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AARP Survey: Nearly Half of U.S. Adults Have Been Targeted by Impostor Scams

Fraud

Impostor scams continue to target large numbers of Americans across the country and in Connecticut, and as the federal government launches the 2020 Census, a majority may be susceptible to phony Census correspondence or telephone calls, according to results of a survey by the AARP Fraud Watch Network.

The study, “The Impostors: Stealing Money, Damaging Lives,” focused on government impostor scams, in which criminals pose as representatives of agencies such as the IRS, Social Security Administration or Census Bureau; and relationship scams, when fraudsters pretend to be a relative or someone seeking a romantic relationship online. Researchers also probed the effects of fraud schemes on intended victims.

Nearly half of the surveyed adults in the U.S. (47%) and Connecticut (45%) reported that they have been targeted by an impostor scam. The Federal Trade Commission received 647,000 reports of impostor scams during 2019, more than any other type of fraud; the FTC says government impostor scams increased more than 50 percent over 2018.

The Decennial Census presents a new opportunity for the criminals who impersonate government officials, and AARP’s survey shows that many consumers may be at risk:

  • Seventy percent of respondents in the U.S., and 71% in Connecticut, were incorrect or unsure about whether the Census Bureau would contact them via email. Invitations to participate in the Census actually will be sent via U.S. mail.
  • More than a third (35%) expect or are unsure whether the Census questionnaire will ask for their Social Security number. The Census Bureau says it will never ask for sensitive information such as Social Security number, bank account information or passwords, or request payment of a fee.

“We’ve learned that scammers are very shrewd and adept at capitalizing on current events,” said Nora Duncan, state director, AARP Connecticut. “The Census has been in the news, so most people are expecting to hear soon from the Census Bureau. Scammers will use that to their advantage as they aim to deceive people into sharing sensitive information or handing over money.”

Households will receive invitations to respond to the Decennial Census by mail between March 2 and March 20. Responses to the Census questions may be submitted online or via mail or telephone. By May, Census workers will begin visiting or contacting households that have not yet responded. For assistance with recognizing potential Census scams, see the tip sheet from the AARP Fraud Watch Network.

The toll of impostor scams goes beyond the financial impact, according to the AARP survey. Among those who have been targeted and/or victimized, 23% in Connecticut and 18% across the country reported that they experienced health problems or emotional distress as a result of the encounter.

Among other findings of the survey:

  • Forty-five percent of survey respondents age 50 and older in the U.S., and 38% in Connecticut, have been contacted by a government impostor, as compared to 35% and 36%, respectively, of those ages 18-to-49.
  • Two in five adults use dating websites, apps or online social groups to find potential dates or romantic partners. Of those, 55% in Connecticut and half in the U.S. encountered one of the “red flags” of romance fraud, including requests for money.
  • The majority of adults are at least somewhat familiar with government impostor scams and relationship scams (including romance fraud and the grandparent scam) – indicating that efforts by AARP and other consumer advocates to increase public awareness are working. However, 55% of survey respondents across the U.S. and 59% in Connecticut failed a 10-question fraud safety quiz.

AARP members and the public are invited to learn more about impostor scams and other fraud schemes by participating in an Online Community Q&A during February. Amy Nofziger, Director, AARP Fraud Victim Support, is the host, and will answer your questions and take comments about scams you have encountered.

The AARP Fraud Watch Network launched in 2013 as a free resource for people of all ages. Consumers may sign up for “Watchdog Alert” emails that deliver information about scams, or call a free helpline at 877-908-3360 to report scams or get help from trained volunteers in the event someone falls victim to scammers’ tactics. The Fraud Watch Network website provides information about fraud and scams, prevention tips from experts, an interactive scam-tracking map and access to AARP’s hit podcast series, The Perfect Scam.

Survey Methodology
Online survey via NORC’s AmeriSpeak® Panel, a probability-based panel with sample targeting U.S. adults ages 18 and older.AmeriSpeak is designed to be representative of the U.S. household population.Qualifications: Ages 18 or older; goes online or accesses the Internet (e.g., sending or receiving email).Sample: NORC’s AmeriSpeak® Panel, n=2,273 adults ages 18 and over.Interviewing Dates: Dec. 18, 2019, to Jan. 20, 2020.Weighting: Sample data are weighted to the U.S. population by age, gender, race/ethnicity, and Census division.Margin of error: ±2.18 percent at the 95% confidence level.For more detail, see the research report.

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