Law enforcement recently conducted the largest ever coordinated sweep of identity fraud cases targeting the elderly. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, more than 250 defendants have been charged in the sweep, 200 of whom have been charged criminally.
Elders Fall Victim to Social Engineering Schemes
Some of these identity fraud campaigns included grandparent scams in which seniors were contacted and told that their grandchildren had been arrested and needed bail money. Other scams suggested that seniors had won the lottery but needed to pay a large fee to get the winnings, or that they owed back taxes to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
In total, the Justice Department reported that more than 1 million people collectively lost “hundreds of millions of dollars” through these scams.
While some identity fraud is conducted through traditional technologies such as the telephone, there are other methods. For example, romance scams involve an attacker befriending a senior online and then asking for money to visit the U.S., among other pretenses.
An expert from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Foundation noted that technology makes life much easier for scammers, as reported by USA Today. While phone-based scams might ensnare one senior at a time, email and other online channels allow fraudsters to reach millions of potential victims at once.
Identity Fraud by the Numbers
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)’s “Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2017,” identity fraud made up 14 percent of consumer complaints last year, second only to debt collection.
The FTC also showed that, while scams against the elderly are a concern, younger citizens are equally at risk: 40 percent of millennials in their 20s said they lost money to fraud, compared to 18 percent of those over 70. However, seniors tended to suffer higher median losses than other age groups, the report found.
Although credit card scams involving new or existing accounts were among the major identity fraud issues highlighted in the FTC’s data, it also referred to other modes of attack such as online shopping and payment account schemes, data theft via email and social media, and more.