FTC: Scam Artists Target Older Americans in New Ways

Older Americans are common targets of prize promotion and work-at-home scams, but healthcare-related exploitation and online fraud could become even larger concerns for senior consumer protection, according to the Federal Trade Commission. 

Prize promotion scammers are more likely to target older Americans, according to FTC Acting Director Charles Harwood in his testimony on current and emerging threats to older Americans and baby boomers before a U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce subcommittee about consumer protection issues.

In addition to prize promotion fraud, work-at-home scams are another type of fraud commonly affecting seniors, Harwood said, based on Fraud Report findings from the FTC’s Bureau of Economics. 

“In difficult economic times, many struggling Americans who cannot work outside the home due to physical, family or other constraints look for ways to supplement their fixed income through honest work,” said Harwood in his testimony. “These conditions spell ‘opportunity’ for con artists who stand ready to ensnare them.”

Identify theft also poses a threat to older Americans: in 2012, 19% of people who complained about identity theft and provided their age to the FTC reported being above the age of 60. 

As the baby boomers age and the overall population’s share of older Americans increases, several other types of fraud may become more prevalent—especially healthcare fraud related to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

“The Commission anticipates that as the ACA is implemented, scammers will exploit changes in Medicare to sow confusion and trick consumers into paying for worthless products or providing their financial account information,” said Harwood’s written testimony.

The FTC noted a “marked” increase in complaints about Medicare impostors in February compared to prior months. “These consumer complaints, while not necessarily indicative of a trend, are nonetheless cause for concern,” Harwood said. 

Additionally, recent data indicate that the number of older Americans using the Internet is rising rapidly, according to the FTC’s testimony, possibly exposing older Americans to online fraud more so than in years past.

Along with its enforcement actions against scammers and fraudsters who target seniors, the FTC also produces educational materials for older Americans and their caregivers about potential threats. The Commission is currently creating a new outreach campaign focused on providing consumer awareness tips to boomers and seniors.

Read the full testimony

Written by Alyssa Gerace


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