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66 Percent of Americans Over 50 Concerned About Becoming a Target of Scam

The 2020 census could open the door to more fraudsters, AARP survey finds

2020 Census concept

AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews

En español | More than 3 in 5 Americans (61 percent) are concerned that they or a relative could fall victim to a scam, a new survey for AARP reveals. Worry among adults ages 50 or older is more widespread, with 66 percent concerned about being the target of fraud.

The findings come from the new national survey, “The Impostors: Stealing Money, Damaging Lives,” which was released Feb. 19.

Among the key takeaways: As the Census Bureau prepares to mail questionnaires to U.S. households in mid-March, the survey results suggest that some people could be vulnerable to fraudsters. These crooks pose as census takers but are really after citizens’ money or sensitive data. The survey also featured a quiz about fraud, and 55 percent of respondents failed it by answering five or more of the 10 questions incorrectly.

The following types of con artists were the focus of the fraud survey:

  • Government impostors, who pretend to be from the Census Bureau, Social Security Administration, Internal Revenue Service or other agency.
  • Grandparent-scam impostors, who masquerade as a grandchild with an emergency need for cash after, say, an accident or arrest. In a twist, the con artist poses as a lawyer or law enforcement official involved in the made-up crisis.
  • Online dating swindlers, who purport to be romantic interests but who are really after cash or sensitive data.

Few survey respondents reported being victimized directly by a scam involving a government impostor, phony grandchild or online dater, but a number know somebody who has fallen prey.

  • 11 percent know the victim of an online romance scam.
  • 8 percent know the victim of a grandparent scam.
  • 5 percent know the victim of a government-impostor scam.

As for the kinds of impostors featured in the survey, 47 percent of respondents —nearly half of those asked— said they had personally been the target of one of their scams, and 4 percent had been victimized and lost money.

Whether they were only targeted or actually ripped off, 18 percent of those surveyed said that as a result, they had suffered health problems, emotional stress or both. Younger adults bore the brunt: 25 percent of those under age 50 said they suffered health or emotional problems, compared with 12 percent of respondents 50-plus.

Romance impostors steal more than hearts

Online dating is popular but a potential minefield, the survey found. Forty-one percent of all respondents said they had, at some point, looked for a romantic partner on the internet. Younger people were more likely to look for love online, with 51 percent of those under 50 having done so, versus 28 percent of those 50 or older.

Among all ages, here's how common it was for people to spot a red flag from a potential partner.

  • 45 percent said they had been told lies about the person's age, job or marital status.
  • 25 percent said they had been given a reason that made it difficult to meet the potential partner in person.
  • 21 percent said they had been asked for money and promised it would be paid back soon.
  • 15 percent said a romantic relationship had developed without meeting the other person.
  • 7 percent said they had been asked to open a bank account for the other person or to set up a joint account.

Of note, people under 50 gravitated mostly to dating websites (30 percent) and apps (29 percent). Those 50 and older favored dating websites (18 percent); fewer used apps (6 percent). Respondents also turned to social media, chat rooms, online social groups and ads for internet dating.

Census scams are a big worry in 2020

On the census, 70 percent of respondents were not familiar with related scams that could emerge, 69 percent did not know or were unsure if the Census Bureau will send out questionnaires via the U.S. mail (it will), and 35 percent did not know or were unsure whether they will be asked for a Social Security number (they won't be).

These blind spots could make people susceptible to census fraudsters, warns Kathy Stokes, AARP's director of fraud prevention programs. Scammers are shrewd and capitalize on current events, she says, so people should be careful not to share sensitive information or fork over money to fake census workers. AARP has a tip sheet on spotting census scams.

Its survey of 2,273 adults was conducted online from Dec. 18, 2019, through Jan. 20, 2020, by NORC and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.18 percent.

AARP’s Fraud Watch Network can help you spot and avoid scams. Sign up for free Watchdog Alerts, review our scam-tracking map, or call our toll-free fraud helpline at 877-908-3360 if you or a loved one suspect you’ve been a victim.