AARP Fights Consumer Fraud – by Herb Weiss

Published in Pawtucket Times on November 30, 2020

Every year, fraudsters continue to operate government imposter scams falsely claim to be from federal agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service, Social Security Administration, to get people to turn over money or personal information. Every year, hundreds of thousands of Americans continue to fall victim to these scams.

FTC Compiles Fraud Complaints

Last January, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released its annual report detailing data from the Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2019, continuing to put a spotlight on the impact of imposter scams and identify fraud on consumers across the nation. Expect the FTC to release its 2020 data book early next year.

The data book, initially released in 2008, includes national statistics, as well as a state-by-state listing of top report categories in each states, and a listing of metropolitan areas that generated the most complaints per 100,000 population.

According to the FTC, its 2019 database network receives reports directly from consumers, as well as from federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies and a number of private partners. Last year, the network received 3.2 million reports, including nearly 1.7 million fraud reports as well as identity theft and other reports.

The researchers found that younger people reported losing money to fraud more often than older people. But, when people age 70 and over had losses, the median loss was much higher, they say.  

Imposter scams, a subset of Fraud reports, followed closely behind with 657,472 reports from consumers of 2019. The most common type of fraud reported to the FTC last year was identified theft scams, with imposter scams following closely behind.    

Specifically, last year there were over 647,000 imposter scams reported to FTC’s database. Thirteen percent of those calling reported a dollar loss, totaling nearly $667 million lost to imposter scammers. These scams include, for example, romance scams, people falsely claiming to be the government, a relative in distress, a well-known business, or a technical support expert, to get a consumer’s money.

Of the 1.7 million fraud reports, 23 percent indicated money was lost. In 2019, people reported losing more than $1.9 billion to fraud – an increase of $293 million over what was reported in 2018.

Protecting Yourself Against Scammers

With the release of a new report, AARP continues its efforts to combat identify theft and imposter scams. The Washington, DC-based nonprofits continues to report on the latest scams, exploring its impact on U.S. adults age 55 and over and how technology may play a role in their ability to protect themselves from financial harm. The 16-page report, “Identity Fraud in Three Acts,” developed by Javelin Strategy & Research and sponsored by AARP, reveals that 26 percent of seniors have been victims of identity fraud. But researchers say that more are taking additional safeguards to prevent losses of personal information. Following an identity theft incident, 29 percent have placed credit freezes on their credit bureau information, and more than half have enrolled in identity protection or credit monitoring services.

“Older Americans are leading more digitally infused lives, with two-thirds using online banking weekly, so it’s encouraging to see that many are taking proactive steps to protect their identity following a data breach,” said Kathy Stokes, Director of AARP Fraud Prevention Programs in a statement announcing the release of the report. “Passwords still represent a security threat, however; using repeated passwords across multiple online accounts makes it easy for criminals to crack one of them so that all of your accounts – including financial accounts – become accessible,” says Stokes.

According to the AARP report, age 55 and over consumers call for banks to use stronger security authentication. About 90 percent support the use of more fingerprint scanning, and 80 percent view facial recognition capabilities as a reliable form of technology for financial transactions and private business matters. The report’s findings indicate that identity fraud victims age 65 and over do not necessarily change how they shop, bank or pay following a fraudulent event, with 70 percent exhibiting reluctance to change familiar habits.

“Criminals are regularly targeting age 55 and over Americans through a combination of sophisticated scams via computer malware and also through more traditional low-tech channels via telephone and U.S. mail,” says the AARP report’s author, John Buzzard, Lead Analyst, Fraud and Security at Javelin. “The combination of high-tech and low-tech strategies unfortunately gives the upper hand to the criminal — not the consumer,” he adds.

The AARP report provides these tips to older consumers to protect their pocketbooks. Just hang up on strangers. Independently verify everything.  Always adopt security practices that go beyond a single password.  Consider using a password manager tool or app to create and safely store complex passwords.  Always write down important numbers of companies you do business with rather than rely on a web search for a customer service number, as criminals post fake numbers online.  

The report also recommends securing your devices – mobile phones, laptops and tablets- with a complex password, preferably with screen locks that use a fingerprint or facial recognition and secure personal payments with digital wallets.

Be vigilant.  Don’t become a sucker for scams.  

To report a compliant, call the Consumer Sentinel HelpLine at 1.877.701.9595.

For a copy of Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2019, go to:  https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/reports/consumer-sentinel-network-data-book-2019/consumer_sentinel_network_data_book_2019.pdf

For a copy of “Identity Fraud in Three Acts,” go to:  https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/home-and-family/family-and-friends/2020/10/aarp-Identity-fraud-report.pdf.

To learn more about AARP’s fraud prevention programs, visit aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork.  

