Elder financial abuse statistics 2024

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People of any age group can be targeted by scammers. However, older Americans are often more vulnerable than their younger counterparts, and the amount of money that a defrauded senior will likely lose increases as they age.

Key insights

The FBI reports that 88,262 people over the age of 60 were victims of financial fraud schemes in 2022.

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Seniors targeted by fraudsters suffered an average loss of $35,101 that year.

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Fraud victims ages 80 and over report a higher median financial loss than any other age group.

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Growing social media use among the elderly may present criminals with new opportunities to defraud seniors.

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In 2022, older Americans were swindled out of more than $3 billion, according to the FBI, or $1.6 billion, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Disparities in fraud loss estimates may be explained by differing definitions of what constitutes fraud.

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Financial loss by age group

Losses from fraud aren’t uniform across age groups, and older people tend to lose more money due to fraud than younger people. In 2022:

  • People ages 20 to 59 had lower median losses than their elders.
  • Those who were 70 to 79 suffered a median loss of $1,000.
  • For adults 80 and over, the median loss was $1,750.

Top financial scams targeting seniors

Types of fraud that older Americans often fall victim to include:

  1. Tech support scams
  2. Family imposters
  3. Government imposters
  4. Online shopping scams
  5. Romance scams
  6. Fake sweepstakes and lotteries
  7. Cryptocurrency scams
  8. Real estate and home repair scams

Contact methods

Email is the most popular method of contact from scammers; it was cited as the contact method used in 24% of fraud reports during the first quarter (Q1) through the third quarter (Q3) of 2023, whereas phone calls were used in 20% of reported fraud attempts during that time. But scams perpetrated by phone result in far greater financial losses for fraud victims than scams perpetrated by email, with phone call-related fraud losses amounting to more than double that of email-related fraud losses from 2019 through 2022.

Robocalls once represented a ubiquitous form of fraud perpetrated in the U.S. These calls often use spoofed area codes to appear like they are calling from the victim’s local area, or they may simulate the caller ID of a government agency or legitimate business. Typically, an automated message will falsely inform the fraud victim that they owe money or need to take immediate action on a concerning issue, like an expiring auto warranty. Fortunately, the FTC reports that the number of robocall complaints it received dropped from more than 1.8 million in 2022 to less than 1.2 million in 2023, a reduction that can be partly attributed to significant fines imposed by the FTC and the Federal Communications Commission on robocallers in recent years.

The volume of fraud initiated through social media has markedly increased in recent years. The number of reported scams that used social media as their method of contact climbed from 3,829 in Q1 of 2019 to 47,721 in Q3 of 2023; the amount of money that Americans reported losing to scams facilitated through social media grew from $19 million to $380 million in those same quarters.16 These trends coincide with growing social media use among seniors: The percentage of Americans ages 65 and up who use social media increased from only 11% in 2010 to 45% in 2021.

1. Tech support scams

In 2022, tech support scammers stole more than $587.8 million from victims over 60, according to the FBI.

Tech support scammers tell victims their computers have problems or viruses that they can help resolve. They then make money by asking victims to pay for services that aren’t needed. Sometimes, these scammers call people directly, warning about “computer problems,” but the most common way tech support scammers connect with victims is online. On certain websites, pop-up warnings may appear that notify users of a virus or security issue on their computers. Though the message sounds urgent and may use official-looking logos, it’s just a way to trick the user into making contact and sending money.

Often, tech scammers claim they are from a well-known company like Microsoft or Apple. However, most major tech companies say they do not contact customers about these issues. When these pop-ups appear, simply close out the tab and ignore the warning.

Scammers may also ask for remote access to your computer. While legitimate computer care companies may do this to resolve technical issues, you shouldn’t grant remote access if you haven’t vetted whoever is requesting access.

2. Family imposters

Fraud by imposters led to 127,140 cases reporting a loss among all age groups from Q1 to Q3 in 2023, with a median loss of $828. But seniors appear to be particularly vulnerable to scammers who pose as friends or members of their family, with victims ages 80 and over reporting a median loss of $5,500 for that fraud subcategory during that same period.

In family imposter scams, fraudsters pose as a loved one by creating an online profile that looks like them or hacking personal emails or social media accounts. They will often claim that an emergency has left them in desperate need of money and request an immediate transfer of funds.

If a family member is asking you to send them money online, it’s important to vet the person you’re talking to and ask them questions only your loved one would know. It’s also important to avoid sending money immediately. Scammers bank on your fear and anxiety, but if you take a moment to call your relative directly, you can confirm if they actually need your help.

