After gathering names and other details about family members from obituaries, social media and ancestry websites, scammers call, often in the wee hours.
See also: Swear off scammers
They claim to be beloved grandchildren who've been arrested or hospitalized — often while traveling — and need immediate money.
Don't believe it.
Or, at least call the grandchild or parents before heading to Western Union.
Grandparents of college-aged young people are the most frequent targets, reporting losses exceeding $110 million a year.
Unscrupulous contractors arrive unexpected at your front door, claiming to have noticed necessary repairs while driving by.
See also: Avoiding door-to-door sales scams
Some demand upfront payment for materials and then run off with the money. Others do shoddy work like applying used motor oil to recoat driveways.
Some make legitimate repairs for outrageous prices.
Perhaps the worst are "woodchucks." They might initially trim trees or clean gutters, but they continue to recommend more repairs until you're bled dry by them or their "specialist" buddies.
The come-on may be an offer of free medical supplies, a threat of losing Medicare coverage or a promise of better sex with low-cost Viagra.
See also: Help fight health care fraud
The result can be old-fashioned financial fraud or a specialized variant, medical identity theft, in which impostors get health care services under your name, leaving you with the tab.
People 65 and older are prized targets because of Medicare benefits.
In view of continuing public misconceptions about how the Affordable Care Act works, experts predict health care scams will become an epidemic in 2014.
These come in many forms: Some are free-lunch seminars hawking questionable financial products or legitimate ones with long "hold" periods that are unsuitable for older investors.
Others are pitches from cold-calling telemarketers for "no risk" investments in precious metals or penny stocks.
See also: Can you spot investment fraud?
Losses can be particularly high: Older investors who fell for the bait were out an average of $140,500 each, a study found.
Next page: Inside the mind of a scammer. »