NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Vice Provost and Professor of Criminology Dr. Brian Payne of Old Dominion University recently put together a study that analyzed and compared victimization reports during the coronavirus pandemic.

Payne’s results revealed a major shift in patterns of fraudulent crimes committed against ‘older persons.’ The study compares fraud patterns during the first quarter of 2020 against the same activity reported during the first quarter of previous years.

Although Payne’s official report “Criminals Work from Home During Pandemics Too: A Public Health Approach to Respond to Fraud and Crimes Against Those 50 and Above,” will be published in the next issue of the American Journal of Criminal Justice, he has released some key findings from the study.

  • Though they make up a third of the U.S. population, half of all fraud complaints made in the first three months of 2020 were made by those 50 or older. The number of fraud complaints targeting older adults between Q1 2019 and Q1 2020 dropped, but the amount lost to fraud increased dramatically. Fraud patterns changed as well.
  • The amount reported lost to fraud among those 80 and older doubled in the first three months of 2020 as compared to the first three months of 2019 ($23 million versus $11 million). While increases were found in all age groups, those the amounts were higher for those in their fifties (about 50%), sixties (about 50%), and seventies (about 43%)
  • Complaints about imposter businesses, fraudulent text messages, online shopping complaints, counterfeit checks and romance scams increased by more than 10% in the first three months of 2020 in comparison to the same timeframe in prior years. Older persons were more likely than younger persons to report being targeted for certain types of cybercrime (i.e., tech support scams).
  • Four types of coronavirus frauds surfaced that tended to target older adults: grandparent scams, medical fraud, Social Security Administration frauds and personal care fraud.

Included in his study, Payne analyzed crimes of abuse involving the same age groups. The results showed that risk factors for offenses such as domestic violence, elder abuse, and crimes in nursing homes increased during the pandemic as a result of the measures taken to reduce the spread of the virus.

“The study draws attention to the double-edged sword of technology,” Payne said. “On the one hand, technology provided opportunities to cope with the social distancing mandates. On the other, it provided new opportunities for crime and victimization.”

Payne’s findings bring the focus to a “public health approach to respond to these crimes” based on the collaboration efforts and resources this approach provides.

“Just as public health experts note that disease exists anywhere humans live, it must also be noted that crime occurs in all places – including in individuals’ homes,” he said.

More information on Dr. Brian Payne and Old Dominion University can be found online.

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