3. Government imposters

Of those who reported government imposter scams in 2023, only about 15% say they lost money, according to the FTC. People over the age of 80 suffered a median loss of $6,500 in these types of scams, though.

Social Security Administration imposter scams

Social Security imposters may tell victims that their Social Security number (SSN) has been linked to criminal activity and/or suspended. The scammer will claim they can reactivate the number once the victim confirms their SSN. Other Social Security scams may tell victims their benefits are eligible for an increase and request that they confirm their name, date of birth and SSN. Both of these approaches are simply ploys to gain access to personal information that can be used to raid a victim’s financial accounts.

Legitimate representatives from the Social Security Administration won’t ask for your SSN over the phone, nor will they initiate contact if you haven’t recently been in touch with them. Warnings of arrest, suspension of your SSN or loss of benefits are also signs that the notice is a scam.

IRS imposter scams

Another one of the most prominent government scams is IRS impersonation. This type of scam usually involves calling victims directly and telling them they owe taxes that, if not paid, could lead to their arrest or other legal action.

The scammer’s goal is to intimidate victims into immediately sending the requested money or providing personal information, like bank account numbers or SSNs.

You should immediately hang up if you receive a phone call consistent with that description. If there’s an issue with your taxes, the IRS will typically send a notice in the mail first. The IRS will also never ask for personal financial information like bank account PINs, passwords or credit card numbers.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) reported that the states with the most losses due to IRS scams from 2013 to 2016 were:

  • California, with over $10 million lost
  • New York, with over $4 million lost
  • Texas, with over $4 million lost
  • Illinois, with over $3 million lost
  • Florida, with over $2 million lost

TIGTA has been working to thwart the efforts of these scammers by sending cease-and-desist messages, asking telephone companies to shut down the numbers committing these crimes, publishing telephone numbers associated with this fraud and educating the public on identifying these scams.

4. Online shopping scams

While the internet has become many consumers’ primary means of shopping, it’s also become home to scammers posing as online retail stores. Sometimes these websites will appear legitimate, and the domain name may even be a slight modification of a well-known brand. Consumers are lured into these sites by their low prices, but the products they advertise are often drastically different from what’s received — if the buyer gets anything at all.

It can be hard to identify online shopping scams. But be wary if an online merchant asks you to pay in an unconventional way, like with a money order or wire transfer. You can also weed out a phony retailer by searching for reviews.

Among all age groups, 51% of online shopping scam cases reported a loss from Q1 to Q3 in 2023, with a median loss of $134. But consumers between the ages of 60 and 69 were victimized by online shopping scams at a far higher rate than the average, with 71% in that age bracket reporting a loss. Combined losses to online shopping scams from all Americans ages 60 and up totaled about $53 million between Q1 and Q3 of 2023.

5. Romance scams

Romance scams have become increasingly common in recent years, thanks to the growing popularity of online dating.

Older people are particularly vulnerable to romance fraud. Nearly 67% of romance scams reported by victims aged 80 and over between Q1 and Q3 in 2023 resulted in a monetary loss, which was the highest loss rate of any age group for this fraud category. Victims aged 80 and over also experienced the highest median loss from this type of fraud, at $9,500.

Typically, a romance scammer will create a fake profile on dating sites or social media, then reach out to vulnerable people and develop a relationship through chatting or texting. Scammers generally make excuses for why they can’t meet in person. COVID-19 facilitated these excuses for scammers; the FTC cited that some scammers said they were unable to meet due to a COVID-19 test.

At some point, romance scammers ask their victims for money. The FTC also warns that, in some cases, scammers may send money to victims first and then ask for it back, usually suggesting the scammer is harboring stolen funds.

In 2022, Americans ages 60 and up reported over $240 million in combined losses to romance scams, according to the FTC. To avoid losing money to romance scams, you should never send money to someone you haven’t met in person. Additionally, a reverse image search of the pictures on a suspicious profile can identify if its photos are stock photography or of someone else.

6. Fake sweepstakes and lotteries

Among the general population, fake prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries resulted in 12,497 cases reporting a loss from Q1 to Q3 in 2023, with a median loss of $800. Seniors aged 70 to 79, however, reported a far higher median loss of $2,000 for this fraud category.

Sweepstakes fraudsters often make contact through mail, phone calls, email or social media. In the typical pattern of a sweepstakes fraud, the victim is congratulated on winning a massive amount of money. In order to receive it, though, they must pay a processing fee or tax. The amount the scammer asks for will vary, but if a victim pays it, the scammer will usually call and ask for even more money in order to deliver the prize to them.

