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Last year, older Americans reported losing more than $1.6 billion to fraud. And increasingly, scammers are using artificial intelligence to make their schemes more effective.

During a Thursday hearing on modern scams held by the Senate Special Committee on Aging, US Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), the committee’s chairman, released the group’s eighth annual “fraud book,” capturing the most common scams targeting older adults and resources to protect against fraud.

Casey said that senators from both parties are trying their best to understand artificial intelligence, especially generative AI. “Deepfakes,” or AI-developed images, and voice clones that can mimic the voice of a loved one, can trick people into relinquishing personal information or money, he said. In May, the committee sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission requesting information on the rising prevalence of AI-powered technology in scams and how the agency is addressing it.

In 2022, the year covered by the latest fraud book, the committee’s fraud hotline received 659 new complaints, bringing the total number of complaints to 11,800 since 2013.

The top 10 scams against older adults identified for last year — many of which incorporated AI — were financial services personation and fraud (9%); healthcare and health insurance scams (8%); robocalls and unsolicited calls (7%); tech support and computer scams (6%); romance scams (4%); government imposter scams, identity theft, sweepstakes and lottery scams, and business impersonation and shopping scams (3% each); and person-in need and grandparents scams (2%).

Tahir Ekin, PhD, director of the Texas State Center for Analytics and Data Science, testified at Thursday’s hearing that AI amplifies the effects of scams, “enhancing their believability and emotional appeal” through personalization. 

“The interplay of AI and scams brings forth both challenges and opportunities,” Ekin said. “Prioritizing the enhancement of data and AI literacy among older Americans, and actively involving them in prevention and detection efforts, stands as a cornerstone.”

Health plays role in vulnerability to scams

Meanwhile, a new poll from the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging reveals a strong link between an older adult’s health and his or her vulnerability to scams — both being able to spot one and falling victim to one.

Across the board, adults aged 50 to 80 years who reported being in fair or poor physical or mental health, those with disabilities, and those who rated their memory as fair or poor were more likely than others their age to say they had experienced fraud.

“Our findings of a strong connection between scam vulnerability and health adds important new data to ongoing efforts to reduce the devastating toll of scams on older adults’ finances and wellbeing,” poll director Jeffrey Kullgren, MD, said in a press release. “We also found that no matter what their health status, older adults feel strongly that government and businesses should do more to educate and protect against scams.”

In general, 75% of respondents reported experiencing a scam attempt at least once in the past two years, and 39% said that scammers succeeded in one or more ways — 25% of scam victims had bank or credit card accounts compromised, 15% had an account hacked, 9% lost money and 3% had their identity stolen.

But researchers found “stark differences” in the health status of those who experienced a scam attempt and those who had not.

Approximately half of older adults who were targeted by a scam and who said they were in fair or poor health reported experiencing fraud, compared with 35% to 38% of those in better health. Older adults in fair or poor mental health (41%) said being victimized by a scam had a major effect on their financial, mental or physical well-being, compared with 10% who rated their mental health as good or excellent.

More than half (57%) of older adults expressed uncertainty about their ability to spot a scam, but health status also mattered in those cases as well  — 65% in poor or fair health, compared with 55% of those in better health, reported uncertainty. 

Overall, 83% of older-adult respondents said that they wanted to know more about how to protect themselves from scams. And 97% of respondents agreed with the statement that policymakers need to do more to protect people from scams, whereas 96% agreed with the statement that companies should do more.

“It stands to reason that older adults with health challenges experience fraud more than those without these challenges,” AARP Director of Fraud Prevention Programs Kathy Stokes said in a statement. “Fraud criminals are master manipulators of emotion, and anyone can experience a scam regardless of age, education or income. When it comes to fraud susceptibility, it’s less about who you are and more about how you are when you are targeted.”

The University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging report was based on an online and phone survey conducted among 2,657 adults aged 50 to 80 in July and August by NORC at the University of Chicago for the U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.