Millions of Americans fall prey to scams each year, and mortgage loan fraud has been consistently rising in the last ten years, a worrying trend for the nation’s seniors. Scammers are reportedly taking advantage of the poor economic climate to defraud seniors who are looking for financial assistance in the form of home equity conversion mortgages. Even worse, tens of thousands of people are often reluctant to acknowledge their status as fraud victims, and only 25% of victims over 55 actually reported to an authority that they had fallen for a scam, says a recently released AARP study.
The study was conducted in light of the prevalence of scams and fraudulent schemes that take place in the United States; in fact, a 2007 Federal Trade Commission study said 13.5% of Americans had been victims of fraud during the studied year. And, says the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, mortgage loan frauds comprised 39% of suspicious activity instances in 2009 and 2010.
Hundreds of seniors were surveyed for the purposes of the year-long AARP study, including those involved in investment cons, fraudulent business opportunity deals, and lottery scams. Of those surveyed, 723 were confirmed victims of fraud garnered from law enforcement agency lists, while the remaining 1,509 respondents were a part of the general population. Many victims, including seniors, are unwilling to admit they’ve been defrauded
Those over 55, says AARP, are much less likely to acknowledge they’ve been scammed, at 37%, as opposed to 56% of those under 55 who admitted their victim status. And while 44% of those under 55 reported being defrauded to authorities, only one quarter of those over 55 came forward.
Seniors who have already fallen victim to fraud may have been more susceptible than the general population of older Americans because of their behavior. The survey found that 65% of older fraud victims were likely to participate in at least a couple of activities that put them at risk for scams, including opening and reading all junk mail, entering drawings to win free prizes, or inviting salespeople into their homes for pitches. This compares to 51% of surveyed older Americans who exhibit the same behavior.
Many older Americans were found to be more interested in six of 10 commonly-used persuasion tactics than the general population, says AARP. Victims to lottery fraud reported more interest in eight out of the 10 persuasion tactics than the general population, demonstrating more interest than any other category of fraud victims.
Some seniors are also taken in by celebrities who appear in commercials to endorse reverse mortgages, but don’t necessarily give all the facts. An FBI agent at a Mortgage Bankers Association conference discussing fraud schemes and trends said that scammers prey upon elderly people who don’t have their full capacities, adding that these scams are often hard to detect.
On average, fraud victims scored lower in their knowledge of consumer rights, as compared to the general population. Those who were involved in lottery fraud and prescription drug/identity theft fraud had significantly less knowledge, respectively scoring 5.9 and 5.6 on a scale of 1 to 10, compared to the general population’s score of 6.4.
The AARP press release listed some tips to avoid falling victim to scams, and urged all to be vigilant.
“As the survey showed, many of our older family members or loved ones may have been scammed but are not reporting it,” said AARP Washington State Director and study co-author Doug Shadel. “It’s important that we pay attention to whether or not someone we care about may be putting themselves in harm’s way.”
Written by Alyssa Gerace