FTC releases report on scams against older consumers

Created date

November 29th, 2019
A sign features the words Scam Alert

First, the good news. Consumers over the age of 60 were the least likely age group to lose money to scammers in 2018. According to “Protecting Older Consumers 2017–2018,” a new report from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), older consumers recognized fraud and reported it before losing money twice as often as consumers between the ages of 20 and 59.

Now, the bad news. When older consumers were victims of fraud, they lost more money than younger consumers. Consumers over the age of 80 reported losing the most of any age group with a median individual loss of $1,700. What is most disturbing about this dollar amount is that it represents a 55% increase from last year’s report. 

Other findings show that scammers most often make initial contact with older consumers by phone with online contact coming in second place.  

Tech support scams (where a caller misrepresents himself as a representative of Apple or Microsoft); imposter scams (where someone impersonates a friend or loved one in need of money); and phony prize, sweepstakes, and lottery scams frequently targeted older consumers in particular.

Another increasingly popular scam involves callers fraudulently identifying themselves as a representative of a federal agency such as the Internal Revenue Service or Social Security Administration. People victimized by this type of scam say they let their guard down because they were taken by surprise. 

They also noted that they trusted the federal government and never suspected that the caller was not who they said they were. 

Be wary of callers from government agencies

In general, beware of callers who say they are from a government agency. The government conducts most of its business through the U.S. Postal Service, and agencies rarely contact people by phone or via email. 

The report also showed that scammers most often ask for payment in the form of wire transfers, but gift cards have become increasingly popular as well. 

When someone asks to be paid by wire transfer or gift card, beware. Scammers prefer these methods because, unlike credit cards or checks, they are nearly impossible to trace or return.

Finally, the report detailed FTC efforts to catch and punish scammers. In 2018, the agency focused on shutting down fake medical insurance operators, bogus business opportunity scams, and shady real estate scams.

Last year, consumers 60 and older filed 256,404 fraud reports with reported losses of nearly $400 million. 

The FTC-initiated “Pass It On Campaign” (consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0030-pass-it) provides fraud prevention information and resources to help older consumers protect themselves from fraudsters.

Make sure you don’t become a statistic in the 2020 report by educating yourself about fraud and keeping your guard up at all times—especially when you pick up the telephone.  

If you believe you have been the victim of a scam, visit the FTC’s online complaint center at ftccomplaintassistant.gov or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357).