FTC Testimony: Identifying and Fighting Consumer Fraud Against Older Americans

For Release

The Federal Trade Commission today provided the Senate Special Committee on Aging with a report detailing patterns of complaints regarding fraud and identity theft from consumers age 50 and older. Testifying for the Commission, Lois Greisman, Associate Director of the Division of Planning and Information in the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said that in 2004, consumers age 50 and over reported $152,000,000 in fraud losses to the agency.

“Fraud against older consumers mirrors fraud against the population as a whole,” the testimony says. After identity theft, Internet auction fraud is the top category of fraud complaints for consumers both over and under 50 years. But Greisman said that FTC data showed that older consumers more frequently fall victim to some types of fraud. “Prize and sweepstakes fraud is more prevalent among older consumers than among the public at large, and is particularly prevalent among consumers age 70 and older,” she said.

According to the testimony, the FTC received 650,000 fraud and identity theft complaints in 2004 – 85 percent provided the consumer’s age and approximately a quarter of those complaints – 145,895 – were from consumers age 50 and over. “The top fraud complaints categories from consumers age 50 and older were: Internet Auctions; Prizes/Sweepstakes and Lotteries; Internet Services and Computer Complaints; Shop-at-Home/Catalog Sales; Foreign Money Offers; Telephone Services; Advance-Fee Loans and Credit Protection/Repair; and Business Opportunities and Work-at-Home Plans.”

“Lottery and sweepstakes frauds, many of which originate in Canada, have been major targets of FTC enforcement actions,” according to the testimony. “Almost 12,000 older consumers complained to the FTC that they were victims of fraudulent prize or sweepstakes promotions in 2004.” The testimony says that the FTC partners with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and other Canadian law enforcement agencies to combat cross-border fraud. In addition, in June, the FTC released a report to Congress, “US SAFE WEB Act: Protecting Consumers from Spam, Spyware, and Fraud,” recommending legislation that would enhance the agency’s ability to combat cross-border fraud.

Of all the complaints about identity theft filed with the agency in 2004, 51,000, representing about 22 percent of the total, were from consumers age 50 or older. “The most striking difference between consumers under 50 and those over 50 was the greater prevalence of older consumers complaining that new credit accounts had been opened in their names.” According to a survey conducted by the FTC, “new account” fraud takes longer to detect, is more costly, and poses a greater challenge for recovery.

“Our data show that fraudsters and identity thieves do not discriminate when it comes to committing trickery – everyone is at risk,” the testimony says.

Copies of the testimony are available from the FTC’s Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish (bilingual counselors are available to take complaints), or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

(FTC File No. P034302)

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