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  • Writer's pictureSAFE

Breaking Up with Romance Scams

In December, we announced our collaboration with Good Judgment, the forecasting firm.

Research shows that the aggregation of many independent predictions – the so-called “wisdom of crowds” – can forecast future events better than any one individual’s assessment. Operating on this premise, Good Judgment has brought together hundreds of individual predictors on its massive open online forum, and frequently asks them to collectively predict social and geopolitical trends.

In December, SAFE asked this group of predictors to assess whether the three costliest elder fraud scams would continue to increase. And if so, by how much.

The results surprised us . . . to some extent. Good Judgment's forecasters predicted that the three top elder fraud scams -- as measured by total aggregate monetary loss (Investment Scams, Business Imposters, and Romance Scams) -- would result in increasingly large monetary losses. But interestingly, the forecasters predicted that losses from Romance Scams would increase at a slower rate. This means that in the FTC's 2022-23 report, Investment Scams and Business Imposters would be expected to surpass Romance Scams as the costliest of elder frauds.

There is a silver lining here. Just in time for Valentine's Day, Romance Scams could be on the wane, at least compared to other forms of elder fraud. And if there is anything we don't love, it's the scam artists who use the promise of affection to prey on older adults! Still, the overall trend is concerning. Losses from elder fraud will continue to increase in the coming years, and that should concern us all.

Here is the chart that traces Good Judgment's predictions:

Here is a little more detail from our recent intelligence bulletin:

According to forecasters, the losses attributable to business imposters and investment scams are likely to accelerate, while the losses attributable to romance scams will increase but at a slower rate than in past years. In particular, 98% of forecasters predicted investment scams would result in losses of at least $147M in 2022, with 55% predicting losses between $304M and $460M. Similarly, 99% of forecasters predicted business imposter scams would result in losses of at least $151M in 2022, with 78% predicting losses between $252M and $353M. By slight contrast, 95% of forecasters predicted romance scams would exceed $213M, with 64% predicting losses between $213M and $270M. Of note, these predictions suggest that both business imposter and investment scams will surpass romance scams (2021’s costliest fraud) in the FTC’s 2022-23 report on Protecting Older Consumers.

SAFE regards these results as largely confirmatory of current trends in the fraudulent narratives that fraudsters most often use. SAFE agrees that fraudsters will continue to use these three fraud types in attempts to prey upon older adults. SAFE cautions that while the rate of increase in monetary loss attributable to romance scams may slow, romance scams will remain one of the costliest, most prevalent, and most emotionally pernicious forms of elder fraud

Because prevailing fraudulent narratives are likely to remain broadly constant, SAFE recommends: Law enforcement agencies and advocates in the aging space should focus their energies on understanding the new and emerging media and other technologies that fraudsters use in perpetrating these common fraud types. Questions should include whether perpetrators are channeling their outreach to victims through mail, telephone, text, email, chat, or some other media. Questions should also include whether perpetrators have begun to leverage artificial intelligence, automated language translation, or other emerging technologies to enhance the credibility of the underlying narratives.


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