Online Fraud: Are you next?

AARP Fraud Watch
Special Watchdog Alert from AARP Scam Expert Sid Kirscheimer
The difference between which computer users get scammed and those who don’t often comes down to a simple checklist: In just-released research, AARP identifies 15 particular behaviors, life situations and knowledge attributes that significantly increase vulnerability to online fraud.

THE KICKER: Nearly one in five American adults roughly 34 million people engages in at least 7 of them.

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 future blogs, we’ll delve deeper into how, where, when and why the dangers of online fraud lurk in the "Fraud-Likely 15." (You can also keep tabs on other scams here and with free email alerts.) But for now, a snapshot of some key findings from this important AARP report, Caught in the Scammer’s Net:

In the past 7 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 versus 28 percent. Yet another method to install malware to steal computer files, passwords and accounts.
  • Selling products on online auction sites: 23 percent versus 7 percent. 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 versus 30 percent. When using these services, link them to a credit card, which offer more protection against fraud. There’s more risk linking to a checking or debit card account because 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 versus 8 percent engaged in these traps, which lock buyers into hard-to-cancel contracts — and merchandise may not arrive until after the trial ends.

Additionally, victims scored higher on several indicators of acting impulsively and admitted to posting more personal information online such as birthdates, marital status, names of children and even Social Security numbers that could be used for identity theft. They were also more likely to visit websites that required them to read privacy and terms of agreement statements significant because those sites often require providing personal information.

Confirming previous research, the AARP report finds that feeling vulnerable increases fraud vulnerability. So be extra careful when making decisions online (or in-person) and take note, friends and family members, if loved ones are experiencing any of the following:

  • Feelings of isolation, report by two in three victims, compared to a minority of non-victims
  • Loss of a job: 23 percent versus 10 percent
  • Negative change in financial status: 44 percent versus 23 percent
  • Being concerned about debt: 69 percent versus 57 percent

Other factors that increase vulnerability risk: The stress about moving, personal or family illness, the death of a loved one, relationships issue and going through a divorce (which tripled fraud vulnerability risk). Previous research shows that those 65 and older are most vulnerable to any type of scam within three years of such traumatic events.

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.
  • Being unaware that a privacy policy does not mean that website will not share information from users. Roughly half of victims, compared to 40 percent of non-victims, answered this correctly. However, such information may be sold to either legitimate vendors or scammers posing as such, and used to compile to Sucker Lists to identity possible future victims.

The results of this survey highlight real steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones from scams and frauds. And as always, we encourage you to report all scams and fraud. If you think you have been the victim of fraud or know someone who is, don’t be shy about reporting it to law enforcement. Start with your state’s Attorney General Office. By reporting your experience to law enforcement you may help others avoid frauds and scams.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of identity theft or fraud, contact the AARP Foundation Fraud Fighter Center at 877-908-3360.

The AARP Fraud Watch Network connects you to the latest information about ID theft and fraud so you can safeguard your personal information and your pocketbook.
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If you or someone you know has been a victim of identity theft or fraud, contact the AARP Foundation Fraud Fighter Center at 877-908-3360.
Share this alert with your family and friends so they know how to spot the common strategies scammers use and have the tools they need to defend themselves against their tricks.
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