Elder Consumer Fraud Statistics




Reasons for targeting the elderly



U.S. Population

Americans age 65 or older represent approximately 14% of the country’s population, and likely to rapidly increase as the “Baby Boomer” generation enters that age range, among other factors.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services- Administration on Aging  

Wealth & Vulnerability

  • Persons over the age of 50 control over 70% of the nation’s wealth.
  • Elders often have disabilities which require assistance, making them vulnerable targets.
  • They also have predictable patterns of life. For example, an elder may have a set time when he or she receives a check in the mail, or have a usual routine of going to the grocery store or bank.

National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse

Social Media

  • Scammers increasingly use the Internet and social media to reach more victims (romance/relationship scams, grandparent scams, etc.)
  • More than half all seniors now use the Internet. Additionally, 34% use social media, but do not closely regulate/control their privacy settings.
  • The average age of facebook users increased from 29.53 in 2010 to 30.11 in 2013 as older people became more computer and social-media literate.
  • Investment fraud is a growing concern among senior citizens- elders must be aware of fraudulent investment “opportunities”, both in person and online.

Catherine Elton, The Fleecing of America’s Elderly, Consumer’s Digest (November 2012).

 Internet Presence

  • 87% of senior citizens use online search engines (Google, Bing, etc.)
  • 89% of senior citizens use the internet to check their email.

R. David Johnson, Social Media and Senior Citizens, Philadelphia Social Innovations Journal

 Personal Factors

The following personal factors can increase the chances of being victimized. Home ownership:

  • Likelihood of seeking advice before a purchase;
  • Knowledge of sources of consumer information and consumer rights;
  • Financial risk-taking behavior;
  • Openness to marketing appeals;
  • Knowledge of the existence of frauds, scams, and misleading practices; and
  • Ability to hang up on telemarketers.

The research implies that a lack of knowledge and of certain consumer skills creates a susceptibility to fraud. Some factors that seem irrelevant on the surface may also contribute to the likelihood of fraud victimization, such as being on "junk mail" lists; belonging to organizations; making purchases over the phone or Internet; moving; buying a house, car, or appliance; investing; and donating to charity.

Kelly Dedel Johnson, Financial Crimes Against the Elderly, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, No. 20 (2003)

Common types of scams




Common Scams Include: 

  • “Sweetheart Swindles”
  • This is a con game normally perpetrated by transient criminals, targeting mostly elderly widowed or single males or females.
  • The operatives will have a "chance meeting" with the intended victim on the street; in a supermarket; bank; or other public areas frequented by the elderly. Conversations will ensue and over a period of time the con artist will engage the victim in a bogus romantic relationship. The con artist may indicate that they are in dire financial circumstances and tell the victim they are waiting on a large insurance/lawsuit settlement. The suspect may ask for a loan for a sewing business (either for material or machinery) or they may ask for a loan for an expensive medical procedure and promise to pay the loan back when they get the money from the settlement. This relationship may lead to professions of love and even promises of marriage.
  • As the relationship progresses, the con artist may ultimately induce the victim into signing a Power of Attorney form. This opens up the opportunity for the player or an associate to completely drain all the financial assets of the victim. The player may also induce the victim to change an existing will, having them named as the major heir.

  • Telemarketing or fraudulent charity solicitations resulting in identity theft
  • Sweepstakes or lottery scams
  • Reverse mortgage fraud
  • Healthcare scams
  • Home repair/service scams
  • Insurance fraud
  • Investment scams
  • “Bank Examiner” scheme and fraud
  • Elderly persons will be approached by complete strangers in a bank parking lot and asked for their assistance in “investigating” a bank employee or bank branch. They are asked to withdraw funds as part of the investigation, and their money is stolen. This investigative practice is never employed by any recognized law enforcement agency or banking regulator.

For a comprehensive list of scams, refer to The National Association of Bunco Investigators


Common types of national scams found by the FBI:

  • Health Care Fraud or Health Insurance Fraud
  • Medical Equipment Fraud - Equipment manufacturers offer “free” products to individuals. Insurers are then charged for products that were not needed and/or may not have been delivered.
  • “Rolling Lab” Schemes - Unnecessary and sometimes fake tests are given to individuals at health clubs, retirement homes, or shopping malls and billed to insurance companies or Medicare.
  • Services Not Performed - Customers or providers bill insurers for services never rendered by changing bills or submitting fake ones.
  • Medicare Fraud - Medicare fraud can take the form of any of the health insurance frauds described above. Senior citizens are frequent targets of Medicare schemes, especially by medical equipment manufacturers who offer seniors free medical products in exchange for their Medicare numbers. Because a physician has to sign a form certifying that equipment or testing is needed before Medicare pays for it, con artists fake signatures or bribe corrupt doctors to sign the forms. Once a signature is in place, the manufacturers bill Medicare for merchandise or service that was not needed or was not ordered.

