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Americans Think Fraud Is at ‘Crisis Level,’ Survey Finds

As scams skyrocket, AARP report explores understanding of scam threat and scammers’ methods

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Incidents of fraud have exploded in recent years, with 2.4 million fraud reports and nearly $9 billion reported stolen in 2022. And that’s likely a small fraction of the total, since experts believe that the vast majority of fraud goes unreported.

Scams — and seemingly constant scam attempts by phone, email and text — have grown so pervasive, two-thirds of Americans say they’re at a crisis level.

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That’s based on a quiz of 1,000 U.S. adults, meant to assess their level of knowledge and awareness of various kinds of scams and fraud, summarized in a new AARP report, “Consumer Fraud Awareness Gets D Grade.” Adults 50 and older are more likely to agree that scams are at a crisis level, with 81 percent concurring, compared to 56 percent of respondents ages 18 to 49.

The questions also touched on the different ways that scammers request payment from their victims.

About one-quarter of those surveyed said they didn’t know that it’s always a scam when you are asked to make a payment or send money by purchasing a gift card and sharing the number on the back of the card. Gift cards are a hugely popular way for criminals to receive cash; $228 million of the money lost to scams last year was in the form of gift cards, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

And while most people (79 percent) are aware that it can be risky to purchase products and services in response to social media ads, 15 percent said they weren’t sure, and 6 percent believed that it was “always safe” to do so. Social media was the most profitable contact method to scammers in 2022, the FTC reports.

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Key Points

Some other facts about scams that need to be emphasized, based on the survey:

  • Peer-to-peer apps like Venmo, Zelle and CashApp are commonly used in scams. Only 37 percent of quiz takers knew that these apps do not offer consumers the same level of fraud protection as credit cards. Like gift cards, they are favored by criminals because their transactions are nearly impossible to trace. Fraud fighters suggest only using them with people you know and trust — to split a dinner bill with friends or send money to your grandchild, for instance.
  • When someone directs you to use a cryptocurrency ATM to address some financial concern, you’re dealing with a scammer. One-third of adults aren’t aware that these ATMs are a key tool for criminals. They are often located at vape stores, gas stations or convenience stores, says Amy Nofziger, director of victim support for the AARP Fraud Watch Network. She explains that scammers will tell their victims to enter cash into a machine in exchange for cryptocurrency. “I spoke with one woman who spent two hours at a machine because she was depositing $80,000,” Nofziger says.
  • Anyone can be a scam victim. Nearly 40 percent of people surveyed thought that victims lose money to scams because they are gullible. Observers may not be aware that some criminals’ emotional manipulations are extremely sophisticated; often part of international crime rings, they are able to hone their techniques by targeting a huge number of potential victims.
  • Younger adults are more likely than older adults to be victims of a scam. About half of respondents thought that older people were more likely to be scam victims, but data from the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2022 shows that younger adults (ages 20 to 29; 43 percent) are more likely to report losing money to fraud than older adults (ages 70 to 79; 23 percent), although the median financial loss is much higher for older adults.​

Where to report fraud

If you spot or have been a victim of a scam, report it to your local police and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at The more information they have, the better they can identify patterns, link cases and ultimately catch the criminals. ​The AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline, 877-908-3360, is a free resource. Call to speak with trained fraud specialists who provide support and guidance on what to do next and how to avoid scams in the future. The AARP Fraud Watch Network also offers online group support sessions.​

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