Skip to main content

Lifestyles over 50

How To Keep Dad and Mom as Safe from Spam as Possible

“Spam” and “scam” have become dirty four-letter words on a par with others our culture finds offensive. The only difference is that the practices indicated by these words can cost a victim their savings, reputation, or even worse.

Many consumers receive a variety of unsolicited commercial email (“spam”) in their offices or at home as well as phone calls. Some may have a legitimate business purpose but are often the means for criminals and operators of fraudulent schemes to solicit victims for money, or commit identity theft by deceiving them into sharing bank and financial account information.

A large volume of spam consists of e-mail from a person soliciting you to help them transfer illegally-obtained or questionable funds out of a nation in Africa or some other country. These solicitations are fraudulent, and may violate one or more federal criminal laws. Do not send any money or financial account information if you receive one of these e-mails.

Spammers and scammers may also impersonate your financial institution (bank, broker, etc.) and ask for personal information. No legitimate financial institution will ask you to do that in an email. When in doubt, contact the institution by phone.

Some may offer to pay off your debts if you send them banking or credit card information, or if you purchase gift cards and share the card number. When in doubt, don’t do it.

Others pretend to be a grandchild or other relative calling from prison or a lawyer’s office, asking for bail money. They can be very convincing, using information they gleaned online. Don’t be fooled by tears. If you’re not sure, ask questions that only the real person can answer, or just hang up.

Spamming and scamming evolve as circumstances change. There can be promises of miracle medical products and devices, crypto-investment schemes, political and community solicitations, and others.

Bottom line: If it sounds too good to be true or too ridiculous to be true, it probably is. Never give personal financial, health, or identification information over the phone or email, especially if you are not sure who is at the other end, unless you have initiated the transaction and trust the institution.

Make sure Mom and Dad are aware of the dangers, and be ready to dive in if there is a problem! For more information, visit

If you have become a victim and have lost money, contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a joint venture of the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center, and use the ICCC’s online complaint form.