Who fits the profile of a scam victim? Roughly 34 million people -- according to a just-released AARP report, Caught in the Scammer's Net. The report finds that 15 online behaviors and life situations may significantly increase a person's vulnerability to online fraud -- and nearly one in five American adults engage in at least seven of them.
More than just engaging in risky behaviors online -- victims have also recently experienced a difficult life experience, like losing a job or losing money. How does going through a difficult time make you more vulnerable to fraud? Just as a weakened immune system lowers your resistance to disease, negative life events lower your resistance to fraud.
These eye-opening findings are pooled from detailed surveys of 11,000 adults across the U.S., comparing the online actions, behaviors and life experiences of fraud victims and non-victims -- providing a detailed "profile" of those who are most vulnerable to Internet-based scams.
In the past seven days prior to being surveyed, respondents admitted to:
• Clicking on pop-up advertisements: Opened by 26 percent of victims compared to 10 percent of non-victims, pop-ups are often used to install computer malware or lead to surveys that glean personal information.
• Opening email from unknown sources: 27 percent of victims versus 17 percent of non-victims risked similar malware and detail-seeking phishing risks in emails.
• Downloading apps: 39 percent of victims versus 28 percent of non-victims are vulnerable to yet another method to install malware to steal computer files, passwords and accounts.
• Selling products: 23 percent of victims versus 7 percent of non-victims are active on online auction sites. Scammers pose as buyers, paying with counterfeit checks or money orders -- often for higher amounts than the sale price, with a request to send back the difference.
• Purchasing a product through a money payment business: 47 percent of victims versus 30 percent on non-victims use this service, which becomes risky when you link to a checking or debit card account. If those systems are hacked or someone gets your payment transfer information, your bank account is now exposed to the scammer.
• Signing up for "free trial" offers: 18 percent of victims versus 8 percent of non-victims engaged in these traps, which lock buyers into hard-to-cancel contracts -- and merchandise may not arrive until after the trial ends.
The key negative life experiences include:
• Feelings of isolation, reported by two in three victims, compared to a minority of non-victims,
• Loss of a job: 23 percent of victims versus 10 percent non-victims.
• Negative change in financial status: 44 percent of victims versus 23 percent of non-victims.
• Being concerned about debt: 69 percent of victims versus 57 percent of non-victims.
When asked several questions about Internet safety, neither victims nor non-victims scored particularly well. But in two specific questions, victims were significantly less likely to answer correctly than non-victims:
• Being unaware that banks do not send emails to customers asking them to click on a link to verify personal or account information. Nearly two in three victims, compared to just 38 percent of non-victims, believe that banks do this, but it's a common ruse by scammers to download malware or collect details for likely identity theft.
About the research
The report was commissioned by the AARP Fraud Watch Network -- a national campaign to connect people to experts, law enforcement and people like them who can help them spot and avoid scams. Available free of charge to AARP members and non-members alike, and people of any age, the Fraud Watch Network provides:
• Watchdog Alert emails that deliver breaking scam information,
• Prevention tips based on the latest information from experts,
• An interactive map with the latest law enforcement warnings from each state,
• A phone number people can call to talk to volunteers trained to help fraud victims, and
• Access to a network of people who are sharing their experiences with scams so they can help others protect themselves.
For a copy of the survey, click here: http://www.aarp.org/onlinefraud