Artificial intelligence is coming for seniors: AI’s dark side targets older adults in scams

Last year, an attorney from New York lost $468,000 in a romance scam that started as a professional query on LinkedIn. The victim, a man in his 70s, answered the message from an attractive younger woman with a professional background and admirable-looking resume.

Within 75 days, he had liquidated his nest egg. 

During that time he downloaded software that made him believe he was depositing money into a California crypto bank and made a series of trades that seemingly showed profits. None of that was happening. 

The person he was talking to was in Thailand, the woman didn’t exist, the promise of a relationship was false. And the money was gone. 

“At no point did he not trust her. He was all in on this. It checked all the boxes for him,” said the attorney’s son-in-law, who had direct knowledge of the fraud and permission to share the account, but declined to be identified by name. “And this isn’t a guy who doesn’t have family around. He plays golf with friends. He reads the New York Times cover to cover every day. This is not a guy who lives in a vacuum. It’s unbelievable with all these safeguards it can still happen.”

“It’s so sophisticated. These people knew exactly what to say to separate him from his money. It can happen to anyone,” the son-in-law said.

Artificial intelligence-driven scams targeting older adults, which often take the shape of romance scams, ransom calls and fake government collections notices, could cost victims as much as $100 billion over the next 18 months, Haywood Talcove, the chief executive of LexisNexis Special Services Inc.

Talcove, whose company provides cybersecurity and investigative products to more than 4,000 law enforcement agencies, estimated that the losses due to scams will proliferate until targets become more aware of the capabilities and reach of AI. And even then, it will be difficult to combat.

“You have all of these people building this technology for good and they’re working really, really hard. And you have another group working equally hard at applying their craft on the bad side,” Talcove said.

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“They’re talking about regulation of AI. We think we can control something like AI and there’s no regulating it,” Talcove said. “Everyone just needs to step up their game. I don’t think people have caught up to the fact that this technology is powerful and dangerous.”

The top three scams currently using AI include romance scams, ransomware and fake requests from the IRS or government agency saying you owe money, Talcove said.

Using AI to create an lifelike image, along with a voice that would appeal to the target’s region of the country, fraudsters can video “date” someone, gain their trust and ask for money. The attractive video and voice is likely a man from another country, Talcove said.

For ransomware attacks, fraudsters can use a three second clip of someone’s voice found on Facebook or YouTube and replicate it and manipulate it into a conversation that sounds real, Talcove said.

“It’s very hard to tell the difference,” Talcove said.

Meanwhile, tools such as ChatGPT, a language processing tool driven by AI technology, can be used to write collections letters that purport to be from the government that lack the telltale typos and grammatical errors of past incarnations of fraudsters.

“It’s very, very hard to tell,” Talcove said. “It’s going to take a while for people to become aware of something like ChatGPT. It’s going to take a while for people to get caught up.” 

“It’s not just the elderly, but the vast majority is the elderly,” Talcove said. “They’re doing it because people are actually providing them with cash. It’s working.”

“Don’t send money to people you haven’t met in person,” said Talcove, who added that fraudsters are “masters of eliciting empathy.”

If someone is asking you to send money, just don’t, Talcove said.

“Scammers are very adept at what they do. They will engage is all sorts of shape-shifting behavior. The AI scams – that’s a whole new ballgame,” said Lori Mars, deputy director of the National Center on Elder Abuse. 

“Scams don’t just impact older people. They impact all people. Older people are definitely targeted. The overall concept is that everyone is vulnerable. But with age can come mild cognitive impairment that’s associated with poor financial decision making, as well as social isolation and loneliness,” Mars said. “It’s financially and emotionally devastating. It’s very debilitating and takes a toll on the victim.”

Read: Scams against seniors soar, costing some their homes and retirement accounts

Financial abuse can take different forms from identity theft, use of debit or credit cards, lottery scams and romance scams to abuse of power of attorney privileges.

