Older adults lost $600 million to fraud in 2020, when the pandemic fueled spikes in almost all top categories of fraud, federal officials say.
The figures are from the Federal Trade Commission, which noted that losses in many top categories of frauds spiked in 2020 compared to a year earlier. According to the FTC, online shopping scams rose 129 percent; business impostor frauds, 88 percent; investment frauds, 84 percent; romance scams, 66 percent; tech-support scams, 55 percent; sweepstakes and related frauds, 35 percent and family and friend impostors, 20 percent.
Losses in two categories — timeshare sales and timeshare resales — inched upward by 3 percent year-over-year, and in one top category, government impostor frauds, losses declined by 5 percent.
Here are the 10 costliest scams
For adults ages 60-plus, the costliest frauds last year involved:
1. Romance Scams $139 million in losses
2. Prizes, Sweepstakes and Lotteries: $69 million in losses
3. Business impostors, $65 million
4. Government impostors, $58 million
5. Investments, $47 million
6. Tech Support, $37 million
7. Online Shopping, $33 million
8. Impostor: Family/Friends, $21 million
9. Timeshare Sales, $17.4 million
10. Timeshare Resales, $13 million
There is no mistaking the pandemic’s impact on frauds impacting adults ages 60-plus, with losses of $104 million arising from some 26,518 complaints. The problems included undelivered protective gear, false claims about COVID-19 treatments and cures, and scams involving government relief programs, among others.
Overall, there were 334,411 fraud complaints from adults 60-plus in 2020, up from 318,850 in 2019, when there were $440 million in losses for this group.
The findings were presented last week during a hearing held by the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.), committee chairman, and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), said in a joint statement that the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated risks for older people and made them “even more vulnerable to scammers and schemes.”
“Fraudsters saw an opportunity and pounced,” Casey said. “They preyed on the fear and uncertainty surrounding the disease, as well as the loneliness and isolation that resulted from the pandemic. People were longing for human contact and a friendly voice on the phone or a beckoning message on Facebook that became harder to turn away from.”
Scott added: “It’s just disgusting and heartbreaking to hear so many stories from so many seniors who had had to deal with the challenges of fraud.”
Other key points at the hearing
- Social media increasingly is being used to target adults 60-plus for fraud, with 5,169 reports in 2020 compared to 1,955 a year earlier. Alarmingly, there have been 5,998 complaints involving social media during just the first six months of 2021, an FTC official said.
- Reports of bank transfers and payments made by older adults in fraud cases more than doubled in 2020 to $31 million, compared to a year earlier, and cryptocurrency payments more than tripled to $12 million during the period. The growth in romance scams drove these increases.
- Victims most often paid fraudsters using credit cards, incurring $44 million in losses in 2020, but a less common method of payment, wire transfers, led to steeper losses — $112 million.
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Government impersonators a big problem
The Senate committee also released the top scams reported to its fraud helpline, 855-303-9470, from 2015 and 2020. These scams and the number of complaints were:
- Government impersonators, 3,383
- Sweepstakes scams, 639
- Illegal robocalls and unsolicited phone calls, 636
- Computer scams, 445
- Grandparent scams, 368
These statistics, and helpful advice from the committee on how to fight fraud, are in a downloadable report.
With respect to the FTC statistics, it’s important to know that they do not reflect all frauds impacting adults ages 60 and older because only about 45 percent of complainants in 2020 specified their age. The statistics represent complaints to the FTC and its public and private partners, including AARP's Fraud Watch Network Helpline. Consumers may file a report to the FTC online.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on October 20, 2020 and since has been updated with new figures concerning top scams targeting older adults.