Who Do You Think Gets Scammed More Often: Older or Younger People?

A paper published in the Harvard Journal on Legislation presents some interesting data that will test your beliefs and assumptions regarding fraud and scams.

James Toomey wrote The Age of Fraud, in which the data is educational and surprising.

Toomey presents a common belief that people over 65 are more targeted for fraud and scams than younger people. But then he asks a very important question, is that true?

A group of Americans 65 and older and a group aged 25–35 were recruited online and asked to complete a short survey about their experiences with frauds and scams during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Who Do You Think Gets Scammed More Often: Older or Younger People?

There is a presumption people over 65 are ripe for scamming and laws have been written to focus on that age group. For example, in 2018, financial institutions were authorized to report certain suspicious transactions to law enforcement but only on people over 65. This left all others exposed to know fraudulent activity without similar protection.

The survey Toomey presented to the participants asked if they had been approached by anyone offering (1) early access to a vaccine; (2) claims that additional information or money was required for access to a federal stimulus check; (3) fraudulent offers for treatments for COVID-19; and (4) generic claims that an individual’s bank or other financial account had been locked.

Surprisingly or even shockingly, the younger participants, aged 25-35, were three times more likely to fall for the scam messages.

Toomey says, “The conventional wisdom that seniors are more frequently defrauded than other age groups has never been supported by clear empirical evidence. Indeed, the academic literature widely recognizes that there is no strong evidence that older adults fall victim to scams more often than others.

What? That’s not true?

We can postulate factors that might lead to the under-reporting of scams by some or make assumptions that changes in the cognitive abilities of seniors leave them more susceptible to being scammed. But those a more guesses than facts.

Data from complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission show “older adults are less likely to report losing money to scams than other age groups, although they file more reports as a percentage of those who are victimized.”

A report from the British Office of National Statistics in 2016 found people 45-54 were more likely to be victims of scams than older folks.

I think this paper is fascinating, and if you’d like to learn more, you can read it here.

In my focus on debt relief issues, I think people across all age groups have been targeted, but I’ve felt the most strongly about older people no longer working is the most traumatic.

The paper opened my eyes to question if I might have some of the assumptions discussed.

As Toomey says, “it appears that we’ve been far more willing to treat scams as a serious social problem worthy of legal remedy where we consider the victims uniquely vulnerable through no fault of their own—simply because of the inevitable cognitive changes of ordinary aging. But this study has shown, at a minimum, that more of us are vulnerable to scams than anticipated—with 12% of a population of adults ages 25–35 engaging with scams during the COVID pandemic.”

“The results of this study suggest that our understanding of fraud—as essentially a challenge of personal responsibility in most cases and a public problem only with respect to particular groups—may be misguided. Indeed, the older adults in the study sample showed themselves largely capable of exercising personal responsibility to avoid victimization. In contrast, an alarmingly high percentage of younger adults reported engaging with scammers during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.”

“But there is another way forward, and one we might ultimately find to be more appealing. We might come to see scams and frauds—like other crimes—as not primarily a matter of personal responsibility at all. We might in the end come to realize that we are all—or at least many of us— vulnerable to the psychological tactics on which scammers rely, and not reserve our sympathy—and legal and social support—for victims of scams to those we think of as less responsible than us.”

Fascinating and thought-provoking.