We all know the stereotype: Your grandparents aren’t tech smart, so they’d likely fall victim to fraud on the internet, right? No.
As it turns out, it’s millennials, the ones who are super-savvy about all things technology and social media, that are most likely to be duped by online scammers.
That’s right — according to a recent report by the Better Business Bureau, 37% of people aged 18 to 24 were more susceptible to fraud compared to only 12% of seniors over 65. That said, when seniors were duped they lost almost twice the amount of money as millennials.
There are two types of fraud that disproportionately affect 18- to 24-year-olds: employment and fake-check scams.
Employment scams vary, but they usually include fake employment postings, phony recruiters who email you a job listing or an ad for a work-from-home job.
Often, these imposters are downright convincing – they claim to represent legitimate companies or government agencies over the phone. They seem legit, and you let your guard down.
After a phone interview — or sometimes no interview — they say you are hired. Then you are told to fill out an online application that includes a lot of personal information, like your Social Security number and bank details, which they can later use for identity theft.
They may also tell you that before you can start killing it at your work-from-home job selling product X, you’ll have to purchase training manuals upfront. You send the money, but the manuals never show up. You are out the money, and the job never existed. Ouch.
The BBB gives some smart tips on what to look out for in employment scams, including being wary of any job that has a broad title such as secret shopper, caregiver or customer service rep.
You’ll also want to double-check any positions on the company’s official website to make sure they’re legit. Look online. If the job comes up in a number of cities it is most likely fraudulent, according to the BBB.
If you are victim to this type of scam, contact the BBB Scam Tracker which lists all recently reported scams in the US.
Check scams can vary, but the scammer generally gives you a phony check to deposit and asks you to return an overpayment. Then the phony check bounces.
Money-wiring scams are also prevalent — even I was targeted once. A Facebook acquaintance said she was in France and her wallet was stolen, and asked me to wire her money?
I almost fell for it until I reached her by phone in New York. I later learned someone hacked her Facebook account.
Another variation on this theme is when you are contacted by mail, phone or email and told you have won a foreign lottery. To receive the cashier’s check for your winnings, all you need to do is wire money to a foreign account to pay for the taxes and fees.
You wire the money and wait. And wait. Of course, you never receive your supposed lottery winnings, and the wired money is long gone by the time you figure it out.
Whenever you are contacted, whether it’s by phone, text, social media or mail, never act impulsively. Verify who you’re communicating with by contacting the person via alternate means, or researching them or their company online. Usually a scam has been repeated in other places.
Throw away any offer that asks you to pay for something upfront and never get pressured into wiring money to an unknown party.
So, what can you do to protect yourself?
First, realize fraud can happen to you. Scammers rely on you feeling invincible and making impulsive decisions.
If you feel unsure about something, check with family or friends before giving money to someone you don’t know. If you are contacted by text or messenger – even by someone you know – you should always try to reach that person by phone to make sure their need is legit.
Do a search online for the name or telephone number of someone who has approached you if they seem even slightly dubious. Often you will find complaints from others to validate your negative vibes. The BBB Scam Tracker is a fantastic resource and a great way to educate yourself on just how devious scammers can get.
Keep your personal information secure. Check places like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or the Better Business Bureau to learn about the latest scams and how you can protect yourself.
Don’t share your personal information with people you don’t know whether that’s online, on the phone or in person.
You should also request a free credit report once a year from annualcreditreport.com to check for any suspicious activity. If someone is impersonating you, this is where you will likely find out.
I’ve Been Scammed, Now What?
Report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and BBB Scam Tracker (BBB). While you may not be able to get your money back, law enforcement can act upon complaints in the FTC and BBB databases when there are enough details. You should also file a report with your local police department.
If you are the victim of identity theft, put a fraud alert on your credit report, immediately. To do this, contact one of the three credit bureaus: TransUnion, Equifax or Experian. The bureau you contact is required to contact the other two. A fraud alert is free and lasts 90 days. If needed, mark your calendar to place a new alert after 90 days.
Immediately change your passwords to smart passwords with a combination of random letters, numbers and characters. Then remember to change them again every three months moving forward.
The internet makes it more difficult than ever to know who you are really dealing with. Always resist the urge to react impulsively. Do your research and verify the identity of anyone who asks you for money. After all, you know what they say about an ounce of prevention.
Doria Lavagnino is the co-founder and president of CentSai, a financial wellness platform for millennials and Gen X and CentSaiAdulting, for teachers and teens. Before launching CentSai she was an editor at Glamour magazine.