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AARP Study: Key Behaviors Can Put Potential Fraud Victims at Risk

New data shows tens of thousands may be suffering in silence; highlights prevention tips

For Immediate Release

May 23, 2011 


Media Relations 


AARP Study: Key Behaviors Can Put Potential Fraud Victims at Risk

New data shows tens of thousands may be suffering in silence; highlights prevention tips

Washington, D.C.–Seemingly innocent consumer behaviors can make the difference between staying safe and joining the millions of older Americans who become victims of fraud each year, according to a new study from AARP Foundation released today at the National Association of Attorneys General spring consumer protection seminar.

The year-long study surveyed hundreds of people over 50 who have fallen victim to some of today’s most prevalent scams, including advance fee loan schemes, investment cons, fraudulent business opportunity deals and lottery scams. Since most of the victims in the sample were older, the study compared them to an older segment of the general population to see how they differed.

Findings revealed the top behaviors that put older Americans at risk; specific victim profiles for two leading scams; data that shows tens of thousands of people may be reluctant to acknowledge that they are victims or look for help; and simple prevention tips to cut chances of becoming a victim.

“After a lifetime of doing all the right things to prepare for a comfortable and dignified retirement, too many older Americans are having their retirement security threatened by financial predators,” said AARP Foundation President Jo Ann Jenkins. “For anyone who has been or wants to avoid becoming a victim of fraud – especially those who might be suffering in silence – you are not alone, and we can help.”

Key Findings

Top behaviors that put 50+ consumers more at risk. The report identified some key activities that can put people at greater risk of become fraud victims, most notably:

* Opening and reading all junk mail

* Attending free lunch seminars

* Entering drawings to win a free prize

* Inviting salespeople into the home

Almost two-thirds (65%) of older fraud victims participated in at least two of these activities, compared to just over half (51%) of older Americans overall.  Older fraud victims (19%) were almost twice as likely as all older Americans (11%) to engage in four or more of these activities. 

Predators in two leading scams may be targeting people with specific profiles.  Investment fraud victims tended to be married older men with higher incomes and a higher level of education.  Lottery fraud victims tended to be older, single men and women who were older with lower incomes and lower education.

Underreporting of scams indicates that consumer fraud is actually more prevalent than previously thought. Across all victim types, only one-quarter (25%) of victims over 50 actually reported to an authority that they had fallen for a scam.  

Tips for Avoiding Scams. The study also offers ways that older Americans can minimize their risk of falling victim to a potential scam, including:

* Signing up for the Do Not Call List at 

* Checking references of a business before making a buying decision

* Developing a refusal script to help consumers say no to risky buying situations

* Waiting 24 hours after a sales pitch before making a buying decision

“Con artists can be incredibly nimble and sophisticated, and it’s difficult for people to spot and stop every pitch,” said AARP Washington State Director and study co-author Doug Shadel. “Our research has shown that avoiding some of these common sales situations and taking a few simple preventative actions can go a long way in protecting our pocketbooks.”

AARP is encouraging its members and all older Americans to be on the lookout for signs of consumer fraud to protect themselves, as well as their friends and family. For more information on avoiding scams and fraud, visit

“Our vigilance shouldn’t just stop at our own doorsteps,” Shadel said. “As the survey showed, many of our older family members or loved ones may have been scammed but are not reporting it. It’s important that we pay attention to whether or not someone we care about may be putting themselves in harm’s way.”

A full version of the report is also available online at


AARP Foundation engaged Woelfel Research, Inc., to conduct a study among the general population in the United States compared to respondents who were victims of different types of fraud to better understand the differences between these groups. Interviews took place between May 7 and August 2, 2010. Woelfel Research, Inc., completed a total of 2,232 interviews, including 1,509 from the general population and 723 victims. Margin of error for the general population sample was +/- 2.5% and for the victim population, varied by scam from +/- 6.9% to +/- 18.7%.

AARP Foundation is AARP’s affiliated charity.  The Foundation is dedicated to serving vulnerable people 50+ by creating solutions that help them secure the essentials and achieve their best life. AARP Foundation focuses on:  hunger, housing, income and isolation as our key mission areas. The Foundation envisions: ‘a country free of poverty where no older person feels vulnerable.’  Foundation programs are funded by grants, tax-deductible contributions and AARP. For more information about AARP Foundation, please log on to

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