When you picture a scam victim, you might think of a little old lady. Or an uneducated person. Or someone who’s not all that bright.
But you’re wrong.
Millennials and those who have higher levels of education are more vulnerable to scams, according to new research by the BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust, the educational foundation of the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB).
“We’ve bought into stereotypes about scam victims – they’re usually seen as vulnerable and elderly, or gullible and poorly educated,” said Emma Fletcher, product manager with the BBB Institute. “These stereotypes are strongly held… and they are wrong. We are all at risk, but younger and more educated individuals are actually the most likely to be scammed.”
That’s what researchers learned in a study of more than 2,000 consumers, and the findings followed the same trend as what BBB has learned from a much larger sample.
Of the more than 30,000 scam reports made to BBB Scam Tracker, a crowd-sourced scam reporting tool, those aged 18 to 24 were three times more likely to report losing money to scams than older folks.
The data showed that 89 percent of seniors — those 65 and older — recognized when they were targeted in a scam, and only 11 percent reported actually falling for it and losing money.
That compares to the younger set losing money 34 percent of the time, BBB said.
Younger folks are more vulnerable because of what the researchers call “optimism bias.” They tend to take more risks and often don’t follow precautionary advice, researchers said.
It’s the “it would never happen to me” phenomenon that so many young people embrace.
Older folks, though, may have learned from experience.
“Seniors may be the one group that does not suffer from optimism bias when it comes to scams. They’ve heard, loud and clear, that they are at risk,” said Rubens Pessanha, director of marketing research and insights for CBBB. “Seniors may very well be more scam savvy than others.”
He said seniors are less impulsive buyers than younger consumers, and they’re less likely make purchases online, where so many scams are perpetrated.
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With this new look at who is falling victim to scams, BBB has some suggestions.
First, it encourages victims to talk about scams.
Targets of scams feel empowered when they can take back some control by reporting what has happened to them in order to help warn others, it said.
That’s something Bamboozled has always found to be true. So many people are too embarrassed to admit they’ve been the victim of a scam, but by staying quiet, you’re just letting the scammer target more people. And the cycle continues.
The BBB report said talking about scams is so important.
“The voices and stories of others have the potential to normalize the problem in a positive way, shedding the shame and stigma of victimization with the message that, if it can happen to other people like me, it can happen to me,” it said.
Next, BBB said consumer education is vital to eliminate “optimism bias.”
Consumers need to realize that anyone, including themselves, can be a victim. Once you admit you’re not invincible, you’re more likely to take steps to protect yourself.
So we all need to keep learning about scams and what thieves are doing to get hold of your money.
That’s why Bamboozled is here. We’ll keep on bringing news of scams and tricks and money grabs for as long as there are scammers.
Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller atBamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. FindBamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Stay informed and sign up for NJMoneyHelp.com’s weekly e-newsletter.