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The Impostors: Stealing Money, Damaging Lives

An AARP National Survey of Adults 18+

This AARP survey examined adults’ experiences with two types of impostor scams: relationship scams (i.e., online romance scams and grandparent scams) and government impostor scams (including Census scams).

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Impostor scammers are con artists who masquerade as someone you know or are likely to trust (e.g., a friend or family member, or a representative from a government agency or well-known business) to convince or coerce you into sending them money or giving them your personal information. Impostor scammers often use techniques that are anonymous, quick, and irreversible.

Impostor scams are on the rise. According to the Federal Trade Commission, impostor fraud was the number one fraud reported to the agency’s Consumer Sentinel Network in 2019. Specifically, one in seven consumers reported losing a median of $700 to impostor fraud, with an overall total loss for 2019 of more than $667 million.

Key Findings

  • Nearly half (47%) of U.S. adults have been targets of an impostor scam. Among these scams, government impostor scams were the most frequently encountered, with two in five U.S. adults reporting having been a target of a government impostor scam.

  • Nearly one in five (18%) U.S. adults targeted and/or victimized by an impostor scam have experienced health problems and/or emotional distress resulting from the encounter. Notably, adults ages 18-49 (25%) are more likely than older adults to have suffered health consequences resulting from an impostor scam.

  • Seventy percent of U.S. adults are not familiar with Census scams, making them particularly vulnerable to falling victim to one. Census scams are expected to rise substantially in 2020 because the Decennial Census is this year. 

  • Two in five U.S. adults use the Internet to meet potential dates and/or romantic partners—and three in ten have experienced at least one red flag from a love interest they met online. Specifically:
    • A quarter were told by their love interest that they worked in another state or country or had a very busy schedule that made it difficult to meet in person

    • A fifth were asked by their love interest to send them money with promises to repay them when they could

    • 15% have never met their love interest in person

    • 7% were asked by their love interest to open a bank account on their behalf or a joint account with them
  • In our study, more than half (55%) failed our quiz of common tactics scammers use when spoofing Census workers


This online survey was conducted via NORC's AmeriSpeak® Panel, a probability-based panel with a sample targeting U.S. adults ages 18 and older. AmeriSpeak is designed to be representative of the U.S. household population. 

Interviews for this survey were conducted in English between December 18, 2019 and January 20, 2020, with a total of 2,273 adults ages 18 and older.

State Reports



Washington State



For more information, please contact Alicia Williams at For media inquiries, please contact