BY MIKE FESTA, STATE DIRECTOR, AARP MASSACHUSETTS
Billions of dollars are scammed from unsuspecting consumers every year; the majority of victims are older Americans. The impact can be financially and emotionally devastating. Sometimes, it seems, all crime victims are not alike. Our language blames people who lose money to a scam; “She fell for it.” Or “He was duped.” Or “You got scammed.” Yet the reality is that people who fall victim to scams and fraud are just that, victims, as with other crimes in our society.
We need to change the narrative on how those who experience scams and fraud are talked about. And AARP is paving the way. The Fraud Watch Network is working with law enforcement, journalists and community leaders to change the way scam victims are talked about. Victims of scams frequently don’t experience empathy and consolation. Many times, they are confronted with disbelief and derision from others. A report from the AARP Fraud Watch Network and the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, based on a survey of 1,000 U.S. adults, found headlines about victims of fraud contained language that subtly blames the victims and therefore downplays the severity of the crime.
The report found that while 85 percent of Americans believe fraud can happen to anyone, 53 percent identify victims as culpable and blameworthy. Thirty-two percent of survey respondents agreed with the statement, “Honestly, if you fall victim … a lot of that is on you.” Disassociating shame and blame from fraud might make victims more likely to report financial fraud — and law enforcement more likely to view it as a criminal rather than just a civil matter.
Creating Meaningful Change
Changing the victim blaming narrative isn’t simply a game of semantics. The effect could be enormous, ranging from the individual to society in general.
If fraud victims were treated with empathy and respect rather than scorn and humiliation, they would likely:
- Feel empowered to take action and report these crimes rather than hide in shame.
- Prosecutors could see the magnitude of the impact of financial crimes on older adults and might take on more cases.
- Policymakers might acknowledge that fraud victims are crime victims, and they’d do more to address this epidemic—and perhaps even legislate restitution.
- Billions of dollars would be kept in our economy.
We have the power to change the way we talk and think about victims of financial crimes, and to bring needed attention and action to end this scourge.
AARP’s Fraud Watch Network can help you spot and avoid scams. Sign up for free Watchdog Alerts, review our scam-tracking map, or call our toll-free fraud helpline at 877-908-3360 if you or a loved one suspect you’ve been a victim.