Today, if you are fortunate enough not to have been subject to a scam, or an attempted one, you may be in the minority, especially if you are over 50. Older Americans are among the most targeted group for fraud, and for multiple reasons: they tend to be more trusting, have sizable nest eggs, and have less technical knowledge.
And it's not who we may consider "elderly" - it is "cognitively intact, community-dwelling" older Americans. Let's face it, that is most of us, or our parents, or our family and friends.
There are a broad range of stats, and regardless of what they say, most are disturbing. In this article, we will take a look at the impact and trends, as well as the top 5 scams affecting older Americans.
Here are just a few of the stats:
- 1 in 18 older Americans fall victim to scams
- 5 million Americans or more are victimized every year
- Annual cost estimates range from between $3- $36 billion
- Average loss per incident is over $17,000 for online crime for people age 50 and up
- 3.4 million phishing scam emails are sent every day
- 48% of emails sent in 2022 were spam
- Reports of romance/crypto currency scams rose 80% - and that is just those being reported
- Sweepstakes and lottery scams up 27%
- 72% of people who are victims are age 55 and older
- Losses from tech support scams were 6x higher than prior year
This is why it is essential to be aware of the types of scams and what to watch out for. The graph below from the Federal Trade Commission highlights the 2019 top frauds by total dollars lost for people ages 60 and over.
Let's take a closer look at some of these top scam threats for older Americans.
- Romance scams: Scammers start with a random text "hi, how are you" or something of the like, and then continue conversation to build to a romantic relationship. Or they create fake profiles on dating sites or social media and connect that way. They may ask for money for travel, medical emergencies, or other reasons, or share how to get wealthy investing in cryptocurrency. In 2021, romance scams overall cost more than 24,000 Americans about $1 billion, up a staggering amount from $304 million in 2020. For a deeper look, read How to Spot Romance Scams in 2023: Signs You're Dating a Scammer (rd.com).
- Government impersonation scams: Scammers pretend to be from the IRS, Social Security Administration, Medicare, or other agencies and demand payment for taxes, fees, or fines. They may threaten arrest, legal action, or benefit suspension. This fraud caused $61 million in losses for older adults in 2019. Read more about Government Impostor Scams are on the Rise (aarp.org)
- Sweepstakes/lottery scams: Scammers claim that the victim has won a large prize, but must pay a fee or tax to claim it. They may also ask for personal or financial information to verify the identity of the winner. In 2020 this fraud caused $69 million in losses for older adults, up from $51 million in 2019. "You've Won" Scams | Consumer Advice (ftc.gov)
- Tech-support scams: Scammers call or send pop-up messages on the computer, claiming that there is a problem with the device or software. They offer to fix it for a fee or ask for remote access to the computer. They may also install malware or steal personal or financial information. Tech support scams in 2021 cost victims $347 million, a 137% increase from the prior year, with two-thirds of those losses borne by people ages 60 and older. How To Spot, Avoid, and Report Tech Support Scams | Consumer Advice (ftc.gov)
- Online shopping scams: Scammers create fake websites or ads that offer products at low prices or free trials. They may not deliver the products, deliver lower-quality items, or charge recurring fees without authorization. They may also collect personal or financial information from the buyers. This fraud caused an estimated $33 million in losses for older adults in 2020.
These are just some examples of the common scams targeting older Americans. To avoid them, you should be wary of any unsolicited calls, emails, texts, online popups or online messages, especially those that ask for money or personal information. Make sure to talk to a trusted friend or family member about anything suspicious.
Regardless of age, learning about scams is important for everyone. By sharing what you know, you can help protect others in your community from scams. Ironically, there are a lot of good resources online. For a complete list of tips to avoid fraud: How To Avoid a Scam | Consumer Advice (ftc.gov). For a deeper dive into the FTC’s data on scams and age, read the FTC’s Report on Protecting Older Consumers, 2021-2022 (ftc.gov). If you have been a victim, you can report it to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov and internet crime to the FBI at Internet Crime Complaint Center(IC3) | Home Page. If you gave your personal information to a scammer, go to IdentityTheft.gov.
Sources include AARP.org, NCOA.org, ConsumerAffairs.com, Consumernotice.org, FTC.gov.