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AARP Research Details Risk Factors that Can Lead to Fraud Victimization

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Support networks, technology protections and education can help limit a scam’s success

A new AARP Fraud Frontiers report identified three risk factors that are present in most successful fraud and scam attempts – emotion, environment, and exposure. The findings of the report come as fraud reports have increased during the pandemic. An estimated nine in ten Americans (229 million people) encountered a fraud attempt and one in seven (33 million people) lost money to a scam in 2020, according to the report.

“Anyone can experience a scam, regardless of age, income or education,” said Doug Shadel, AARP fraud expert and study co-author. “Our research reveals a scammer’s strategy for success is to get their target into a heightened emotional state, increasing the likelihood of financial loss from the scam. But if we learn the red flags and take extra precautions during those moments in our lives, we can gain the upper hand in recognizing and avoiding scammers’ attempts.”

The findings present a new opportunity to get a step ahead of the scammers, by helping consumers understand the three factors that can create vulnerable moments:

  • Emotion: Victims of fraud reported significantly more and stronger emotions than non-victims at the time of fraud encounters. And more victims than non-victims reported feeling out of control during encounters with scams, which is precisely the goal of the criminal.
  • Environment: Coping with changes like loss of a job or death of a family member may impact a person’s response to fraud. Stressful life events can lower defenses, which may make it harder to spot a scam.
  • Exposure: Significantly more victims than non-victims experienced multiple exposures to fraud. Many victims also reported being more open to solicitations from strangers and making remote purchases at a pace that significantly exceeded that of non-victims, which may have caused additional fraud exposure.

The report findings support four key areas that may limit the likelihood of a scam’s success, including:

  • Fraud prevention education that builds awareness of the role that stress and emotions play in scams; protective factors that help to limit one’s exposure and susceptibility to scams, such as family and social support networks.
  • Technology protections like using a password manager, call blocking services, and identity theft monitoring services.
  • Consumer education.

The report also identified the top scams encountered by adults in 2020, which included car warranty scams (1.75 million or 70%), tech support scams (47%) and Social Security scams (42%).

Among the scams encountered, those involving immigration papers or other legal assistance were the most successful with nearly a quarter of adults losing money. Additionally, jury duty (12%), romance (12%), miracle medical cure products (11%) and pain relief products (10%) were top scams where adults lost money.

The AARP Fraud Watch Network is a free resource that equips consumers with up-to-date knowledge to spot and avoid scams, and connects those targeted by scams with our fraud helpline specialists who provide support and guidance on what to do next. Anyone can call the helpline at 877-908-3360. The Fraud Watch Network also offers free, facilitated peer discussion groups that seek to provide emotional support for those experiencing fraud; and advocates at the federal, state, and local levels to enact policy changes that protect consumers and enforce laws.

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