- 15% in U.S. say they or a household member was scam victim in past year
- Lower-income and less-educated adults afflicted most
- Worry about scams exceeded only by concerns about identity theft
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Financial scams are among the most common crimes affecting U.S. adults in 2023, with 15% saying at least one member of their household has fallen prey, including 8% reporting that it has happened to themselves personally.
The 15% saying they or someone in their household has succumbed to a scammer’s tricks puts scams among the four most prevalent crimes affecting American households. It is on par with the 16% each who report having had property vandalized, having had money or property stolen, or having suffered identity theft. The 8% who have been personally victimized by scammers translates into roughly 21 million U.S. adults.
Gallup included scamming for the first time this year as part of its annual measure of Americans’ victimization from crime, asking respondents if they or another household member were “tricked by a scammer into sending money or providing access to a financial account.”
Less-Educated and Lower-Income Adults Fall Prey Most
No subgroup of Americans is exempt from being scammed, but the rate is higher among non-college-educated adults and, relatedly, among those in lower-income households.
- Adults with no college education are about twice as likely as college graduates to say they have personally been victimized by a scam in the past year (11% vs. 5%, respectively).
- Similarly, those in households earning less than $50,000 per year (12%) are about twice as likely as middle-income (7%) and upper-income adults (6%) to report having been scammed.
To the extent entire households can be affected financially when one member loses money to a scam, it is notable that younger adults report the highest overall rate of household victimization, at 22%. This contrasts with fewer adults aged 50 to 64 (9%) and 65 and older (13%) experiencing a scam in their household.
Scams Are Americans’ Second-Highest Crime Worry
Gallup also regularly asks Americans how often they worry about each of the crimes included on the annual victimization list.
Being tricked by a scammer into sending money or providing access to a financial account debuts on the list this year as Americans’ second-highest victimization concern, with 57% saying they frequently or occasionally worry about it happening to them. Another 20% rarely worry about it, while 23% never do.
Only identity theft, with 72% worrying about it, ranks higher than scams. Although similar percentages report experiencing each type of crime, more may worry about identity theft on the assumption that the ramifications will be more serious, or that they are less able to prevent it from happening to them.
Meanwhile, as Gallup previously reported, half of Americans worry about having their car stolen or broken into, and fear of the remaining crimes on the list descends from there.
There are only minor differences across societal subgroups in the amount people worry overall about being scammed. However, some distinctions are seen in the percentages worried “frequently.”
- The percentage worried frequently is highest, at 41%, among American households earning less than $50,000 per year and lowest among those earning $100,000 or more (26%).
- Similar differences are seen by education, with frequent worry highest among adults with no college experience (42%) and lowest among college graduates (24%).
- Additionally, women (39%) are a bit more likely than men (30%) to worry frequently about being scammed, while there are no significant differences by age.
Relatively Few Report Scams to the Police
The survey also suggests that Americans whose household was victimized by a scam are far less likely than those experiencing the other top crimes to say they reported the incident to the police. Whereas a majority of those experiencing property theft, experiencing identity theft, or having their home or other property vandalized say the incident was reported to the police, the figure is below 30% for scam victims.
One reason relatively few scam victims report the crime to the police could be that they turn to other authorities instead. However, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the lead federal clearinghouse for these data, received just 2.4 million reports of fraud from Americans last year, of which about 609,000 lost money, representing only a small fraction of the number who may have been victimized according to Gallup's 2023 data.
Victims who paid scammers using a debit or credit card may have contacted their bank or credit card company instead. However, filing a police report is still often required before banks will issue customers a refund for such scam payments.
More generally, many Americans may not have reported these crimes because they weren’t sure whom to contact, because they felt embarrassed about having been duped, because it involved a small amount of money or because they assumed nothing could be done. While there may be some truth to the latter point, the FTC encourages all scam and other fraud victims to register their incident with them, as it helps authorities monitor and bring cases against those perpetrating these crimes.
Scams involving bad actors trying to trick people into parting with their money through fraudulent purchases, investments, donations and other means have become ubiquitous, targeting consumers via text, over the phone and online.
The toll this is taking on the American public is evident in the relatively high percentage saying their household was affected in the past year. It also adds to the mental stress Americans must bear, scoring high on their list of crime worries and potentially taking some of the joy out of holiday shopping.
Editors' Note: This article was updated Nov. 21, 2023, to change the estimate of the percentage of scam victims who reported the incident to the FTC in 2022 from “barely 10%” to “only a small fraction.”
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