Report: Elder Fraud Scams Reaching Alarming Levels
By Roy Urrico
As information technology advances, senior citizens find themselves increasingly vulnerable to cybercrimes, especially those involving phishing and fraud. That is a conclusion reached by an Incogni study that revealed that crimes targeting people over 60 have reached alarming levels, with a total loss of $3.1 billion in 2022 alone.
Despite improvements in digital literacy among the elderly, limited data security knowledge among this age cohort makes them easy targets for criminals exploiting personal information, explained the study. It noted criminals exploit victims' income, savings, and asset information, making these scams highly successful and financially devastating for the elderly population.
"Protecting senior citizens from the rising tide of elder fraud crimes enabled by personal data vulnerabilities is extremely important today,” said Darius Belejevas, head of Los Angeles-based Incogni, which automatically removes users’ information from databases.
He added, “We encourage lawmakers, businesses, and individuals to come together and implement effective data protection measures to safeguard the elderly population from these harmful scams."
Overall, in 2022, the report found that the most notable types of fraud were related to cryptocurrency ($1.1 billion), investments ($990 million) and tech support ($590 million). All were at least partially responsible for losses by people over 60.
Elderly Increases in Losses Due to Fraud
Incogni’s researchers examined the annual elder fraud reports collected from organizations reporting such crimes to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), in investigating internet crimes against people over 60. The researchers aggregated yearly losses and victim counts per crime type from these reports (with additional supplementation from 2022 data concerning state-level information).
The IC3 received more than 103,000 crime complaints in 2022, with nearly 60% of these identified by Incogni’s researchers as facilitated or exacerbated by perpetrators’ access to their victims’ personal data. Between 2018 and 2022, the number of people over 60 reporting fraud to the IC3 increased from 62,000 to 88,000.
According to the Incogni study, however, it was not a steady increase. The pandemic year of 2020 saw the highest numbers of reported elder fraud at 105,000. From that high point, the number of victims dropped by 12% in 2021 and then a further 4% in 2022.
While the number of victims over 60 dropped since its 2020 peak, there has been a worrying increase in the average financial losses per victim, said Incogni. In 2020, the higher number of victims experienced an average loss of $9,000 and since then, as the number of defrauded elders decreased, the losses increased. In 2021, the average victim saw a loss of $18,000; and in 2022 the number almost doubled to $35,000 lost per victim.
In addition, almost 60% of cybercrimes were facilitated or exacerbated by crooks having access to victims' personal data. Researchers found almost 8,000 people over 60 years old affected by personal data breaches. Some crimes captured under the elder fraud umbrella, like identity fraud, depend entirely on such data availability.
Crimes Against Elderly Victims
“The kind of bewilderment and confusion that new technologies engender in older people leave them particularly vulnerable to a whole range of crimes, especially those involving phishing and fraud,” cautioned the report. It added, “People over 60 may well be able to use a computer or smartphone without too many problems these days, but they’re generally ill-equipped to take care of their data security or sniff out data-driven crimes before it’s too late.”
The most damaging frauds to seniors consist of:
· Investment scams, which affect a notable number of elderly people, with 4,700 victims reported in 2022 alone. This type of fraud has a greater chance of success and leads to greater damages when criminals have access to information on the victim’s income, savings, or assets.
· Tech support scams, which by far are the most commonly reported. They affected almost 18,000 people over the age of 60 in 2022. “This highlights the extent to which new technologies are the Achilles’ heel of older people,” claimed the report.
· Business email compromise (BEC), a crime targeting businesses rather than individuals. “It may be that older people are more likely to be placed in positions of greater responsibility in the workplace or run their own businesses,” pointed out the Incogni research. This may also indicate older individuals in positions of authority or entrepreneurship are particularly at risk due to their business-related online activities. BEC reportedly caused $477 million in losses and affected over 3,900 people over the age of 60.
· Confidence and romance scams, which came in as the fourth most-felt crimes in Incogni’s analysis. “It’s not difficult to imagine how singles in their 60s and beyond might be more vulnerable to this kind of scam,” noted the study. These types of scams led to losses of $420 million in 2022, affecting 7,200 elders.
The research also noted how a single instance of deception can comprise several types. For example, a “romance scam” can start with a personal data breach and involve cryptocurrency fraud in its later stages. In such a case, a single victim is defrauded once, but it counts towards three types of crime.
Data Protection Laws
Of the 30 crime types studied from the FBI’s datasets, at least 12, in part, depend on the availability of the victims’ personal information. Some crimes captured under the elder fraud umbrella, like identity fraud, are totally dependent on such data availability. The biggest one-stop-shop sources of such information are data brokers, which aggregate data from a variety of sources.
In an August 2022 study, Incogni found that older Americans are least likely to agree with statements like “I know how to practice my right to privacy online” and “privacy protection laws in my state are adequate.”
Incogni, together with the elder fraud findings, suggest that older Americans may be among those who would benefit most from data protection laws like the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA). Such laws put limits on companies like data brokers and make cybercrimes more difficult to perpetrate.