Every day there’s a new report of someone falling victim to a scam. There’s the Internal Revenue Service scam that threatens the victim with arrest for non-payment of taxes, the grandparents who hear from their grandchild that they are in jail in some foreign country and the car wrap advertising scam. Scammers claim they will shrink-wrap your car with an advertisement and pay money for the space.
According to the Better Business Bureau, scams affect one in four American households and amount to a loss of $50 billion each year. The scams that crooks are using are becoming increasingly complex and believable. But who falls for these scams?
The old stereotype of the doddering little old lady who is easily duped is far from the truth. The truth is that our younger citizens are far more likely to fall victim to a scam than that little old lady. The Better Business Bureau has developed a self-reporting system called Scam Tracker that allows consumers to report details of scams. The numbers from this site are striking. Eighty-nine percent of those 65 and up recognized the scam before committing their money. Only 11 percent lost money in the reported scams. Not so with our younger consumers. For those between 18 and 24, three times as many failed to recognize the scam and 34 percent of these consumers lost money.
Everyone is at risk, but the surprising thing is that the well-educated and younger individuals are actually more likely to fall victim to a scam. Researchers call it “optimism bias.” It is the idea that we think others are so much more likely to fall victim to a scam and that somehow we will see right through the game. In fact, optimism keeps us from recognizing the fraud for what it is.
How do we avoid falling victim? First we need to stay aware of what kind of scams are going around. I’m always heartened when I see reports in the newspaper or other local news that tell how people have recognized a scam and are warning others to beware. Even those who have lost money feel empowered when they report the scam in order to keep others from falling for the trick as well. Actually, those who report their experiences say that warning others is the main motivation for their report.
It has long been reported that losing money to a scam is one of the most underreported crimes. People simply didn’t want to admit that they had failed to recognize the scam as it was coming. Now falling victim to a scam is not only common, but it is also talked about openly.
Sixty percent of those who lost money to a scam said that being unfamiliar with the techniques used contributed to their being duped. That is why it is so important that scams be talked about openly so everyone can be familiar with the scams that are occurring at any time. Of those who recognized the scam and avoided losing money, 80 percent said that knowing a certain scam was occurring helped them avoid an attempted scam.
Be sure to watch for scam reports in the newspaper, on the television or radio and check webpages such as Scam Tracker, Scam Gram, the Federal Trade Commission’s Scam Alert, and Scambusters.org. When you are familiar with the types of scams that are occurring, you are more likely to avoid problems.
Realize that all of us can be fooled. Don’t fall victim to the crooks in our midst.
Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is associate director of Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Questions or column requests can be e-mailed to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 907-474-7201.