grammy” If the caller doesn’t sound right to you they will say they have a cold. Another time I called a supposed help line for my computer problem. The person said my computer had been hacked and used for kiddie porn. He wanted a lot of money to fix it. It seems the scammer has caused the problem to get one to call. I said “no, I will go to the Apple store”. He hung up, I went to apple, was told it was a scam as I suspected , they fixed it,no more problem. The website looked legitimate, a professional woman I know did pay the money and the “problem” was fixed, she needed her computer immediately so she did it, which tells me that they do fix the problem they caused after they get your money. I don’t understand why people fall fourths scams, just because we are old doesn’t mean we are stupid, naive and too trusting some people always were and age didn’t change it.
    Thank you for warning us, these warnings should be widely distributed, every day, the only way to stop them is by educating the public.

  8. Robocalls are so annoying. I agree with most of you. I do not answer any call that the number is not familiar to me. I say that if the call is important, a message will follow. My landline phone has a “block call” button to stop that call again and a talking caller ID, so I don”t have to rush to see the name. Most of those calls now are coming to my cell phone even with filters and apps to stop them. Something peculiar happened twice to me: my phone rang with my name and phone number on the caller ID. I took a picture of the screen because my daughter didn’t think it was possible.
    I wonder if that is the next scam in the making.

  9. I don’t usually answer a call from a number I do not know. However today waiting for a return call from North Well Health there was a call from North Shore LIJ which is affiliated with North Well. The female voice wanted to talk to me about my credit card, and the fact that they tried to contact me numerous times.????? What the heck is going on?? I almost feel like they are listening in on my phone conversations. Other calls are from same exchange as my cell number. Technology is great, and these people are very talented, WHY don’t they get a real job? A friend of mine answered this question. Because they make more money this way and they don’t have to pay taxes on it. How SAD. Mean while we suffer. Especially when waiting for an important medical call and your phone does not recognize the number. Could be life threatening.

    1. OMG the same thing happen to me regarding the caller ID, However when I heard the recorded voice saying they tried to contact me about my credit card I hung up. Interesting thing was I was waiting for a call from Northwell Health. That was the only reason I answered the call At all as they are affiliated

  10. It seems a wee bit irresponsible to say “Do not press any buttons that the bot might ask you to press…It’s a trick” without explaining HOW one is being tricked. What happens if one DOES press a button? What are the consequences? Please do not include warnings without explanations.

    1. Any response at all, other than hanging up will get you “enrolled” in further activity (more calls, connection with more detailed roboscams, etc.) However, as long as you are sure to give NO PERSONAL INFORMATION to the scam call, you are relatively safe. For example, if you answer a ROBOCALL and press a button, you will be flagged as a participant who will respond and thus you will receive more ROBOCALLS, but you have not put your personal information at risk. Best to not answer, if you can discern that it is most likely a scam call, or hang up after you’ve picked up with no words exchanged. Remember what you learned in KIndergarten… don’t talk to strangers! Good luck!

  11. I NEVER answer unless a friends name comes up. Everyone can leave a voicemail, which I can read a minute later and call back if necessary.

  12. My home has been receiving for over a 2 week period calls from 9pm – onwards. We had to unplug our phone at night in order to get some sleep as these calls were coming in back to back all night long. No one said anything on the other end. They wouldn’t leave messages on the voice mail as well. I’ve had in my possession for nearly a year the “CPR Call Blocker V5000” This device blocks up to 1500 calls. It blocks International Callers/Withheld/Private Callers/Unavailable/Unknown Callers/Area Codes. Best device ever. Every time a calls come in that is unnoticeable you press the “Block Now” button. Once they calls are blocked they can not come through your line. So sorry it took these unbearable calls to start before we hooked it up. Works like a charm – Dianne T.

    1. I got the same model of the CPR device several years ago. The CPR 10000 is now available. I’ve already blocked close to 600, so far. The calls don’t stop since ALL the numbers are spoofed, but they can’t use the same number twice. Good device, but only blocks what you answer.

