Technology and business sophistication have moved scam operations from the hands of small-time crooks into a booming, multibillion-dollar transnational industry. As a result, scam artists are now able to reach millions of targets within minutes.
This AARP survey examines rates of encounters and financial loss from 26 types of scams that are prevalent in the U.S. It also looks at whether various risk factors and protective factors influence fraud susceptibility. The survey reached over 9,000 Americans ages 18+, including 1,085 fraud victims, making it one of the largest studies AARP has done on consumer fraud.
Notably, the survey respondents were not informed that the 26 scams encounters were "scams." Instead, they were described as "scenarios that are seen in the marketplace." Those indicating that they were exposed to one or more of the 26 scams met the initial screening criteria and were asked an additional set of questions. Additionally, those who indicated that they spent money as a result of the scenario were classified as having experienced a financial loss from a scam.
The survey found that an estimated nine in 10 Americans (229 million people) encountered a fraud attempt in the past year and that one in six (33 million people) lost money to a scam. Although anyone can experience a scam — regardless of education, age, race, or ethnicity —the study uncovered specific environmental and emotional factors that were common among fraud victims (e.g., more stressful life events, less social/family support, stronger emotional responses, and exposure to more scam encounters). Together, these dominant risk factors increase our susceptibility to scammers' tactics that focus on our emotional triggers, recent challenges, and sense of isolation to achieve their theft. The implications of these findings suggest new approaches to informing the public about ways to prevent fraud.
In addition to this national report, two additional reports (i.e., focusing on Black/African American adults and Hispanic/Latino adults) were also conducted. To view them, click the links below.
Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish between October 26, 2020 and November 17, 2020 by NORC at the University of Chicago using their AmeriSpeak® Panel, a probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. general population. A total of 3,280 interviews, including oversamples of 739 Black/African American respondents and 704 Hispanic/Latino respondents, were completed. Among the total sample, 1,085 experienced a financial loss from a scam and 2,195 did not experience financial loss from a scam.
Fraud Susceptibility Reports
Shadel, Doug, PhD; Alicia Williams, PhD; Karla Pak, PhD; and Lona Choi-Allum, PhD. A Moment's Notice: Recognizing the Stressful Life Events, Emotions and Actions that Make Us Susceptible to Scams. An AARP National Fraud Frontiers Report. Washington, DC: October 2021. https://doi.org/10.26419/res.00484.001
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