  • Counterfeit Prescription Drugs

  • Funeral and Cemetery Fraud

  • Fraudulent “Anti-Aging” Products

  • Telemarketing Fraud
  • Telemarketing scams often involve offers of free prizes, low-cost vitamins and health care products, and inexpensive vacations.
  • There are warning signs to these scams. If you hear these—or similar—“lines” from a telephone salesperson, just say “no thank you,” and hang up the telephone:
  •  “You must act now, or the offer won’t be good.”
  •  “You’ve won a free gift, vacation, or prize.” But you have to pay for “postage and handling” or other charges.
  • “You must send money, give a credit card or bank account number, or have a check picked up by courier.” You may hear this before you have had a chance to consider the offer carefully.
  • “You don’t need to check out the company with anyone.” The callers say you do not need to speak to anyone, including your family, lawyer, accountant, local Better Business Bureau, or consumer protection agency.
  • “You don’t need any written information about the company or its references.”
  • “You can’t afford to miss this high-profit, no-risk offer.”

  • Internet Fraud - As web use among senior citizens increases, so does their chances to fall victim to Internet fraud. Internet Fraud includes non-delivery of items ordered online and credit and debit card scams.

  • Investment Schemes - As they plan for retirement, senior citizens may fall victim to investment schemes. These may include advance fee schemes, prime bank note schemes, pyramid schemes, and Nigerian letter fraud schemes.

  • Reverse Mortgage Scams - Reverse mortgage scams are engineered by unscrupulous professionals in a multitude of real estate, financial services, and related companies to steal the equity from the property of unsuspecting senior citizens or to use these seniors to unwittingly aid the fraudsters in stealing equity from a flipped property. In many of the reported scams, victim seniors are offered free homes, investment opportunities, and foreclosure or refinance assistance. They are also used as straw buyers in property flipping scams. Seniors are frequently targeted through local churches and investment seminars, as well as television, radio, billboard, and mailer advertisements.

FBI Common Fraud Schemes - Fraud Target: Senior Citizens


Other scams to be aware of include:

  • Grandparent scam - An imposter calls a grandparent pretending to be a grandchild in trouble; the scammer may even know the grandchild’s name. The scammer is usually crying making it hard to recognize the grandchild’s voice. The scammer pleads for the grandparent to immediately wire money and not tell any family members for fear of upsetting them. Many people will immediately jump to the assistance of the grandchild and won’t ask questions until later.

Jenefer Duane, Spotlight on scams that target older adults, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (June 13, 2013)


  • Prizes and sweepstakes - These frauds generally involve informing the victim that he or she could win, or has already won, a "valuable" prize or a lot of money. The victim is required to send in money to cover taxes, shipping, or processing fees. The prize may never be delivered or, if so, is usually costume jewelry or cheap electronic equipment worth less than the money paid to retrieve it.

  • Investments - Because many seniors live on fixed incomes, they often want to increase the value of their estate and ensure they have sufficient funds to meet basic needs. In investment scams, offenders persuade the elderly to invest in precious gems, real estate, annuities, or stocks and bonds by promising unrealistically high rates of return. The investments often consist of fake gemstones, uninhabitable property, or shares in a nonexistent or unprofitable company.

  • Charity contributions - Playing on some seniors' desire to help others, offenders solicit donations to nonexistent charities or religious organizations, often using sweepstakes or raffles to do so.

  • Home and automobile repairs - Offenders may recommend an array of fraudulent "emergency" home repairs, often requiring an advance deposit. They may subsequently fail to do any work at all, start but not finish the work, or do substandard work that requires correction. Common frauds include roof repairs, driveway resurfacing, waterproofing, and pest control. The offenders are often transient, moving among neighborhoods, cities, and even states. Dishonest auto mechanics may falsely inform customers that certain repairs are needed, or they may bill for services or repairs that were not requested or were not completed.

  • Loans and mortgages - Seniors may experience cash flow shortages in the face of needed medical care or home repairs. Predatory lenders may provide loans with exorbitant interest rates, hidden fees, and repayment schedules far exceeding the elderly's means, often at the risk of their home, which has been used as collateral.

  • Health, funeral, and life insurance - Many seniors are concerned about having the funds to pay for needed medical care or a proper burial, or to bequeath to loved ones upon death. Unscrupulous salespeople take advantage of these concerns by selling the elderly policies that duplicate existing coverage, do not provide the coverage promised, or are altogether bogus.

