According to the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel report for 2022, older Americans reported more than $1.6 billion in losses to frauds and scams. This number is undoubtedly lower than the actual figure because many seniors, for a variety of reasons, including embarrassment, shame or naivete, fail to report the scams perpetrated against them. FTC estimates that in 2022 the actual amount lost by seniors to scams could be as high as $48.4 billion.
Now, the scams are getting worse, as AI has become a sophisticated weapon that can be deployed by even the most unsophisticated of scammers.
In 2022, older Americans had higher reported losses to scams than younger people and those ages 80 and older reported the highest individual median losses among all age groups. Since many seniors may have accumulated a lifetime of savings, they are often coveted targets. Coupled with studies which suggest seniors are more susceptible to scams as they tend to be more trusting, and there is a recipe for disaster.
AI is also helping scammers get better through some of their tried and true methods that have already been so devastating to victims. Through the use of AI, scammers can create more sophisticated and effective spear phishing emails to convince a targeted victim to provide personal information that can lead to identity theft or click on that link downloading dangerous malware. For scams originating overseas where English is not the primary language, improper grammar, syntax or spelling were reliable giveaways. AI has solved these problems for foreign scammers, making their phishing emails harder to recognize.
Scammers have always mined social media for personal information that they can leverage to scam their victims. In the past, the gathering of personal information through social media was a time consuming effort for scammers, but now through AI vast amounts of information can be gathered to craft effective scams.
Regulation of AI is a critical element to protect people from AI-enhanced scams; President Biden’s recent executive order will help by providing protection from AI related scams by setting standards and best practices for the detection of AI generated content and authenticating official government content. In addition, the FTC has regulatory authority over AI through Section 5 of the FTC Act, and Congress also will have a role to play in crafting appropriate regulation. The Stop Senior Scams Act, championed by Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) as chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, is a great step in the right direction, particularly as it applies to steps toward reducing the use of gift cards and wire transfers, which are preferred methods of payments to scammers.
Undoubtedly, scammers are likely to ignore new regulations, just as they ignore existing ones. So, regulators should also focus on AI-detection and content authentication guidance, which will enable consumers to identify whether they are seeing or hearing authentic content or AI-generated, and possibly fraudulent, content.
Alerting the public as to telltale signs of scams and how to recognize them is a key element in protecting seniors. When it comes to protecting seniors from the daunting challenge of AI-enhanced scams, the time is now to do the best we can.
Steve Weisman is a Senior Lecturer in Law, Taxation and Financial Planning at Bentley University in Waltham, Mass. He is also the author and creator of www.scamicide.com. He testified on Nov. 16 in a hearing for the Senate Committee on Aging on the proliferation of scams targeting seniors.