CADILLAC — Someone you know or love may have fallen victim to scammers. Maybe it was you.
When a person becomes a victim of a scam undoubtedly they are embarrassed. They also could be angry at the person who fooled them. They also could be angry at themselves because they didn’t see past the ploy.
New research released by the Better Business Bureau examined why scams work. The report, “Exposed to Scams: What Separates Victims from Non-Victims,‘ comes from the BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust, the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, and the Stamford Center on Longevity and was released in recognition of World Investor Week which was Sept. 30-Oct. 6.
While many would assume that the elderly are the biggest target for those looking to scam people out of money or their identity, that isn’t necessarily the case. The research showed people who live alone or have low financial literacy levels are more likely to lose money to fraudsters, which includes the elderly but also young adults.
The research also showed the highest engagement and victimization rates involve online purchases and social media — outpacing telephone, mail and email fraud.
During the study, researchers surveyed more than 1,000 Americans and Canadians who were targeted by scammers and reported the fraud to the BBB via BBB Scam Tracker. Nearly half of those surveyed did not engage with the fraudster. However, nearly a quarter did, losing an average of $600.
When phone and email were used by scammers to target consumers, relatively few consumers engaged with the scammer or lost money. However, when exposed to a scam on social media, 91% engaged and 53% lost money. Similarly, 81% of consumers who were exposed to fraud via a website said they engaged and 50% lost money.
Consumers also were more likely to be victimized if they did not have anyone to discuss the offer with. Consequently, those who engaged scammers and lost money were less likely to be married and more likely to be widowed or divorced.
Generally, those who engaged, and those who lost money, reported significantly higher feelings of loneliness, according to the research. Social isolation also appears to play a role in fraud victimization. The likelihood of victimization for this sample is greater for individuals who are under a financial strain, are younger adults, or have low levels of financial literacy.
Research showed that 51% of people who reported third-party intervention were able to avoid losing money. Cashiers, bank tellers, employees of wire transfer services and other financial services companies where consumers were about to send money to a scammer, served as an important last line of defense.
Nearly half of those surveyed said the news media was their primary source of information about scams. Word of mouth was the next best form of protection and awareness.
Finally, prior knowledge of fraud helps decrease the chances of victimization. One-third of consumers who were targeted by a scammer, but did not engage, already knew about the specific type of scam. Also, consumers who understood the tactics and behaviors of scammers did not engage with the fraudsters, according to the research.
REACTION TO THE REPORT
West Michigan BBB CEO Phil Catlett said what he found interesting but not that surprising because it corroborated other BBB studies was that younger people, not the elderly, were more likely to fall victim to a scam. He said the reason is simple: younger people are more likely to act and not ask questions than older people. He also said they don’t have the life experience to draw upon that might make them leery of a scammer’s inquiry.
Regardless of whether it is a young or an old person, Catlett said social isolation is a common denominator and plays a role in if someone becomes a victim of fraud.
When it comes to how a person can help a friend or loved one, Catlett said just showing you care and doing everything possible to let them know they don’t have to feel embarrassed to say what happened to them.
“A lot of seniors, in particular, are embarrassed to let anyone know they have fallen for a scam,‘ he said. “Make it clear to them it has nothing to do with their intelligence. There are bad people out there.‘
Catlett said the top three reasons a person engages with a scammer is they seem official, the victim of the scam feels they are under some sort of time pressure and the person is either very nice or mean and nasty.
Ultimately, Catlett said we all have a responsibility to make sure we are watching out for each other. Most of the time people avoid being scammed when a stranger at a business notices something that doesn’t seem right and asks, “Why are you doing this?‘
“It is up to all of us to keep an eye out. If we hear or see something that seems out of place like a person buying hundreds of dollars worth of gift cards, you should ask what’s going on,‘ he said.