Telemarketing Fraud Victimization of Older Americans: An AARP Survey

Authors: Princeton Research Survey Associates, for AARP

Year: 1996

Focus Area: Profile

Relevance: This report provides demographic information about victims of telephone fraud and suggests four profiles of victims.

Summary: People over 50 are disproportionately victimized by telephone fraud. Compared to the general population over 50, these victims are more likely to be male, white, college graduates and home owners. Of these victims, repeat victims are more likely to be women, people over 65, and people living alone. The most common types of victims are those who are “open to anything” as long as the cost is relatively low, and those who are wary of scams but isolated and unlikely to seek help.

• Within the population over 50, fraud victims are more likely than non-victims to be male, white, and college graduates. They were more likely to work and to have an annual household income over $30,000.
• While it had been suspected that older fraud victims were more likely to live alone than non-victims, both groups have nearly the same housing patterns and social integration.
• Nearly all (90%) older fraud victims had heard of cases of consumer fraud, but 68% said it is difficult to identify fraud in the moment. An additional 11% said that they don’t know if it would be easy or hard to recognize fraud.
• Only 5% of victims said they had not received any telemarketing calls in the month before the survey.
• 96% of victims were able to describe a method for avoiding telephone fraud (i.e. hanging up on a telemarketer) but this report questions their inclination to follow through with those actions to prevent fraud when it happens.
• The study identified five victim profiles. The most common were people who were “open to anything” and often bought into low-cost sweepstakes and victims who feel they can’t be fooled and tend to resist help from others.

Abstract (from the authors): The U.S. Congress, in creating the Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act, found that consumers and others lose an estimated $40 billion in telemarketing fraud each year. In response to this growing problem, which disproportionately affects older consumers, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) has sponsored the first large-scale survey ever to investigate telemarketing fraud victimization among older people. The survey’s results paint a surprising portrait of victims: they are relatively affluent, well-educated, and informed; they are active in their communities; and they express many of the same attitudes about telemarketers that are widely held among people who do not fall prey to fraudulent schemes. This description stands in sharp contrast to the prevailing view of older victims, based on anecdotal evidence, as socially isolated, ill-informed, confused, and committed to old-fashioned ideas about how one should treat strangers who call.