The Age of Fraud

66 Pages Posted: 19 Nov 2021 Last revised: 27 Feb 2023

See all articles by James Toomey

James Toomey

University of Iowa - College of Law

Date Written: September 27, 2021


We think of scams primarily as a problem for older adults. Indeed, in the past few years, states and the federal government have undertaken a range of legal actions designed to prevent seniors, as a distinct class, from scams—from more harshly punishing scams directed towards older adults to authorizing financial institutions to closely monitor and rapidly freeze the accounts of only their older clients. But this successful, popular, and bipartisan law reform movement has taken place without a thorough empirical understanding of whether in fact seniors fall victim to scams more frequently than other age groups.

This study analyzed whether older adults were victimized by scams more frequently than younger adults during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. A group of Americans 65 and older (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 additional scams not specifically described.

The results unsettle conventional wisdom on the shape of scam victimization. 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. Although further research is required, in designing legal and policy solutions to the challenge of frauds and scams we must acknowledge the problem may not be limited to—nor even be most prevalent among—seniors.

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

Suggested Citation

Toomey, James, The Age of Fraud (September 27, 2021). Harvard Journal on Legislation, Vol. 60, 2023, Available at SSRN: or

James Toomey (Contact Author)

University of Iowa - College of Law ( email )

Melrose and Byington
Iowa City, IA 52242
United States

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