Vulnerabilities of Elderly Americans to Social Security Scams


Elderly Americans are often the target of scammers attempting to extract personal information under the guise of government representatives. While most seniors are able to recognize these fraudulent calls, there is still a concerning number of individuals who fall victim to these scams.

Study Details

The Finra Investor Education Foundation and the Rush University Medical Center conducted a study to assess the susceptibility of older Americans to Social Security scams. In the experiment, actors posed as government agents and contacted 644 elderly individuals, informing them about a data-security incident affecting Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries.


Out of the participants, the majority, accounting for 68.5%, did not engage with the impostor. Approximately 15% interacted with skepticism, while around 16% genuinely engaged with the caller. Unfortunately, within this latter group, three-quarters willingly provided personal information, including the last four digits of their Social Security number.

Significance of the Study

This study stands as the first objective examination of financial fraud and scams among older adults through a behavioral experiment. It is vital to highlight that the respondents had an average age of 85.6 years, emphasizing the vulnerability of the elderly demographic. Furthermore, when extrapolating the findings to a population level, it becomes evident that a larger portion of older Americans are at risk of falling prey to such scams compared to previous surveys.


While many elderly Americans possess the ability to discern Social Security scams, a significant minority continues to be victimized. These findings underscore the urgent need for increased awareness and education to protect vulnerable seniors from falling victim to fraudulent schemes.

Understanding the Vulnerability of Older Adults to Fraud and Scams

“It has long been well known that many older adults are susceptible to fraud and various scams, but this research gives us an even greater understanding of the magnitude of the issue and how individuals can be victimized by prominent fraud schemes such as impostor scams,” says Gerri Walsh, president of the Finra Foundation.

The Importance of Financial Literacy and Awareness

For advisors, the study serves as a reminder of the importance of working with clients on issues like financial literacy. It also emphasizes the need for discussions about cognition and awareness of scams among older adults.

Key Findings of the Study

According to the researchers, older adults who engaged with skepticism demonstrated the highest levels of cognition and financial literacy. On the other hand, those who engaged without skepticism or provided personal information showed the lowest levels of scam awareness.

Further Vulnerability Among Older Americans

The researchers argue that their study’s findings represent a lowball estimate of older Americans’ vulnerability. This is because real scammers often impersonate agents from Social Security, IRS, or other federal agencies and are more convincing than the impostors in this study. These fraudsters are also more tenacious on the phone, putting even cognitively sound elderly people at risk.

The Wider Impact of Fraud and Scams

The researchers emphasize that many more older adults, including those without cognitive impairment, are vulnerable to fraud and scams. This leaves them at considerable risk for adverse health and financial outcomes.

Overall, this research sheds light on the vulnerability of older adults to fraud and scams. It highlights the importance of financial literacy, skepticism, and awareness in protecting this population from potential harm.

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