Wharton Pension Research Council Working Papers


Financial Fraud among Older Americans: Evidence and Implications

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Working Paper

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The consequences of poor financial capability at older ages are serious and include making mistakes with credit, spending retirement assets too quickly, and being defrauded by financial predators. Because older persons are at or past the peak of their wealth accumulation, they are often the targets of fraud. Our project analyzes a module we developed and fielded in the 2016 Health and Retirement Study (HRS). Using this dataset, we evaluate the incidence and risk factors for investment fraud, prize/lottery scams, and account misuse, using regression analysis. Relatively few HRS respondents mentioned any single form of fraud over the prior five years, but nearly 5% reported at least one form of investment fraud, 4% recounted prize/lottery fraud, and 30% indicated that others had used/attempted to use their accounts without permission. There were few risk factors consistently associated with such victimization in the older population. Fraud is a complex phenomenon and no single factor uniquely predicts victimization. The incidence of fraud could be reduced by educating consumers about various types of fraud and by increasing awareness among financial service professionals.


This work was supported by a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement Research Consortium through the University of Michigan Retirement Research Center, Award RRC08098401. The authors also received research support from the TIAA Institute and The Pension Research Council/Boettner Center at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. This research is also part of the NBER Program on Aging. Opinions and conclusions are solely those of the authors and do not represent the opinions or policy of the TIAA Institute or TIAA, SSA, or any agency of the Federal Government. Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof nor any of their employees makes any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the contents of this report. Any reference herein to any specific commercial product, process, or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof. Published in The Journals of Gerontology: Series B.


investment fraud, lottery scam, account misuse, elder financial literacy, health and retirement study

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Copyright/Permission Statement

All findings, interpretations, and conclusions of this paper represent the views of the author(s) and not those of the Wharton School or the Pension Research Council. © 2018 Pension Research Council of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. All rights reserved.


The authors thank Yong Yu for expert programming on this project, and Paul Yakoboski for helpful comments.



Date Posted: 06 February 2019