Exploring the Risks and Consequences of Elder Fraud Victimization: Evidence from the Health and Retirement Study

Published: 2017


This is the first study to use longitudinal data to explore both the antecedents and consequences of fraud victimization in the older population. Because older persons are close to or past the peak of their wealth accumulation, they are often the targets of fraud. This paper reports on analysis of the Leave Behind Questionnaires (LBQs) fielded on Health and Retirement Study (HRS) respondents over three survey waves in 2008, 2010, and 2012. We evaluate the demographic determinants and risk factors of reporting financial fraud victimization in the survey, and explore whether there are demographic subgroups of older victims. In addition, we examine the financial, physical and psychological consequences of fraud. Overall results suggest that there is no single reliable predictor of fraud victimization across all three LBQ samples. When LBQ responses were pooled across survey years, we found that younger, male, better-educated, and depressed persons reported being defrauded significantly more often. Victimization was associated with lower nonhousing wealth in the combined sample controlling for other factors, but had no measurable impact on cognitive, psychological, or physical health outcomes. Future research should examine predictors and outcomes based on the type of financial fraud experienced and the amount of money lost.

Key Findings

    Using information from the 2008-2012 core Health and Retirement Study surveys and the Psychosocial Leave-Behind Participant Lifestyle Questionnaires, the authors find:

    • The fraction of older persons reporting they had been the victims of fraud within the five-year retrospective window was 4 percent in 2008, 5 percent in 2010, and 7 percent in 2012. The overall rate for the pooled sample was 5 percent. These figures are less than half the national prevalence rate for all U.S. adults that was estimated for 2011, but they are similar to others’ reports that 4 percent of adults 45 and older were victims of a major consumer swindle in the past year.
    • Age was negatively associated with people reporting that they had been the victim of a fraud. Men were more likely to report being defrauded than were women.
    • Better educated people were less likely to report being victimized, while being wealthier was not systematically associated with greater prevalence of fraud.
    • The subgroup most likely to report being defrauded was low-educated, white, married couples, comprising 40 percent of the total victims. Highly-educated, white, married couples made up about a quarter of the group, with smaller fractions among the remainder of the population.
    • Being victimized was not systematically associated with lower levels of health or wealth in the pooled data, controlling for baseline status.


DeLiema, Marguerite, Martha Deevy, Annamaria Lusardi, and Olivia S. Mitchell. 2017. “Exploring the Risks and Consequences of Elder Fraud Victimization: Evidence from the Health and Retirement Study,” Ann Arbor MI: University of Michigan Retirement Research Center (MRRC) Working Paper, WP 2017-374. https://mrdrc.isr.umich.edu/publications/papers/pdf/wp374.pdf