People who get bilked by investor fraud have certain common characteristics, according to recent studies. The American Association of Retired People (AARP) Fraud Watch Network completed a survey in 2016, looking at the demographics of fraud victims. Previous surveys have found that investment fraud victims are better educated, financially literate males, usually older than average with better than average incomes. Those are the people one would think would have better resistance to fraud.
What Kind of Fraud?
Identity theft and Ponzi schemes are among the most common types of fraud. Fake Internal Revenue Service calls, emails addressed from overseas or from royalty of various nationalities, or apparent appeals from family members are also common.
Stealing from seniors is a major industry in America. Estimates are that $35.5 billion are bilked from seniors annually (estimates range but suggest the number is at least $3.6 billion). Approximately 37 percent of seniors are affected by financial abuse in any five year period (46 percent to “financial exploitation,” 35 percent to “criminal fraud,” and 19 percent to abuse by caregivers (family members, friends, lawyers, or financial managers).
Since traditional pensions have declined in recent years, many relatively inexperienced Americans are investing their money, and the technology-driven investment market has become faster and more complicated.
Vulnerability of those Who Make Themselves Available.
The Fraud Watch Network survey interviewed 200 known victims of fraud and 800 members of the general investing public. The study showed that it is not the naturally vulnerable people, like widows, the very old, or people with severe memory loss who are the victims. Risk of fraud depends on exposure. It is those who expose themselves to the marketplace who are at greatest risk. Seniors who are among the youngest, urban and college educated who lose the most money. The friendliest seniors, most approachable, giving strangers the benefit of the doubt, are the ones who lose the most, four times more than average seniors.
The most vulnerable seniors are the people who are most open to new opportunity. They are the same kind of people who lose money in any kind of opportunity-driven venture, like entrepreneurial opportunity. The most vulnerable people are those who are less inclined to rely on regulation or oversight. They tend to trade more actively than the general population. Those who are victimized most are the ones who value wealth accumulation as a measure of success.
Warning Investors Not to Be So Ambitious.
The AARP has undertaken a campaign to warn its members. For instance, they strongly recommend investing in bonds, which they view as the safest investments.
Like many campaigns intended to warn, these campaigns are likely to be resisted by the very people who need the warning the most. Most aggressive opportunity-seekers are more wary of warnings than they are of schemers. The people who read and attend to warnings are the cautious.
An article covering the relationship between risk and return can be applied to the attitudes of senior risk-takers as to other groups. Among seniors, as a particularly preyed-upon group, risks may be more substantial than they are for other groups. However, as the article points out:
“Those who do not bear risk very well have a relatively smaller chance of making high earnings than those with a higher tolerance for risk…”
It’s difficult to believe that those active investors (of any age) will become less inclined to take risks because of the likelihood of fraud. The risk of fraud is just another risk factor in a free market. Some seniors are just so familiar with the habit of risk-taking that they will not be able to modify their behavior because of the existence of the potential for fraud.