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Grandparent Scams Strike Latinos the Hardest

AARP report examines 17 common ruses, outlines steps to deter fraud

Woman of Latino ethnicity aged between 60-70 years is using the cell phone in times of quarantine by COVID-19

RicardoImagen/Getty Images

En español | Latino adults were victimized by grandparent scams more than any other kind, an AARP survey found. The tug-at-your-heartstrings scam sees a bad actor impersonate a panicked grandchild who claims to be in trouble and needing money immediately. Or the crook purports to be a public defender or jailer involved with the younger person's purported plight.

Rounding out the top five scams striking Latinos age 18 and older were romance, utility, lottery and COVID-19 stimulus payment scams.

More than 1,100 Latinos surveyed

The findings emerged in a national survey that examined fraud victimization, awareness and prevention among three groups: Latinos, Blacks and adults who are white or from other racial groups. Some 1,103 Latinos were among 2,808 people age 18 and older who were surveyed.

The survey showed that about 2 in 5 Latinos had been targeted by a scam and roughly 1 in 5 had lost money to one. Those figures are consistent across the racial and ethnic groups surveyed.

Two other key findings

  • Most likely among Latinos to say they have lost money to a scam were suburban men with at least a college degree and an annual household income of at least $50,000.

  • But when the survey asked Latinos about 17 different scams, women age 50 and older with an annual household income of less than $100,000 a year showed the least familiarity with them.

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More education helps

The AARP survey is highlighted in a report called “Consumer Fraud in America: The Latino Experience.” Latinos may be underserved by educational efforts about scams and frauds, according to the report, which described strengths, weaknesses and room for improvement.

Notably, only 46 percent of the Latinos surveyed acknowledged practicing smart cybersecurity by always varying the passwords used to access online accounts. Those who use the same password for some or all digital accounts — or rely on a variation of the same password — are at greater risk of becoming fraud victims, the AARP report said.

Experts recommend unique, complex passwords for every online account because if, for example, your Gmail password is stolen, then it can't be used to break into accounts such as your online credit card or bank account.

Silver linings

Among the good news was that Latinos take certain precautions more often than the other groups of respondents:

Common scams for all

Knowledge is power

Latino adults in the U.S. have these scams, in descending order, on their radar. Their survey answers reflect awareness, not victimization.

1. Romance
2. Government impostor
3. Lottery
4. Grandparent
5. Utility
6. Immigration
7. Fake job postings
8. COVID-19 stimulus payments
9. Work from home
10. Mortgage
11. Business coaching
12. Tax preparation
13. Affinity investment scams targeting a church or community group
14. Coronavirus
15. Black Lives Matter fake charities
16. Background check
17. "Green” scams, such as a bogus grant for home improvements for energy efficiency

Across racial and ethnic lines, three scams topped the list in terms of adults being savvy to them: romance, government impostor and lottery scams. Latinos voiced more awareness about immigration scams compared to the other groups but knew relatively less about mortgage-relief scams, tax-preparer scams targeting small businesses and affinity investment scams arising within a church or community group.

Steps to take

The survey showed that Latinos could do more to reduce susceptibility to scams by maintaining protective software on computer devices; using a robocall blocker; and listing their phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry to reduce unwanted telemarketing calls. Only 31 percent of respondents have put a landline or mobile number — or both — on the free registry maintained by the Federal Trade Commission.

And only 16 percent of Latinos use a password manager, such as LastPass, Keeper, Dashlane or Bitwarden, to store and handle online passwords.

Learn more

The survey was conducted from Sept. 14 to Oct. 2, 2020, over landlines, cellphones and online.

Two reports emerged from the survey: one pertaining to Black adults age 18 and older and the other relating to Latinos.

Katherine Skiba  covers scams and fraud for AARP. Previously she was a reporter with the  Chicago Tribune,  U.S. News & World Report, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. She was a recipient of Harvard University’s Nieman Fellowship and is the author of the book, Sister in the Band of Brothers: Embedded with the 101st Airborne in Iraq. 

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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