Online scams have come a long way from the Nigerian Prince hustle of yore. A record $4.2 billion was lost in online scams last year, and it’s getting worse. A new study from Social Catfish found that even tech-savvy teens and young adults are falling for common online scams in 2021— at an alarmingly higher rate than seniors.
According to the study, victims 20 and younger grew by 156% from 2017 to 2020, compared to 112% for seniors. The number of victims has also exploded: 9,053 young victims in 2017 jumped to 23,186 just last year.
While seniors remain by far the most vulnerable group — with 105,301 victims losing $966 million in 2020 — the surge of Gen Z victims is unprecedented and speaks to the growing sophistication of scammers.
Common Online Scams in 2021
Simply put, these aren’t your grandmother’s scams. David McClellan, founder of Social Catfish, says that just like any enterprise, there are people who are better at it than others.
“The good scammers are really good at English, really good at conversation, and they’re persistent,” he tells Parentology. “We’ve heard stories where somebody talks to a scammer and gets scammed immediately, and we’ve heard other stories where someone talks to a scammer for 12 months before getting scammed. If they think they can get money out of someone, they’ll do it because they look at this as their job.”
Targets tend to include people who are vulnerable — sad, lonely, isolated, and depressed. The pandemic has placed more people squarely in this category.
“A lot of people have been home alone, not socializing, and we live in an era where it’s okay to talk to people online. [Unfortunately,] people aren’t always super savvy,” says McClellan. The demographics his team sees losing the most money are:
- Between 45 and 65-years-old.
- Been married for 20+ years.
- Spouse passes away or they get divorced.
- They often ignore red flags.
“I’ve heard stories where people have lost thousands of dollars and they’ll say, ‘David, you know, I’m actually not upset because I had somebody to talk to,’” he says.
As for the growing number of young people getting sucked into scams, McClellan attributes the staggering statistics to generational comfort with technology and digital confidence without caution.
“You and I grew up in a generation where we were told ‘don’t talk to strangers’. Whereas the younger generation is growing up in a place where it’s okay to talk to strangers on the internet. They want that Instagram celebrity. They want that validation all the time,” he says. “They get a link sent to them or a stranger messages them, and it’s no big deal because they’ve probably done it a million times.”
Whereas big companies tend to lose more money to scammers, romance scams such as catfishing tend to have a higher victim ratio. In the latter instance, once someone has your information, there’s no limit to the damage they can inflict on your life. “We’ve seen people take bank loans. We’ve seen them take unemployment and stimulus funds. As technology evolves, so do the scams,” McClellan says. “We’ve talked to social networks that we’re working with where they’re trying to take down 15-20,000 profiles a day, and they’re not even catching everything.”
Protecting Yourself & Kids
While some of these may seem more obvious than others, McClellan has provided a number of tips to help you stay vigilant.
- Never send money, gift cards or bank information to anyone you do not know.
- Be wary of any job that seems too good to be true or asks you for payment prior to beginning. Never provide information or bank accounts until you’ve investigated the company thoroughly.
- Never give money to anyone you meet online. If they will not video chat or meet, they are a scammer.
- Avoid sending explicit images online or by phone. If the person you are “falling for” will not meet or video chat, think twice before sending anything. (Author’s note: Or, just don’t send nude pics to anyone, any time, ever.)
- Shopping online? Buyer beware; make sure the website you’re shopping on is not full of typos. If the “customer service” email is “gmail.com” or “yahoo.com” that’s a red flag. Research the company.
McClellan’s site, socialcatfish.com, is a search engine for public records, whereby you can search names, emails, phone numbers and photos to make sure they’re legit. “You can validate the information someone gives you as accurate by just plugging in a few simple things,” he says. “We’ll tell you where it’s coming from, and where else those pictures are on the internet. You’re getting an added sense of security and peace of mind.”
Since there has been a massive outreach to the 45-65-year-old demographic about the dangers of online scamming, McClellan says the amount of people losing money in that group has steadily decreased. Now is the time to extend the same education to younger people. While some schools do offer Cyber Civics classes that help educate them about scams and being good digital citizens, McClellan believes that more can be done.
Common Online Scams 2021 — Sources
SocialCatfish.com – Common Online Scams 2021