Millennials More Likely to Fall for Online Scams than Seniors

By Tracey Dowdy

New research from the Federal Trade Commission shows that Millennials are now more likely to fall for online scams than seniors. While the number of fraud complaints dropped in 2017, the amount of money consumers lost was greater.

The Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2017 includes complaints from 2.68 million consumers. In 2016, 2.98 million consumers submitted complaints about identity theft, phone and lottery scams as well as other types of consumer fraud.

According to the report, Millennials (ages 20- 29) submitted 40% of the total fraud complaints to the FTC last year. Contrast that with just 18% from those ages 70 and older. In fact, further research from the Better Business Bureau indicates that contrary to stereotypes, Millennials are more vulnerable to online scams than other demographics.

How is that possible? This is the generation that grew up with technology in the palm of their hands. This is the demographic that is thought to be more tech savvy and Internet aware than their parents and grandparents. Well, according to findings by leading think tank Policy Network,

younger people are disproportionately the targets of online financial fraud for two primary reasons: optimism bias and a greater willingness to share personal information online.

Millennials’ optimism bias leads them to believe that others are more at risk than they are, which leads them to be less suspicious of suspicious online activity. That leads to the second issue – because of their self-confidence, they’re more comfortable sharing personal information like birth dates, e-mail addresses and their mothers’ maiden names.

Monica Vaca, associate director of the FTC’s Division of Consumer Response and Operations, points out that younger generations may be less aware of what scams have been around for a while than seniors. “Some of these older folks are doing a really good job recognizing fraud when they come upon it. They’re doing a really good job avoiding a loss and they want to warn people about it,” she says.

One important difference is that while fewer seniors are falling for scams, they’re hit harder when they are duped. Consumer Reports suspects as much as $3 billion is stolen from seniors by scammers every year.

Though fraud reports dropped in 2017, consumers reported higher losses overall. In total, consumers were defrauded to the tune of $905 million last year, which represents a 7% increase over 2016. However, those losses were concentrated and hit individuals hard – only 21% of consumers who made a complaint to the FTC reported a loss. When seniors lost money, they lost more: a median loss of $621 for those in their 70s, but a median loss of $400 for millennials.

Protect yourself and your family. The FTC has a page dedicated to informing consumers about Scam Alerts. Trust your instincts – if a deal seems to be too good to be true, it probably is. And beware of anyone or any organization asking for personal information like banking details or passwords.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter

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