Our Fraud Problem

51 Pages Posted: 19 Nov 2021

See all articles by James Toomey

James Toomey

Harvard University - Harvard Law School

Date Written: September 27, 2021


We think of frauds and scams as primarily a problem for older adults. In the past few years, states and the federal government have passed a range of statutes designed to prevent seniors, as distinct from other adults, from scams—from more harshly punishing scams directed towards older adults to authorizing financial institutions to more closely monitor and rapidly freeze the accounts of older clients. This successful, popular, and bipartisan law reform movement has taken place without a thorough empirical understanding of whether in fact seniors are scammed more frequently than other age groups.

This study analyzed whether older adults fell victim to scams more frequently than younger adults during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. A group of Americans older than 65 (n=364) and a group age 25–35 (n=388) were recruited online and asked to complete a short survey about their experiences with frauds and scams during the pandemic. The results were statistically analyzed to assess whether the two groups expressed that they were solicited by, engaged with, and were aware of consequences from four specific common scams of the pandemic and a catch-all final question.

The results were striking. The younger group engaged with scams three times more frequently than the older group, and this disparity was statistically significant (12% to 4%; χ2 = 16.41; p = .000051). Moreover, more younger adults engaged with scams than older adults as a percentage of those who had been solicited—that is, younger adults were more susceptible to scams. Therefore, in crafting our legal response to the challenge of frauds and scams, we must acknowledge that the problem is not limited to—and may not even be most prevalent among—seniors.

Keywords: elder law, senior financial abuse, frauds and scams, empirical legal studies

Suggested Citation

Toomey, James, Our Fraud Problem (September 27, 2021). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3931462 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3931462

James Toomey (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Harvard Law School ( email )

1563 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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