  13. Look up Scam Baiting on YouTube. These individuals call scammers and expose tactics. One comment: NEVER log into your bank while remotely connected to anyone via computer (they have control over your computer: Team viewer, SupRemo etc.)
    Two recommended scambaiter youtubers I recommend: Jim Browning who has videos inside call centers. Kitboga who calls up call centers with various voices, a virtual computer, fake phone numbers, fake BANK! (Do not try this at home!) In family friendly manner he intends to waste their time so they cannot call others; and most find it very entertaining. Behind the humor, you will see methods used, hear scripts, see HOW they fake deposit “refund” into your account, recognize common ones. Frankly do what we would all like to do had we the knowhow! You can see how they prey on elderly especially. Highly recommend and AAA should interview Kitboga, BTW.

    Jim Browning is out of the UK but his intent is more to get information about scammers to inform authorities (and viewers) how the call centers function.

    PS tele health needs to learn to state name of company and caller name before saying, “Is [name] there? In these times more doctor offices are calling. They show often unknown. I first say “who is calling and who are they with”? They at first may get a little miffed. However, I explain after why and that is why they need to identify themselves and their business when outbound calling to clients.

  14. NO NAME = NOT ANSWERING! If someone or something leaves me a message and I deem they are ‘important’, I will add their name to their phone number for future calls. If someone calls you and it’s a real call or very important, they will leave you a voice message if you don’t answer. Never answer a call that says ‘Restricted’ or ‘Blocked’, and especially not from a state where you have no relatives. Any message that does not first identify the caller – or ask for you by name – and then threatens legal action, or something to do with Social Security, the IRS, or a credit card is usually just a scam. Ignore them.

  15. There are also scam jobs out there. DXC and Pinnacle took me through a whole fake interview before each asked me “how I would like to be paid” and for my “bank information”. Both are real companies but someone was spoofing them.

  16. I don’t pick up on unfamiliar numbers, but a couple of them left messages; one from fake Amazon saying a package was misdirected. Second, a call purporting to be from a credit card that I use, saying my card had been used in a questionable purchase. I called them back, and asked the young man to tell me the last four numbers of my card used. Of course he couldn’t – but he gave me four letters instead, that spelled a bad word, and hung up on me. The fake Amazon scare has come through on E mail and looks very authentic, but I didn’t fall for it. The bottom line is, if you do answer by mistake, do not give anyone any information; if they are genuine, they will have all they need.

  17. Recommend watching various videos on you tube be these two:
    Kitboga: he role plays characters including elderly and calls scammers. He will go through the scam so you see what happens after watching a few. It is entertaining and his goal is to waste their time so they are not calling others. It is serious also because people can learn what happens if one goes through this. Big hint: do not ever obtain prepaid cards or gift cards number and reveal over phone or otherwise!!! These cannot be retracted and scammers are reselling these for nefarious reasons. The scammers are calling outbound numbers, they do NOT know your personal info unless you provide it (don’t). Thus they cannot find you or send police (they are crooks they will not contact police they may impersonate them.) So if they ask for Google play, iTunes, etc or prepaid card, or even your card you almost 100% know it is scam. Stop right there and contact authorities as to next steps. If they require you to stay on phone while you drive to or are at store; drive to police and hand them the phone. BIG HINT: if it seems atypical situation. begun by call to you? Tell them you will call back. Hang up. Look up REAL number from your account, the Amazon application, bank, SS, etc and call this valid number and ask if they are aware of situation. If it is alleged family or friend needing help. Hang up and call the contacts for the involved individual. Try not to take calls. Many smart people fall for these so it is not stupid to do so. However people need to be proactive to help avoid these. I have learned this from watching these videos on YouTube and twitch.

  18. I totally agree with the prior comments, especially call blocker devices. A few times I did answer the call only to be advised that I was on a recorded line. My response: please let the recorded line know that my phone number is on the do not call list and you have committed a federal offense. I hung up and never got that call again.

  19. I answer robocalls with “This is Sergeant Ferguson of the Fraud Task Force. If you have a fraud or a scam to report, we can forward it to the appropriate jurisdiction. How may I help you?” I rarely get the chance to finish the entire statement before they hang up.

  20. I sometimes answer, because I have friends and family from out of town, and local doctors. Sometimes I let it go to my answering machine. When I answer and it is a phony or a persistent salesperson, I know how to block them ( on my home phone and on my cellphone)

  21. I once got a call at 11:35 PM claiming to be from the IRS – the familiar “We are going to arrest you for unpaid taxes” one. It was hilarious, for two reasons.

