AARP's Fraud Study: Key Behaviors that Make Seniors More Likely to Fall Victim to Scams

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Recently the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) released the results of a year-long study about fraud and the activities that can put potential victims at risk.  The study included hundreds of individuals over the age of 50 who had been victims of fraud, identity theft, or other cons to determine what actions caused them to be susceptible to the schemes.

Based on the study, the AARP generated recommendations on how seniors can protect themselves from similar scams.  Though the AARP study focused largely on individuals at or near retirement age, the findings of the study should be taken to heart by anyone who is concerned about the possibility of fraud and identity theft.

The most common types of fraud and scams contained in the study were advanced fee loan scams, fake investment opportunities, fraudulent business opportunities, and lottery scams. 

All of these fraud types required the seniors who were scammed to pay money up front with the expectation of receiving a loan, investment return, or lottery winnings; once the scammers had the up-front payment, they then left the victim hanging.

While this would be horrible for anyone, it's made worse by the fact that the funds for these scams often came from their life savings or retirement and pension funds that the victims couldn't really afford to lose.

Unfortunately, many cases involving elderly fraud victims go unreported.  The AARP study found that only around 25% of those who were victims of these scams actually reported the incident to law enforcement.  These crimes are under-reported because many senior citizens believe that friends and family will look down on them if they find out that they were the victim of fraud.  They often feel ashamed or afraid of the attention that reporting the crime to the police might bring to their shame. 

This is heartbreaking, since the victims have nothing to be ashamed of; if anyone should be ashamed it is the criminals who choose to target the elderly because they feel that older individuals are easier targets. This truly goes to the heart of why we need to create more scam education and fraud prevention awareness programs with an emphasis on education and support. The key to making a real difference is to share information and victim stories to help remove the stigma attached to being a victim of skilled scam artist!  
The AARP study noted that seniors place themselves at a greater risk for being a victim of fraud by doing seemingly innocent things like attending free lunch seminars, entering drawings and contests for free prizes, reading and accepting junk mail offers, and sitting through sales pitches.

It was discovered that 65% of senior fraud victims commonly took part in at least 2 of those 4 activities --noting this was true for only 51% of the general population.
In the wake of high profile scams and the explosion of data breaches and new and innovative cyber and predatory real world identity theft crimes, the AARP study is something that should be taken seriously. The study highlights some common actions that lead to fraud and provides recommendations for how individuals of any age can better avoid becoming a victim; 

  • Seniors should do their homework before making a decision to invest in or purchase anything from any business.  Check the references of a business online or through organizations such as the Better Business Bureau or the local Chamber of Commerce before making a purchase or signing an agreement.
  • Refrain from accepting junk mail offers;
  • Signing up for the national "Do Not Call" list to avoid unsolicited marketing calls;
  • Wait at least 24-48 hours after hearing a sales pitch before deciding to make a purchase.
  • The study pointed out another good idea that suggested they have a prepared a script which can be read to refuse services or offers over the phone;

Read the AARP Study in PDF format its entirety here.

The AARP's Create the network, sponsored by,  a project of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, an independent regulatory organization authorized by the federal government is designed to connect AARP members, friends and families with ways to make a difference. The website includes tips and videos designed to empower seniors with information to avoid fraud.

For example, the below video: How to recognize a Free Lunch Seminar Investment Scam points out that 6 million Americans age 55 and older have attended a free lunch investment seminar. But most of these so-called seminars are actually sales presentations, where the attendees are often pressured into making unsuitable -- or even fraudulent -- investments. If a friend, neighbor, or relative accepts an invitation to one, make sure they know the score before they go.

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