Telemarketing Fraud Is Greatly Underreported in Victims 45+

“Off the Hook,” a new AARP Foundation study found that the crime of telemarketing fraud is grossly underreported among older victims, but that those who are properly counseled by trained peer volunteers are less likely to fall victim to fraudulent pitches.

In one portion of the study, AARP found that 73 percent of investment fraud victims did not acknowledge having lost money, and only half of lottery fraud victims reported recent losses.

The findings came from a three-step study, funded by a grant from the Department of Justice, which examined telemarketing fraud victimization and tested interventions designed to prevent further losses.

AARP first studied how different intervention messages, presented to actual and potential telemarketing fraud victims by peer counselors, affected the listeners’ responses to subsequent telephone sales pitches. Peer counselors called people at home to share information about telemarketing fraud and explained steps for avoiding fraud. A few days later, counselors called back and delivered a pitch mimicking a fraudulent offer, using the same methods as the telemarketers. In almost every instance, people who heard intervention messages were far less likely to respond to the “sting” solicitation. The most successful message reduced participation by two thirds.

“We saw that peer counseling about the specific dangers of telemarketing fraud and how to handle the come-ons is effective,” said Bridget Small, Director of AARP Consumer Protection. “With two thirds of victims having a tough time spotting the danger signs, there is a tremendous need to fight the problem.”

AARP then conducted telephone interviews with known victims of lottery and investment scams, and a sample of the general population, all age 45+ to determine the accuracy of reporting fraud. Overall, the majority of victims did not acknowledge their losses. Almost three quarters (73%) of the investment victims did not acknowledged having lost money recently, although law enforcement had contacted each of them. Only half of the lottery victims reported recent losses.

Additionally, victims expressed differences from the general population in their response to being pressured, their belief in having control in their lives, and reliance on hunches and intuition. The lottery victims were least likely to have, and use, technology to screen incoming calls, and more likely to answer the phone. Limiting consumers’ exposure to unknown callers, either by call screening or ending calls quickly, is an essential step in reducing victimization.

Finally, interviews were conducted with professionals in the U.S. and Canada who work with older victims of telemarketing fraud, or supervise telemarketing fraud investigations. The professionals reported on strategies that have, and have not, been successful in modifying the behavior of victims involved in fraudulent telemarketing. They also suggested strategies that friends, family members and other professionals can use to help a victim caught up in telemarketing fraud.

“The interviews show there is no ‘typical’ victim, and no single best way to intervene,” said Sally Hurme, campaign consultant with AARP Consumer Protection. “Some professionals acknowledge they are struggling to help those most frequently victimized.” Communicating with victims in a factual, non-judgmental approach that exposes the telemarketers’ tricks, rather than the victim’s weakness, is most productive according to the professionals.

“After being lied to and treated maliciously by fraudulent telemarketers, so many of the victims tell us how gratifying it is to understand new methods to avoid more harm,” said Melodye Kleinman, project director at WISE Senior Services.

Some simple steps consumers can take to avoid falling for fraud:

– End all unwanted calls quickly;

– Never give your personal information to an unfamiliar caller;

– Do not invest or make a donation with unknown callers;

– If you believe you are a victim of fraud, report it immediately.

The full report of “Off the Hook,” can be found at http://research.aarp.org/consume/d17812_fraud.html.

AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization dedicated to making life better for people 50 and over. We provide information and resources; engage in legislative, regulatory and legal advocacy; assist members in serving their communities; and offer a wide range of unique benefits, special products, and services for our members. These include AARP The Magazine, published bimonthly; AARP Bulletin, our monthly newspaper; AARP Segunda Juventud, our quarterly newspaper in Spanish; NRTA Live and Learn, our quarterly newsletter for 50+ educators; and our Web site, www.aarp.org. We have staffed offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The AARP Foundation is AARP’s affiliated charity. Foundation programs provide security, protection and empowerment for older persons in need. Low-income older workers receive the job training and placement they need to re-join the workforce. Free tax preparation is provided for low- and moderate-income individuals, with special attention to those 60 and older. The Foundation’s litigation staff protects the legal rights of older Americans in critical health, long-term care, consumer and employment situations. Additional programs provide information, education and services to ensure that people over 50 lead lives of independence, dignity and purpose. Foundation programs are funded by grants, tax-deductible contributions and AARP.