Study: COVID-19 Changes Way Americans Think About Retirement

Published in RINewsToday on November 23

The raging coronavirus pandemic is changing the fundamental way working adults think, plan and save for their retirement, underscoring the important role Social Security and Medicare play for retirees, according to the 2020 Wells Fargo Retirement study conducted by The Harris Poll in August. The annual research report examines the attitudes and savings of working adults, taking a look this year on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on retirees.

For those workers whose jobs were negatively impacted by COVID-19 over the last eight months, the Wells Fargo study found that planning for retirement has become even more challenging, with many survey respondents expressing “pessimism” about their life in retirement – or worried if they can even retire. 

This year’s Harris Poll conducted 4,590 online interviews, from Aug.3-Aug. 24, including 2,660 working Americans age 18-76 whose employment was not impacted by COVID-19, 725 Americans age 18-76 whose employment was impacted by coronavirus pandemic, 200 high net worth American workers age 18-76, and 1,005 retired Americans, surveying attitudes and behaviors around planning their finances, saving, and investing for retirement.

According to the Wells Fargo study’s findings, 58 percent of workers impacted by the pandemic say they now don’t know if they have enough savings for retirement because of COVID-19, compared to 37 percent of all workers. Moreover, among workers impacted by coronavirus, 70 percent say they are worried about running out of money during their retirement while 61 percent say they are much more afraid of life in retirement, and 61 percent note that pandemic took the joy out of looking forward to retirement.

The study, released Oct. 21, found that COVID-19 has driven some workers even further behind in saving for retirement: Working men reported median retirement savings of $120,000, which compares to $60,000 for working women, say the researchers.  Yet for those impacted by COVID-19, men report median retirement savings of $60,000, which compares to $21,000 for women.

“With individual investors now largely responsible for saving and funding their own retirement, disruptive events and economic downturns can have an outsized impact on their outlook,” said Nate Miles, head of Retirement for Wells Fargo Asset Management in a statement releasing the findings of this study. “Our study shows that even for the most disciplined savers, working Americans are not saving enough for retirement. The good news is that for many of today’s workers, there is still time to save and prepare,” he says.

Taking a Close Look on Retirement Savings

The Wells Fargo study also found that women and younger generations are falling behind, too. Women are less sure if they will be able to save enough for retirement, and appear to be in a more precarious financial situation than men. The study findings indicate that almost half of working women (51 percent) say they are saving enough for retirement, or that they are confident they will have enough savings to live comfortably in retirement (51 percent). Those impacted by COVID-19 have saved less than half for retirement than men and are much more pessimistic about their financial lives. In addition, women impacted by COVID-19 are less likely to have access to an employer-sponsored retirement savings plan (59 percent), and are less likely to participate (77 percent).

According to the researchers, Generation Z workers (born between 1997 to 2012) started saving at an earlier age and are participating in employer-based savings programs at a greater rate than other generations, they are nonetheless worried about their future. Fifty-two percent of Generation Z workers say they don’t know if they’ll be able to save enough to retire because of COVID-19, 50 percent say they are much more afraid of life in retirement due to COVID-19, and 52 percent say the pandemic took the joy out of looking forward to retirement.

Remaining Optimistic

“The study found incredible optimism and resiliency among American workers and retirees, which is remarkable in the current [pandemic] environment,” said Kim Ta, head of Client Service and Advice for Wells Fargo Advisors. “As an industry, we must help more investors make a plan for their future so that optimism becomes a reality in retirement,” she said.

The Wells Fargo study findings showed that despite a challenging economy, many American workers and retirees remain optimistic about their current life, their future. Seventy nine percent of the workers say they are very or somewhat satisfied with their current life, in control of their financial life (79 percent), are able to pay their monthly bills (95 percent).  Eight six percent say they are still able to manage their finances.

The study’s findings indicate that 69 percent of workers and 73 percent of retirees feel in control and/or happy about their financial situation. Ninety two percent of the workers and 91 precent of retirees say they can positively affect their financial situation, and 90 percent of workers and 88 percent of retirees say they can positively affect how their debt situation progresses.

The researchers noted that 83 percent of workers say they could pay for a financial emergency of $1,000 without having to borrow money from friends or family. However, the respondents acknowledged they could improve their financial planning. Slightly more than half — 54 percent of workers and 50 percent of retirees — say they a detailed financial plan, and just 27 percent of workers and 29 percent of retirees have a financial advisor.

The study’s findings indicated that most respondents acknowledged that they could improve their financial planning. Slightly more than half — 54 percent of workers and 50 percent of retirees note they have a detailed financial plan, and just 27 percent of workers and 29 percent of retirees have a financial advisor.

Social Security and Medicare Key to Retiree’s Financial Security

The Wells Fargo study noted that despite an increasing shift to a self-funded retirement, in the midst of the pandemic, nearly all workers and retirees believe that Social Security and Medicare play or will play a significant role in their retirement.  According to the study, 71 percent of workers, 81 percent of those negatively impacted by COVID-19, and 85 percent of retirees say that COVID-19 reinforced how important Social Security and Medicare will be for their retirement. Sixty seven percent of workers say they have no idea what out-of-pocket healthcare costs will be in retirement, say the researchers.

