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Fraud and scams key terms

Elder financial exploitation

Elder financial exploitation is the illegal or improper use of an older adult’s funds, property, or assets. It is the most common form of elder abuse, but only a small fraction of incidents are reported.

The perpetrators can be strangers who gain the trust of older adults, but they can also be family members or friends. It's important to know the warning signs. Read more.

Foreclosure relief scam

Foreclosure relief and mortgage loan modification scams are schemes to take your money or your house—often by making a false promise of saving you from foreclosure. These scammers may ask for money upfront and claim to guarantee that you can get your mortgage terms changed. If you’re having trouble making mortgage payments, a HUD-approved housing counseling agency can walk you through your options for free.

Fraud alert for prevention

A fraud alert is something you can use to reduce the likelihood that you will be the victim of new account identity theft. It requires creditors who check your credit report to take steps to verify your identity before opening a new account, issuing an additional card, or increasing the credit limit on an existing account. When you place a fraud alert on your credit report at one of the nationwide credit reporting companies, the company must notify the others.

There are two main types of fraud alerts: initial fraud alerts and extended alerts. Members of the military have an additional option available to them—active duty alerts, which give service members protection while they are on active duty. Read more.

Fraud by fiduciaries

A fiduciary is someone who manages someone else’s money or property. For example, agents under a power of attorney and court-appointed guardians are fiduciaries.

When you are named a fiduciary, you are required by law to manage the person’s money and property for his or her benefit, not yours. When a fiduciary spends the money for his or her own benefit, that may be fraud.

Identity theft

Identity theft occurs when someone steals your identity to commit fraud.

Stealing your identity could mean using personal information without your permission, such as your name, Social Security number, bank account information, or credit card number. The Federal Trade Commission offers information about preventing and responding to identify theft.

Imposter scams

Imposter scammers try to convince you to send money by pretending to be someone you know or trust like a sheriff, local, state, or federal government employee, or charity organization. Remember, caller ID can be faked. You can always call the organization or government agency and ask if the person works for them before giving any money.

Mail fraud

Mail fraud letters look real but the promises are fake. A common warning sign is a letter asking you to send money or personal information now to get something valuable after you send the money or information.


In phishing, a scammer impersonates a business or a person to trick you into giving out your personal information, such as passwords, credit card numbers, or bank account information. A scammer may use fraudulent emails, texts, or websites to steal this information from you. These emails can look authentic.

Security freeze for prevention

A security freeze prevents new creditors from accessing your credit file and others from opening accounts requiring a credit check in your name, until you lift the freeze.

Because most businesses will not open credit accounts without checking your credit report, a freeze can stop identity thieves from opening new accounts in your name. Be mindful that a freeze doesn’t prevent identity thieves from taking over existing accounts. Read more.


Spoofing occurs when a caller disguises the information shown on your caller ID. This gives the caller the ability to disguise or "spoof" the name and/or number to appear as though they are calling as a certain person from a specific location.

Wire or money transfer fraud

Some scammers trick you into wiring or transferring money to steal from you. One common example of a wire transfer fraud is the “grandparent scam.” This is when a scammer posing as a grandchild or a friend of a grandchild will call and say they are in a foreign country, or in some kind of trouble, and need money wired or sent right away.