Scams Targeting Seniors Surged During the Pandemic

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While con artists have been around for centuries, the creation of the internet has brought scams to an entire new level.  Both those young and old can become victims of online fraud. Anyone searching online for a job, flipping through social media, shopping, investing, donating money, banking, using e-mail, or looking for love can become the victim of a scam.

However, seniors are particularly vulnerable to internet scams–especially those who have lost a spouse or partner. Without another person checking in regularly, older adults can easily be taken advantage as a result of their online presence. Loneliness and isolation often leads to common sense going out the window for older folks. This is especially true in pursuing a romantic relationship online.

In addition, seniors may be unable to process information accurately or are in the beginning stages of age-related dementia making them at greater peril of being taken advantage of by a scammer. Finally, seniors or more reluctant to report an online scam. Older adults feel greater shame and embarrassment than their younger counterparts.

Top Scams Targeting Older Consumers

In a recent report, Protecting Older Consumers, 2020-2021, A Report of the Federal Trade Commission, the FTC highlights findings showing trends in how older adults report being affected by fraud. The report also includes information on the FTC’s efforts to protect older consumers through law enforcement and outreach/education program. This year’s report calls particular attention to the Commission’s work to combat scams relative to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Below are the total number of dollars in 2020 for people 60 and older (the percentage increase from 2019 is listed in parenthesis):

  • Romance Scams: $139 million (up 66%)
  • Prizes/Sweepstakes/Lotteries: 69 million (up 35%)
  • Business Imposters: 65 million (up 88%)
  • Government Imposters: 58 million (down 5%)
  • Investments: 47 million (up 84%)
  • Tech Support Scams: 37 million (up 55%)
  • Online Shopping: 33 million (up 129%)
  • Family & Friend Imposters: 21 million (up 20%)
  • Timeshare Sales: 18 million (up 3%)
  • Timeshare Resales: 13 million (up 3%)


Analysis of Senior Scams

The most frequent type of fraud which older adults report was online shopping scams. The category rose sharply among adults 60 and higher in the second quarter of 2020.  This includes include online marketers who failed to deliver masks and other scarce items needed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, reports of losses to online shopping fraud by older adults more than doubled in 2020. And the numbers continued to be far higher than pre-pandemic levels in the first half of 2021. Romance fraud is the highest loss of any category with losses of $139 million–a sharp increase from $84 million in 2019.

As in prior years, adults aged 60 and higher are substantially less likely to report losing money to fraud than adults aged 20-59. When they do report financial loss, though, they tend to lose substantially more than younger adults. Consumers 80 and older lost a median of $1,300 to fraud. People in their seventies reported a median loss of $650, and those in their sixties reported a median loss of $449. In addition to online fraud, seniors can become scam victims through other methods. This includes unwanted mail/phone calls for solicitations of money or “knock on the door” home repair scams.

Through outreach and education the FTC encourages all consumers to share what they know to help stop scams. The Pass it On campaign focuses on providing fraud prevention resources to older adults so they can help protect their communities by sharing the information and materials with family and friends.




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