    First of all, the person on the phone, who had a strong South Asian accent, introduced himself as “Joe Smith”, or some such name. Yeah – no. The IRS requires anyone with whom you speak to use their REAL name; he would actually have been more believable if he had introduced himself as “Mahesh”.

    But the kicker was the time. The IRS is a government agency. Government bureaucrats are NEVER working at 11:35 PM! If he was a real IRS agent, he would have waited until the next “business day”.

    I guess he misjudged the time zone difference.

  22. What’s hard now is a lot of companies have employees who are working from home and when they call you it comes up as their personal numbers and the company name doesn’t show so you have no idea who it is. I’m dealing with a lot of social service agencies now due to an injury I have and many people are calling me from home. I don’t answer their calls and let them go to voicemail and then call them right back but sometimes I’ve missed the person I needed to talk to.
    It’s very frustrating.

  23. When I was going to the hospital for treatments I was getting a lot of spam calls from doctor’s and hospital numbers. Twice I got a call from my own land line. They’re relentless.
    If I suspect a scam call of have been duped into picking up I usually speak to the person I’m a different language, Mandarin or Hindi is enough to make them immediately hang up. My position is I’ll make them pay for getting me to pick up; when asked my name I tell them it’s Richard Head but to call me what everyone else does -Dick Head. Some get it and laugh but all will always hang up.

  24. I’ve recently moved out of state but kept my cell phone number. Now 99 percent of robocalls come from my old area code and the rest from random parts of the country. Not a single one has indicated that it’s in my current area code so I can answer those and update my contact list as I add new friends and businesses.

  25. I find this has been working. I pick up the phone and hold my finger on the mouthpiece part. I just listen for a while. If someone is there ( like a doctor or pharmacist) they’ll say Hello. If it’s a robot you’ll hear a click of them hanging up.

  26. I answer calls from callers not in my caller Id list by saying:
    “Sheriff’s Department, Fraud Division, can I help you!”
    This results in immediate hang ups by caller.

  27. I deal with this problem this way. My greeting message goes like this:
    “This phone will not be answered unless you identify yourself and who you represent.”
    I found it amazing how many just hang up and I’m a lot less aggravated.

  28. I have gotten into the habit of picking up the phone then hang up right away, I don’t say anything. However, after reading this article, this happen has just ended. Thank you for this information.

  29. I am always getting robo calls and unsolicited calls. The funniest one was via CallerID. I get a lot of calls with the same area code and the first three digits of my number–appearing as though a person from the area is calling. It even has their name. One day, my own phone number showed up as the caller ID, not once, but twice in the same day. The call went straight to voice mail both times. No messages were left.

  30. I sometimes answer and tell them in a veerrry sllowww vvoice that I’m so happy they called. I tell them I’m old and lonely but have no money and can’t buy anything. Will they just talk with me for a while? Can’t tell you how fast they hang up. Except for one, who passed me on to a colleague he despised.

  31. There’s been -some- good news. As of June 30 (2021), major phone providers were required to have caller-authentication technology in place that ensures that a call isn’t being illegally spoofed. Whether it works as designed, it’s too early to say.

  32. When I get a call like that I just say this sound very good I need to get a pencil and paper. I then put the phone down a go about my business, 10 or 15 minutes later I pick up the receiver surprise no one is there. At least I wasted so of their time also.

  33. If I do not recognize the number calling me, I simply do not answer the phone. If it’s a legitimate phone call with a new or unknown (to me) number, they will leave a message and I’ll return the call. I average about five or six unknown, and unanswered, calls per day.

  34. Remember, you cannot win a contest you never entered.
    Generally these scammers don’t leave a message. Sometimes they hang up right before they think the answering machine will kick in.
    When they call you about a credit card, they never say which credit card.
    Why would you buy something, especially something expensive from someone who calls you out of the blue?

  35. my cell phone does not ring if the number is not in my contact list it just shows up on my screen. if it is in my list it rings normally. i still get emails like that but you can see what calls you want to call back.

  36. I will answer the phone
    “Sheriff’s Department Consumer Fraud Division.”
    Usually there will be hang up by the caller.