The researchers say that workers expect that Social Security will make up approximately one-third of their monthly budget (30 percent median) in retirement. And even those high-net workers believe that Social Security and Medicare factor significantly into their retirement plans, expecting that the retirement program will cover 20 percent (median) of their monthly expenses.

The majority of the study’s respondents expressed concerns that the programs will not be available when they need them and worry that the government won’t protect them.  Specifically, 76 percent of workers are concerned Social Security will be raided to pay down government debt and 72 percent of workers are afraid that Social Security won’t be available when they retire.

The Wells Fargo study also found that 90 percent of workers would feel betrayed if the money they paid into Social Security is lost and not available when they retire and that 45 percent of workers are optimistic that Congress will make changes to secure the future of Social Security.

The Impact of COVID-19’s Social Isolation on Seniors

Published in RINews Today on November 16, 2020

As COVID-19 cases continued to surge across the nation, AARP Foundation in collaboration with the United Health Foundation (UHF), released a report last month taking a look as to how the COVID-19 pandemic impacts seniors who find themselves socially isolated.  According to the recently released report, “The Pandemic Effect A Social Isolation Report,” two-thirds of adult respondents say they are experiencing social isolation and high levels of anxiety since the beginning of the pandemic.  

The 60-page report, released on Oct. 6, noted that many seniors who are affected have not turned to anyone for assistance, because many find themselves socially isolation, because of lacking reliable and meaningful social support networks.  Previous research studies have found the health risks of being social isolation can be more harmful than being obese, and long-term isolation is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. 

Social Isolation and Seniors

The study, funded by AARP Foundation with the support of a grant from United Health Foundation, was designed to explore the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on adults of all ages, to understand levels of social isolation during the pandemic, and to assess knowledge of how social isolation can impact a person’s health.  The online survey contacted 2,010 U.S. adults age 18 and older, from Aug. 21-25. 

The researchers say that key signs to identify if someone is at risk for social isolation are access to food, healthcare, transportation and other vital resources. But they say that “it’s connections, companionship, and a sense of belonging that we need as humans.”

The AARP Foundation’s report found that for adults 50 and older who have experienced social isolation during the COVID-19 crisis, more than seven in 10 adults agree that this made it more difficult to connect with friends. Half of the respondents also said that they are feeling less motivated, more than four in 10 (41 percent) report feeling more anxious than usual and more than a third (37 percent) have experienced depression. 

The researchers also found that a third of women age 50 and over reported going 1 to 3 months without interacting with people outside of their household or workplace, and adults with low and middle incomes who report experiencing social isolation also say they felt more depressed than adults with higher incomes. Furthermore, only 11 percent of adults regardless of age turned to a medical professional when feeling down or sad, and almost a third reported that they did not look to anyone for support.

Getting Help to Strengthen Social Connections

Commander Scott Kelly, renowned astronaut who spent 340 days isolated in space, has teamed up with AARP Foundation and the UHF to spread the word about the seriousness of social isolation and provide tips on how to successfully emerge from it.  

“Living on the International Space Station for nearly a year with literally no way to leave wasn’t easy, so I took precautions for my mental and physical health seriously,” said Commander Kelly in a statement announcing the release of the report. “I’m advocating for individuals, particularly vulnerable older adults, to use available tools like Connect2Affect.org to strengthen their social connections,” he said.

Getting the Help You Need

Working closely with the UHF to help seniors impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the AARP Foundation recently expanded its website, (Connect2Affect.org) which was originally launched in 2016. The site offers a wealth of resources for socially isolated seniors to strengthen their social bonds.

This website provides help to individuals to assess their risk for social isolation, and to find support services in their local area. The website includes a Social Isolation Risk Assessment, a questionnaire to help individuals determine how connected they are to others and which resources would benefit them most.

Individuals can also tap into Chatbot, a component of the website, designed to provide friendly conversation with the goal of helping rebuild social connections. Chatbot conversations are secure, private and accessible 24/7.

“Social isolation is taking a toll on individuals and communities nationwide, and it’s especially pernicious for those who are 50 or older. This survey shows that older adults who have lower incomes and who are women are at greatest risk,” said Lisa Marsh Ryerson, president of AARP Foundation. “The tools and resources at Connect2Affect.org are designed to help older adults build and maintain the social connections they need to thrive,” she said.

Adds, Dr. Rhonda Randall, executive vice president and a chief medical officer at UnitedHealthcare added, “Many people don’t know that social isolation can have lasting effects on not only mental health — but also physical health. We’re focused on finding practical solutions to the lack of connections, companionship and the sense of belonging that we all need as humans.” 

For a copy of “The Pandemic Effect: A Social Isolation Report,” go to https://connect2affect.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/The-Pandemic-Effect-A-Social-Isolation-Report-AARP-Foundation.pdf.