Are seniors as susceptible to online scams as people think? A reverse lender says no

Survey data suggests that baby boomers may not be victimized as often as people think, but bad actors remain focused on this age group

New data illustrates a discrepancy between the perception of baby boomers who lose money to financial scams and the actual rate of seniors to fall prey to such bad actors.

This is according to the results of a survey conducted by market research firm Ipsos and HomeEquity BankCanada’s leading reverse mortgage lender — that focuses on members of the baby-boomer generation who reside in that country.

“In fact, boomers are no more likely to have been victimized by online fraud or scams than any other generation,” according to an announcement of the survey results.

“Its findings show that not only is this demographic more vigilant than other generations about online safety, the born-online generations are the ones opening themselves up to scams the most by engaging in risky online [behavior]. Despite this truth, two thirds (66%) of Canadians polled think boomers are the most likely to fall victim to online scams.”

More vigilance about scammer activity, however, does not mean that seniors are able to avoid being a demographic “loss leader,” since the data also suggests that scammers are more likely to target older people compared to their younger counterparts.

“Our customers are often the ones being the most careful with technology,” said Vivianne Gauci, senior vice president of customer experience at HomeEquity Bank. “But even if they aren’t falling for scams, older Canadians are highly targeted by ever-more sophisticated scammers. We want to help them fight back against the stereotype and the scammers by providing them with even more education to help keep their scam-sense sharp.”

According to Canadian news outlet CBC News, 90% of Canadians live within 100 miles (or 160 kilometers) of the U.S. border as of 2009. Some of this data likely applies to American seniors as well, but a different finance system, regulatory environment and social programs do not make for an equal comparison.

To get a better idea of the situation in the U.S., RMD reached out to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which maintains an Office for Older Americans that is designed to protect seniors from bad actors that could cause them financial harm.

The CFPB referred to data from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which published the latest version of its Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book last month based on 2023 data.

Broadly, there was some degree of alignment between U.S. and Canadian citizens, with some core caveats.

“Of people who reported their age, those aged 20-29 reported losing money to fraud in 44% of reports filed with the FTC, while people aged 70-79 reported losing money in 25% of their reports and people 80 and over reported it in 22% of their reports,” the FTC explained. “But when they did experience a loss, people aged 70 and older reported much higher median losses than any other age group.”

Fraud loss reports received by the FTC illustrate that people between the ages of 30-39 reported the highest number of overall financial losses, with roughly 183 loss reports per 100,000 people. The figure falls to 149 per 100,000 for those ages 60-69, rises to 158 per 100,000 for the 70-79 age group, and falls again to 87 per 100,000 for ages 80-89.

These are, however, reported instances of fraud-related loss. People may choose not to report a fraud-related loss for a number of reasons. Researchers from AARP speculated in 2023 that “people who didn’t report were either not aware that the scenarios were scams, had forgotten about the episode, or were too embarrassed to admit they’d lost money, particularly given the societal tendency to blame victims.”

Despite a lower rate of reported financial losses from fraud, Americans 60 and older reported losing larger amounts of money than younger generations. And despite being the age group with the lowest reported rate of financial scams, the 80-and-over cohort reports the largest losses measured in dollar amounts, according to FTC data.

So, while there may be truth to the idea that seniors aren’t as susceptible to scams as some may think, the scammers continue to focus on swindling older Americans in attempts at a bigger payday.

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