The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) 2020 Consumer Sentinel Report shows U.S. consumers filed more than 4.7 million reports of fraud and had $3.3 billion in financial losses to fraud. The FTC’s most recent survey data found that reports of fraud peak between the ages of 35 and 44, with lower rates of reporting fraud both younger than age 35 and older than age 44. But while more younger than older consumers report losing money to fraud, older consumers report far greater financial loss.
AARP's Vital Voices survey delves into the topic, and finds that adults 45 and older have high levels of concern around scams and remain vigilant about protecting themselves. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented additional challenges for consumers, both because of new scams popping up related to the pandemic, as well as increased vulnerability from being isolated from loved ones.
Many U.S. adults indicate they or someone they know have been a target or victim of scams or fraud, including Coronavirus-related scams.
The coronavirus pandemic opened up more opportunities for scammers to steal money from consumers. The FTC reports that between January 2020 and March 2021, over 400,000 reports of fraud or identity theft included Covid-19 related mentions (see also 2020 FBI Internet Crime Report). One scam in particular attempts to convince a consumer to provide personal identification, financial account information, or pay a fee (to the scammer) in order to receive their much-needed stimulus check. Data from the AARP Vital Voices survey show that about one in three adults ages 45 and older say they have been a victim of a scam within 12 months of taking the survey and/or they know a family member or friend who has (ever) been the victim of a scam. Additionally, one in seven say they personally had been a target of a coronavirus economic impact payment scam within three months of taking the survey.
Nearly 6 in 10 (57%) U.S. adults age 45 and older are concerned about becoming a target or victim of a scam and most are vigilant about protecting themselves.
The high concern about becoming a target or victim of scams or fraud expressed in this survey is consistent across other AARP Research surveys and may explain the importance most adults ages 45 and older place on protecting themselves against consumer fraud and deceptive financial practices as well as having online security.
Among those concerned about becoming a target or victim of a scam or fraud, women are just as likely as men to be concerned (58% vs 55%), while adults younger than age 65 are more likely than their older counterparts to express concern (extremely/very/somewhat). Though not statistically significant, more lower income than higher income groups indicate concern about becoming a target or victim of scams or fraud. Nearly all respondents believe it is at least somewhat important to protect themselves against consumer fraud and deceptive financial practices, and to have online security.
Social isolation and vulnerability to scams and fraud.
The current global coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly forced Americans to isolate themselves and their families to avoid contracting the virus. Recent AARP research shows that older adults are indeed experiencing social isolation, with nearly one in five indicating serious isolation since the pandemic began. Social isolation can lead to a number of physical and mental health problems including increased anxiety, depression, loneliness, and increased risk of death.
U.S. adults who express feelings of isolation, feeling left out, or lacking companionship report greater concern about becoming a victim of scams or fraud.
At least four in ten respondents to this survey say they lacked companionship, felt left out or have felt isolated from others since the pandemic began, and among each of these respondent groups, about two-thirds say they are concerned about becoming a target or victim of scams and fraud. Moreover, though not statistically significant, more respondents than not who express feelings of isolation, feeling left out, or lacking companionship also say they or someone they know has been a victim of a scam or fraud either in the past 12 months or ever, respectively.
The business of consumer fraud was not held back by the Covid-19 pandemic—in fact, scammers are likely to blame for the 69% spike in FBI fraud reports in 2020 and the hundreds of thousands of mentions in fraud reports to the FTC in 2020. Data from this survey provides further support of that reality. Indeed, one in seven consumers ages 45 and older have received a call in the three months prior to taking this survey (March–June 2020) from someone asking them to send money in order to receive help in getting their pandemic economic relief impact money. Aside from fraud or scams specific to the pandemic, one in ten respondents say they personally have been a victim of a scam or fraud in the 12 months prior to taking this survey (between June 2019 and June 2020) and one in three say someone they know has ever been a victim of fraud or scams.
One doesn’t have to have been a target or victim of a scam or fraud to be concerned about becoming one, either. Indeed, close to six in ten older adults are concerned about becoming a target or victim of a scam or fraud, with a third saying they are extremely or very concerned. But a further look at the data shows that while men and women are equally concerned, more adults ages 45-64 are concerned about becoming a target or victim of a scam or fraud than those who are older. Targeted age-related information about particular scams and fraud may help increase awareness and vigilance without increasing concern or anxiety about being victimized.
Social isolation and feelings of lacking companionship or feeling left out have been noted factors that may increase vulnerability to scams and fraud—either a scammer seeks out someone who seems alone or lonely, or people who feel alone or lonely unknowingly give a scammer their time and ultimately personal information or money. When looking at the respondents in this survey who expressed feelings of isolation, the data shows that they are more likely than their counterparts (those who hardly feel this way) to be concerned about becoming a victim of a scam or fraud. And while not statistically significant, older adults who feel isolated are also more likely to say they or someone they know have been a victim of a scam or fraud than those who don’t feel isolated. In addition to providing targeted fraud education to isolated older adults to help guard against victimization, addressing social isolation itself is a valuable pursuit—for their health and well-being as well as their wallet.
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