Exact numbers are hard to come by because many elders are reluctant to report their experiences. Only 1 in 44 cases of financial abuse is reported, according to the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA).

NAPSA also notes that elderly victims of financial abuse are three times more likely to die and four times more likely to enter a nursing home than those who weren’t abused.

Meanwhile, AARP estimated that victims over age 60 lose $28.3 billion a year to financial elder exploitation, with 72% being taken by a friend, family member or caregiver. Strangers account for the other $8 billion per year, or 28%.

Of the $28.3 billion in estimated annual losses, only $7.8 billion of stolen funds are reported to authorities, AARP said. 

“While strangers often rely on quick and irreversible transactions such as gift cards or wire transfers, perpetrators who know the victim are more likely to gain direct access to their victims’ bank accounts. But financial exploitation of any kind wreaks havoc on the lives of older adults and their families,” said Jilenne Gunther, National Director of AARP’s BankSafe Initiative and lead author of the report. “The keys to stopping this growing problem are consumer education, frontline employee training and strengthened technology to flag suspicious activity.”

The National Council on Aging on Thursday announced a new partnership with Early Warning Services LLC, the network operator of Zelle, for a national campaign featuring financial wellness expert Amanda Clayman that provides guidance on how to avoid falling victim to scams.

“Zelle and NCOA are helping to bridge the gap between mental health and financial well-being,” Clayman said. “Educating older adults on social engineering tactics that scammers often use is essential to stopping scammers in their tracks.”

Zelle and NCOA have created an informational video featuring Clayman that explains social engineering tactics scammers use to target older adults. Clayman offered practical tips and red flags for older adults to watch for, so they can protect themselves.

If you do get a ransom phone call, ask what the child’s identifying marks are – something the fraudster wouldn’t know from a Facebook post. Talcove said families should have a password to verify if the person on the phone or video chat is truly who they say they are. 

Also, know that the government doesn’t phone, email or text seeking payment or back taxes, Talcove said.

“There’s just so many scumbags out there,” said Brian McGraw, senior wealth adviser with Hightower Wealth Advisors, 

“Educate yourself on the types of scams that are out there. The Social Security Administration and the IRS are never going to text or email you asking for information. Immediately know that is a scam,” McGraw said.

One of the best ways to prevent financial abuse is to have a family member or attorney manage or co-manage a senior’s accounts. But all family members should be kept in the loop about this decision, as this can help keep the process transparent and prevent one family member from having undue influence.

McGraw suggested other measures to protect loved ones, such as reducing the number of accounts you have so there’s less to keep tabs on. Also, ask your financial adviser to put the maximum security on your account, such as a confirmation phone call being required for any request of money.

Read: The holidays are prime time for scammers — and seniors are their favorite targets

Other suggestions from financial advisers, law enforcement and AARP include:

– Put yourself on the Do Not Call registry or sign up for Nomorobo, which charges a nominal fee to block robocalls and text messages on mobile phones. Also, opt out of mail solicitations through

– Have your Social Security checks directly deposited into your account rather than having live checks around.

– Don’t give personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call to a known, verifiable number at a bank or credit card company.

– Sign up for identity theft protection services.

– Don’t isolate yourself. 

– Slow down: Resist the pressure to act quickly. Criminals urge their victims to act fast.

– If someone demands payment or requests money from you, have them put the request in writing. Never do business with anyone who shows up at your house unsolicited. Be skeptical of any unsolicited emails or phone calls.

– Use multiple passwords. Never keep passwords on a list in your computer.

“When some people get up in age, there could be cognitive decline. They also may not be keeping up with the news cycle 24-7 and be as tech savvy. They also could be more trusting and didn’t grow up with as many tech tools as are used today,” McGraw said.

“If it sounds too good to be true – it probably is. A Jamaican lottery scam? Come on,” McGraw said. 

If the suspected victim is in immediate danger, call 911 or the local police for help. For general fraud and other criminal issues, contact the FBI at (202) 324-3000, or online at or

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