  37. I’m a 72 years old senior. 4 months ago on my cell phone, I received a phishing call which appeared on caller ID as a call from my bank. The name and number were authentic to that bank’s fraud department. When I answered, the young female voice told me that my debit card was used in Florida. Since I live in another state, they were calling to confirm a purchase of $235. The call seemed so authentic that I was hooked like a fish on their line as she told me she would fix the issue and restore my money to my account. She talked very fast and gave me no extra time to think about my answers to her questions about my account details and data including my user ID and password. As she messaged me some codes to give back to her, she told me to keep my eyes on the codes and don’t read anything else. Even though I’m smart enough to know the bank would never ask for that, I surrendered all. The codes were from Zelle as she sent herself 2 maximum allowed amounts to a fictitiously named account from my bank account. At that point I’d finally become suspicious but she quickly rushed me to end the call and told me she’d call back the next day which she did. Of course I didn’t answer and blocked the number. I had immediately gone to my online banking and verified that I’d been scammed. Immediately notified my bank. Had to close all of my accounts and took months to rebuild my personal automatic banking business strategies, and still to this day getting the negative lashback of rejected payments, late fees, etc. I already had problems with symptoms of anxiety further impacted by COVID-19 and this nearly drove me over the edge. There is some normalcy restored to my life and this has taught me a valuable lesson in proceeding with caution with phone calls.

  38. While I was reading the various responses concerning scam experiences, I had a call that said it was from ‘the fire department’, repeated twice, and then hung up. This is a new one.

  39. Why not look on your phone and you will see a button that reads “Call Block.” What a gem. When the area codes are from all over the world, I don’t bother but hit the “Call Block” and done, it’s sent to a listing. Easy peasy. I have actually called them back but their number can’t be dialed. I’m down to almost none a day.

  40. Unknown # called & left a message. The first part was garbled then went on to say it was the IRS and that I was facing federal charges if I didn’t call back to clear it up. Knowing it was phone I called back anyway. The girl said “I have you living at ??? In Pennsylvania.” I said I never lived in Pennsylvania. She wanted my address & I promptly said “I’m not giving you my address!” She very as a matter of fact “Them I can’t help you with your problem & now you face charges.” I said “Good. I’ll see you in court!” & I hung up. I immediately went online to report this to the IRS complete with the phone number.

  41. I always receive calls from car insurance companies telling me that my car guarantee had expire my answer to them is always “I don’t own a car. I drive a donkey” click they hang up

  42. When i receive a robo call I ask who they work for, the address of the company they work for and a phone # I can verify and I will call them back. The next thing I usually hear is a click!

  43. Over half of the phones in my house verbally announce the caller ID as well as display the ID on the phone screen. I’ve placed enough phones around the house so that I am usually within earshot of any incoming calls. If the robot voice announcing the calls has trouble pronouncing the ID name I can check the phone screen to see what the announcing voice is trying to say. In any case, if I do not recognize either the verbal announcement or the phone screen Id then I will not pick up the call. Anyone who really wants to reach me knows to leave a message on my answering machine. Most of the robo calls that I get are spoofing numbers nomorobo cannot catch. Nomorobo works only from phone numbers of known robocallers in its database. Spoofing numbers are harvested and used daily by robocallers, avoiding database action. Having the phone ring five or six time a day with robocalls, while mildly bothersome is minor compared to the aggravation of actually, unknowingly, picking up the phone and engaging the robocaller. Most all of these operations would have my number as ‘inactive’

  44. My Dr. , who was on vacation, called me to tell me that the test results were perfect. However, he called from his private (blocked) number, I picked up and hung up – ooooops. Normally I just let it go to VM but I was standing there when it rang.
    When the phone range immediately after I realized it was legit and very important.

  45. The mist fun I had was when they said they were call Ming to arrest me on an out standing warrant. I told them I’ll be waiting on my front porch, I needed a vacation, no one came and I do not know any one who has a warrant for their arrest getting a courtesy phone call. LoL

  46. The robo callers are coming up with better schemes to get you to answer. I get calls that show up as local numbers with names, sometimes legit names, on my caller ID. Once I got a call from myself! So if an actual friend is calling we let the machine pickup and we call out and identify ourselves, if I’m in earshot I’ll pick up or they will leave a message. I’ve told service people and my doctors office, if they are going to call me to identify themselves right away when the machine picks up , if I hear them I’ll pick up or they just leave a message.

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