True sweepstakes generally state “no purchase necessary,” and winners should never be asked to send money to claim their prize. Legitimate lotteries like Mega Millions or Powerball sell tickets, but they will never charge participants money to receive their prizes.

7. Cryptocurrency scams

Cryptocurrency has provided a new payment method to apply to familiar forms of fraud. Between 2021 and 2022, reports of fraud involving cryptocurrency payments grew by about 34%. Cryptocurrency scams involve either convincing individuals to make payments to fraudsters using cryptocurrency or convincing them to invest in a cryptocurrency and then stealing their investment.

One example is the “pig butchering” scam, in which a victim is lured into investing money in a fake cryptocurrency over a period of time before the scammer steals everything in one fell swoop. The scam’s name refers to fattening a pig before slaughtering it. This scam is often used in conjunction with a romance scam, with the fake romantic interest convincing their victim that they have privileged knowledge about a cryptocurrency with high returns on investment. Over time, the victim continues to invest money through a fake website until the scammer steals everything.

Out of all the cryptocurrency scams, victims over the age of 60 are most likely to fall prey to investment scams, which account for around 66% of the money lost through cryptocurrency-related fraud for that group. In 2022, victims over the age of 60 reported losing more than $1 billion to cryptocurrency scams.

Top cryptocurrency scam types by number of victims over 60 in 2022

Source: FBI, 2022.

8. Real estate and home repair scams

Real estate scams often victimize first-time homebuyers who may not be very familiar with the homebuying process. But they commonly target older victims as well, having conned over $135.2 million total from people over the age of 60 in 2022.

Scammers may impersonate a real estate professional, like a lender, mortgage broker or representative for a title company. They often reach out to homebuyers or mortgagors and provide false information about where the homebuyer should send their down payment, closing costs or mortgage payments. In some cases, they may convince a homeowner to provide personal information that can be used to access a home’s title.

In another scam, criminals may appear in person and claim they can repair any issue in the victim’s house. These scammers will ask for advance payment but either never return or steal victims’ identities.

Preventing and responding to financial crimes against the elderly

Fraudsters are always finding new methods to trick people into giving them money. Whether or not the method is listed here, it’s important to be skeptical of anyone who is asking for advance or immediate payment, especially via gift card or wire transfer. When in doubt, don’t send any of the requested money, and talk to someone you trust about the potential scammer who contacted you.

If you realize that you’ve recently sent money to a scammer, your bank or credit card issuer may be able to void the payment. However, it’s harder to recover the funds with scams that utilize gift cards or wire transfers. Be aware that other individuals or groups might try to swindle you again, so don’t send money to anyone else calling with a similarly suspicious story.

Even if you didn’t lose money to an attempted scam, reporting the fraudster who contacted you will help protect other consumers. Fraudsters can be reported to the FTC and the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

You can also add your phone number to the National Do Not Call Registry. This list was created in 2003 to respond to a growing number of direct-sales companies clogging up people’s phone lines. Robocallers often ignore whether or not you’re on this list, but it can still be a good first step for reducing these types of calls.

For more, find out what consumers need to know about identity theft, how to find the best identity theft protection services and how to find the best credit monitoring services.

About senior financial scam statistics

It’s hard to understand how widespread fraud truly is, because the data is often underreported, especially among the senior population. One study in New York state suggested that for every 44 cases of elder financial abuse, only one is reported to authorities. This hesitancy to report can be due to shame and older people not wanting their family members to think they are incapable of managing their finances.

Not all scams reported to the FTC include age information. But among consumers who included their ages in their reports, there were 289,971 fraud reports filed for victims ages 60 and up between Q1 and Q3 of 2023, compared with 298,066 reports filed for that same age group and period in 2022. This is a 2.8% year-over-year decrease in reported elder financial abuse.

When comparing all combined fraud and identity theft reports received by the FTC for all age groups, however, there was a dramatic increase over time, with the number of these reports jumping from 2.5 million in 2019 to 3.7 million in 2022. Though this data is concerning, it doesn’t necessarily mean that scams are becoming more common; it could suggest that more victims are simply reporting fraud and identity theft than in previous years.

Bottom line

According to recent elderly poverty statistics, many seniors rely on Social Security for the bulk of their income. This economic insecurity, combined with social isolation and cognitive decline, makes older Americans particularly vulnerable to fraud.

Awareness of fraudsters’ tactics is the best shield against their schemes. But this awareness should be coupled with properly planning for elder care, which can improve the economic and social outcomes of America’s seniors and safeguard them from being scammed out of the financial resources they need.


References

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