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Using the Wisdom of Crowds to Predict Elder Fraud

SAFE is very excited to partner with Good Judgment Open, a forecasting service run by Good Judgment Inc., the pathbreaking superforecasting firm. Through the wisdom of crowds, Good Judgment predicts future events, equipping corporate and government decision-makers with the benefit of foresight. And now we are marshaling Good Judgment’s skills in the fight against elder fraud!

The collaboration between SAFE and Good Judgment will focus on predicting something very specific: whether the dollar losses from three particular kinds of elder fraud scams – romance scams, business imposter scams, and investment scams – will decrease, stay the same, increase by a little, or increase by a lot. We chose these three types of scams because they are the elder fraud scams the FTC identified as having generated the greatest monetary losses in 2021. They are the FTC’s “Big Three” as it were. See the FTC’s most recent report here. And screenshot of the relevant data is right here:

Why try to predict this? In short, because it will give us a sense of the direction of elder fraud through 2022 and beyond. It will help us to anticipate answers to questions like: Will these three types of scams continue to wreak financial havoc through 2022 and beyond? Or will they become less common in a post-pandemic (and perhaps “less online”) environment? Will one of these three emerge as a clear “Public Enemy Number One” to victims of elder fraud? Through this collaboration, we hope to find out.

To generate the prediction, Good Judgment has posed a series of carefully phrased and very precise questions to its massive open online forum, using the FTC’s most recent elder fraud report as a baseline. You can take a look at Good Judgment’s precise questions, and the current results, at this link. You can even sign up to be a predictor yourself, and try your hand at forecasting.

What is the ultimate purpose of this project? Simple. Prediction is a tool that can help policymakers, enforcement agencies, and nonprofits anticipate what the future brings – how the elder fraud threat will evolve in the future. If we can have a clearer picture of how elder fraud scams might evolve in the near future – throughout 2022 and beyond – then we can all adjust accordingly. For instance, policymakers can shift the allocation of money and other resources to specifically address the scams they think will do the most damage. Enforcement agencies like the FTC, the FBI, and local police can prompt their busy personnel to be on the lookout for specific fraud types – better ensuring that hints of fraudulent activity do not go undetected. Nonprofit networks can inform caregivers and families who work with older adults each day, enabling them to be more alert to the most likely causes of trouble.

Here is another way of thinking about Good Judgment’s prediction capability and how it can be useful: prediction is a complement to other, preexisting, and more familiar tools. The annual reports produced by the FTC, FBI, and others are incredibly helpful. But they also have limits. One such limit is that annual reports, by their nature, are backward-looking. By the time they are released, their data is already stale – historical, rather than timely. At SAFE, we are trying to build upon the detailed information in these reports to provide more timely and forward-looking – and thus more actionable – intelligence about what the scammers might do next.

This should help everyone fighting against elder fraud to do it even better.

Good Judgment’s project will last through February of 2023. At that point, we will release our results and share them here. Stay tuned!


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