FTC Report Shows Seniors Twice as Vulnerable to Scams — Here’s What to Know

Rear view of senior woman sitting on bed in bedroom
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A new report from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reminds us just how vulnerable seniors are to scams.

In 2017, consumers ages 60 and above reported the largest individual monetary losses to fraud, according to the Protecting Older Consumers report.

Even among seniors, reported median losses increased with age. In fact, people ages 80 and above reported median losses of $1,100 — more than double the median amount reported lost by any age group under 70.

How Seniors Get Scammed

Phone calls were the most frequent method of fraud against seniors. Tech support, business imposters and sweepstakes claims were the most commonly reported scams from this age group.

Seniors were most likely to be defrauded by way of credit card payment. But they reported far greater losses when they paid scammers via wire transfer. In 2017, people ages 60 and older paid $104 million via wire transfer to fraudsters.

Here are a few of the greatest hits from recent FTC cases against scammers:

A company claimed that seniors could get grant money to pay their personal expenses like credit card debt or medical bills. Victims were charged an upfront fee and told they could get their grant money faster if they paid additional fees. The FTC is still pursuing this case.

A personalized mail scam told victims they had won or could win a big cash prize in exchange for a nominal fee. “Many people, including seniors, paid the fees several times before realizing they [had] been deceived,” the FTC noted. That case is also ongoing.

In another scam, telemarketers tricked older consumers into buying tech support they didn’t actually need.

But one scam might surprise you: apartment listings. The FTC identified a large-scale scam that advertised housing for low-income families, the elderly and persons with disabilities. “The FTC alleged that these claims are false or unsubstantiated and that most of the listed properties either were not available or do not accept Section 8 housing vouchers,” the FTC noted. That case is ongoing as well.

How to Protect Yourself (and Your Parents) From Scams

The old adage stands: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Remember that technology companies don’t routinely call customers about their computers. If you have a concern about a piece of technology you own, contact the company’s support desk on your own.

Received a mailer or phone call that you’ve won a prize? Keep your guard up, and don’t share your financial information. Chances are, it’s a fake.

If you’re looking for legitimate resources for housing information, tech support or financial assistance, stop by the reference desk at your local library. These experts are well-versed in sharing local, trustworthy resources with patrons.

Suspect you’ve been scammed? Don’t be embarrassed — take action to control the damage and alert others. You’ll want to report the scam to the FTC, and you may need to notify your banks, credit card issuers and credit bureaus.

Lisa Rowan is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.