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10 Scams That Cost Older Americans the Most Money

Romance fraud resulted in the biggest financial losses last year among people 60 and over

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En español | Romance scammers exact a heavy toll on men and women age 60 and older, causing nearly $84 million in financial losses in 2019, a new report shows. That was far and away higher than any other category of fraud — and doesn't begin to factor in the heartbreak and emotional price paid when an online suitor turns out to be a swindler.

Here are the costliest frauds that hit people 60 or older last year, according to a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report released Monday. In many cases, this age cohort is either targeted — or disproportionately affected — by certain types of frauds and scams, the consumer protection agency says.

Here are the 10 costliest scams:

1. Romance Scams $83.7 million

2. Impostor: Government: $61 million

3. Prizes, Sweepstakes and Lotteries: $51.4 million

4. Impostor: Business $34.3 million

5. Investments: $25.4 million

6. Computer Tech Support Scams: $24.1 million

7. Timeshare Sales: $17.4 million

8. Impostor: Family/Friends: $17.1 million

9. Online Shopping: $14.2 million

10. Timeshare Resales: $12.5 million

The figures are from the FTC's annual report sent to Congress on older consumers.

The figures come from 2019 reports that were made to the FTC or to the public and private partners that also contribute to the FTC's Consumer Sentinel Network, an online database on frauds and other consumer problems. The database is available to law enforcement to spot trends and develop cases against investigative targets. Among the FTC's partners is AARP's Fraud Watch Network Helpline.

Not all the reports specify the age of a complainant; in 2019, only about half did. Moreover, some reports don't specify the exact nature of the fraud.

Among those who gave their age as 60 or older, some 318,850 fraud complaints were made in total, representing $440 million in losses.

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According to the report, adults 60-plus were less likely overall to report falling victim to fraud than younger adults, but when older consumers did take a financial hit, the median monetary loss was higher, particularly among people 80 and older. Fraud impacts various age groups differently, and the FTC says consumers who were 60 and older were:

  • Nearly six times more likely to report losing money to computer tech-support scams.
  • Three times more likely to report losses to prize, sweepstakes and lottery scams.
  • More than twice as likely to report losses to family/friend impostor fraud.

The most frequent fraud reported by older adults involved online shopping scams, mirroring a spike during the early months of the pandemic across all age groups.

The FTC says investment fraud runs the gamut from advice, seminars and investments in art, gems, stocks, commodities and other products.

Government impostor frauds see bad actors pose as representatives of agencies, such as the Social Security Administration (SSA); they aim to steal your money or sensitive personal data. Family and friend impostors involve crooks posing as people close to you who need financial help, such as a phony grandchild who purports to have had an accident or been jailed. Business impostors pose as representatives of companies or merchants.

Fraud victims may file an online complaint with the FTC's Consumer Response Center, or call 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357), which is toll-free.

To reach AARP's Fraud Watch Helpline, call the toll-free number 877-908-3360.

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.

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