Senior woman looking horrified at computer monitor
(Credit: Westend61 / Getty Images)

Older adults in the United States were scammed out of $1.7 billion through fraud schemes in 2021, a 74% increase from 2020, according to a new report from the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3.

Last year, more than 92,000 victims aged 60 or more years reported losses to fraud schemes. The average dollar loss per victim was $18,246, with 3,133 victims losing more than $100,000, according to the 2021 IC3 Elder Fraud Report.

Tech support fraud

Tech support fraud was the most reported type of scheme affecting older adults, with 13,900 reported victims. Also relatively common were schemes related to nonpayment / nondelivery (13,220 victims), identity theft (8,902), confidence fraud / romance (7,658) and personal data breaches (6,189). 

In 2021, older adults reported almost $238 million in losses related to tech support fraud. This amount is up from $116 million in reported losses by older adults in this category in 2020 and $38 million in reported losses in 2019. Older adult victims accounted for 58% of the total reports of tech support fraud to the IC3 as well as 68% of the total losses.

Tech support scammers most commonly impersonate well-known tech companies, offering to fix non-existent technology issues or renewing fraudulent software or security subscriptions, according to the FBI. In 2021, the IC3 said, it saw an increase in complaints reporting the impersonation of customer support in the form of financial and banking institutions, utility companies and virtual currency exchanges.

Confidence fraud

Confidence fraud / romance scams accounted for the highest losses reported by older adults. In 2021, the IC3 received 7,658 confidence fraud / romance scam reports, with losses totaling more than $432 million. 

Grandparent scams also fall into this category. In 2021, more than 450 older adults reported grandparent scams, with losses totaling about $6.5 million.

Many victims of confidence fraud / romance scams also report being pressured into investment opportunities, especially schemes involving cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrency scams are increasing as it becomes the preferred payment method for all types of illicit activity, including so-called SIM swaps, tech support fraud, employment schemes, romance scams and auction fraud. 

In 2021, the IC3 received more than 5,100 complaints from older adults involving the use of some type of cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin or Ripple. Losses to older adults totaled more than $241 million due to cryptocurrency scams.

Other types of fraud

Lottery / sweepstakes / inheritance fraud schemes also cost older adults. In 2021, more than 2,600 older adults reported losing more than $53 million to those types of fraud schemes. This figure is up from $39 million in 2020 and $36 million in 2019.

Although government impersonation is not reported as often, older adults still lose millions of dollars each year to criminals impersonating government officials who extort victims with threats of physical or financial harm to obtain personally identifiable information.

In 2021, older adults reported this type of fraud more than 3,300 times, with losses of $69 million. This amount is up from reported losses of $46 million in 2020 and $48 million in 2019. 

Other crime types with significant losses reported to the IC3 by older adults included business email compromise / email account compromise  ($355 million in losses reported in 2021), investment fraud ($239 million), tech support ($238 million), personal data breach ($104 million) and real estate / rental fraud ($102 million).

California led the states with the highest number of older adult fraud victims, at 12,951, followed by Florida (9,645), Texas (6,798) and New York (6,223). Those states also reported the highest losses for older adult fraud victims; Californians lost $427 million in 2021, followed by Florida ($224 million), New York ($188 million) and Texas ($159 million).

The 2021 IC3 Elder Fraud Annual Report is a companion report to the 2021 IC3 Annual Report released last month.