  • Health remedies - The elderly often have health problems that require treatment. Preying on this vulnerability, offenders market a number of ineffective remedies, promising "miracle cures." Unfortunately, given this false hope, many seniors delay needed treatment, and their health deteriorates further.

  • Travel - Compared with younger adults, seniors often have more leisure time and are attracted to low-cost travel packages. However, many of these packages cost far more than market rates, provide substandard accommodations, or do not provide the promised services.

  • Confidence games - These frauds generally do not involve a product or service; instead, they include a broad array of deceitful scenarios to get cash from the elderly. The offender may pretend to be in a position of authority (e.g., a bank examiner), or otherwise trustworthy, concocting a story to get the victim to hand over cash, then disappearing. For example, the perpetrators of "lottery scams" claim to have won the lottery but to have no bank account in which to deposit the winnings. The offender promises the victim a premium in exchange for use of his or her account. After the victim makes a "good faith" payment to the offender, the victim never hears from the offender again.

In addition to variations in the type of product or service offered, frauds vary widely in the means used to commit them:

  • Telemarketing - Offenders call people at home, using high-pressure tactics to solicit money for fraudulent investments, insurance policies, travel packages, charities, and sweepstakes. Fraudulent telemarketing operations are designed to limit the benefit to the customer while maximizing the profit for the telemarketer and for the highly efficient contact of a lot of potential customers.

  • Mail - Fraudulent prize and sweepstakes operations often mail materials to a wide audience, relying on potential victims to "self-select" by returning a postcard or calling to indicate their interest. The mailings often look official, use extensive personalization (e.g., repeating the recipient's name in the text), include claims of authenticity, have contradictory content or "double-talk," and make a seemingly low-key request for the recipient to submit a small fee.

  • Face to Face Contact - Some frauds involving products and services (e.g., home and auto repairs) require face-to-face contact at either the victim's home or a business. Alternatively, a scammer gains entry to the victim's home by posing as a utility worker and distracts the victim while an accomplice burglarizes the home.

Kelly Dedel Johnson, Financial Crimes Against the Elderly, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, No. 20 (2003)

Statistics on elderly victims




A few years ago, the Investor Protection Trust released a survey that found that more than 7.3 million Americans over 65 had already been victims of fraud.

Michelle Singletary, Targeting Scams Against the Elderly, The Washington Post (July 29, 2014)


Elders collectively lose billions of dollars each year due to financial abuse, with some estimates reaching as high as $36 billion.

Tobie Stanger, Financial Elder Abuse Costs $3 Billion a Year. Or Is It $36 Billion?, Consumer Reports (Sept. 20, 2015) 


From 2008-2010 there has been a 12% increase in the amount of money scammed from seniors.

Skip Humphrey, Protecting Older Americans from financial abuse, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (June 14, 2012)


It is estimated that for each case of elder financial exploitation reported, 43 others go unrecognized.

Jenefer Duane, Spotlight on scams that target older adults, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (June 13, 2013)


According to the National Consumers League, nearly one third of all telemarketing fraud victims are 60 years or older.

Herb Weisbaum, Scammers Switch Back to Phone Calls to Target Victims, CNBC (Feb. 4, 2014)


With no face-to-face interaction, and no paper trail, telemarketing scams are incredibly hard to trace. Also, once a successful deal has been made, the buyer’s name is then shared with similar schemers looking for easy targets, sometimes defrauding the same person repeatedly.

National Council on Aging


 A 2011 National Victim Profiling study by AARP Foundation revealed the average age of scam victims was 69 years old. It also found that victims over the age of 50 were more likely than others to accept free meals or trips that included high pressure sales pitches, and were more apt to open and read junk mail offers.

Paula Span, Prime Targets for Scam Artists, The New Old Age (NY Times Blog April 2012)


According to an Internet Crime Complaint Center Report, the following scams resulted in great losses for older victims:

  • Work from home scams - Through advertisements in newspapers, online job sites, emails and social networking sites, scammers recruit innocent job seekers as "mules" to unknowingly steal or launder money. They work at their computers, thinking they're a "money transfer agent" or a "payment processing agent" for a legitimate business, but in fact they're moving stolen money abroad and unwittingly disguising its true origins. The scammers may also compromise the victim's' own accounts or identities.
  • Overall, victims lost $20 million total through identity theft and account tampering, averaging $1,160 per victim. "Regrettably, due to their participation, these individuals may face criminal charges" for check fraud and receiving and moving stolen goods, notes the report.
  • Losses to the 50-plus: $8.4 million total. Breakdown:
  •  Men ages 50-59: 1st in complaints, losses of $2.8 million; ages 60-plus: 5th in complaints, losses of $2 million.
  • Women ages 50-59: 4th in complaints, losses of $2 million; ages 60-plus: 5th in complaints, losses of $1.5 million.

  • Government official impersonation
  • There were 14,350 complaints about emails that falsely claim to come from a government agency. Fast-growing are FBI fakers demanding money to prevent arrest, but the category also includes emails that seek money and personal information and purport to be from the IRS, Social Security Administration, Medicare or other agencies. In truth, government agencies do not send unsolicited emails. The total losses were $3.5 million, with a per-victim loss of $245.
  • Losses to the 50-plus: $2.2 million. Breakdown:
  • Men ages 50-59: 1st in complaints, losses of $328,000; ages 60-plus: 2nd in complaints, losses of $1.1 million.
  • Women ages 50-59: 1st in complaints, losses of $501,000; ages 60-plus: 4th in complaints, losses of $250,000.
  • Over-60s lost the most money, $1.35 million, with those in their 50s in 2nd place at $829,000.

  • Loan intimidation
  • The subject of 9,968 complaints, loan intimidation scams usually come by phone, but sometimes email. Fraudsters claiming to be with law enforcement, a law firm or a government agency threaten arrest or legal action for a supposed delinquent loan. To make their ruse convincing, they often already have the target’s personal information such as Social Security numbers and birth dates. The IC3 reports that many victims say they completed online applications for loans and credit cards before the calls began. Overall, these scams netted more than $8 million in 2011.
  • Losses to the 50-plus: $3.5 million. Breakdown:
  • Men ages 50-59: 4th in complaints, losses of $570,000; ages 60-plus: 5th in complaints, losses of $1 million.
  • Women 50-59: 4th in complaints, losses of $970,000; ages 60-plus: 5th in complaints, losses of $927,000
  • Among both genders, 30-39 year olds filed the most complaints and those 40 to 49 lost the most money, being nearly $2 million.

  • Romance
  • Fueling 5,663 complaints, cyber-romance scams snagged not only hearts but $50.4 million from their victims. You know their MO: Once they woo targets met on dating websites and in chat rooms, they request wire transfers supposedly to help with a personal hardship, pay for an airline ticket for a meeting or meet some other heart-rending expense. The IC3 averaged 15 complaints a day, with per-victim losses of $8,900.
  • Losses to the 50-plus: $34.3 million. Breakdown:
  • Men ages 50-59: 2nd in complaints, losses of $3.6 million; 60-plus: 5th in complaints, losses of $2.6 million.
  • Women ages 50-59: 1st in complaints, losses of $18.8 million; 60-plus: 3rd in complaints, losses of $9.3 million.
  • Women age 40 and older are the most targeted — and victimized.

  • Auto auctions
  • Generating 4,066 complaints, auto auction scams cost victims nearly $8.3 million. Crooks advertise a vehicle at a great price, claiming they must sell it quickly because they are moving, being deployed by the military or experiencing hard times. They request immediate full or partial payment through a third party, usually part of the scam ring. Of course, it turns out the vehicle doesn't exist or isn't theirs to sell. Sometimes scammers add credibility by posting photos stolen from legitimate auto auction websites. The per-victim loss averages about $2,000.
  • How the 50-plus fared: Losses of $2.6 million. Breakdown:
  • Men ages 50-59: 3rd place in complaints, losses of $1 million; ages 60-plus: 5th in complaints, losses of $884,000.
  • Women ages 50-59: 4th in complaints, losses of $448,000; ages 60-plus: 5th place in complaints, tied with those aged under 20, losses of $257,000.
  • Those 40 to 49 of both genders lost the most, nearly $2.1 million. Women in their 20s and men in their 40s filed the most complaints.

Internet Crime Complaint Center - 2011 Internet Crime Report

General Info




Financial Exploitation of the Elderly in a Consumer Context Research:

Study focused on Arizona and Florida, and included telephone interviews of 1000 Arizonans and 1000 Floridians age 60 and over.

  • Results supported findings that elderly populations are significantly targeted for various types of fraud, including shopping/purchasing fraud, financial fraud, and other consumer fraud.
  • More than two-thirds of individuals ages 60 and over in Arizona and Florida were subjected to attempted fraud in the two years prior to the survey.
  • Victimization is relatively common—in this same time period, 1 in 5 respondents reported being the victim of fraud.

Kristy Holtfreter et al., Financial Exploitation of the Elderly in a Consumer Context, NCJRS (2014)