The numbers are interesting, and not necessarily what you might expect. But the question remains the same… What is the average age of a scam victim?
The surprise, at least to many experts in the field, is that younger people continue to be the most susceptible. Those between the ages of 18-24, year after year, are being scammed the most often. However, those over 65 command a much larger percentage of the total wealth that is being stolen. Wildly, in 2020, the youngest victims have reported the same median dollar loss as the oldest victims ($150), but let’s not get this confused with the average dollar loss by age. And let’s also note, that 2020 was an extremely unique year on any statistical sense, seeing all people sitting at home, behind a computer screen, far more often.
For those playing along, the median dollar loss of $150 essentially means that on the middle ground, both young and old victims are losing around the same amount of money. But on average, older adults are still responsible for the largest piece of the fraud pie as they are often frauded out of multiple thousands of dollars (money that younger victims likely don’t have available to them).
What Are The Riskiest Scams for Each Age Range?
For younger individuals (anyone under 54, in fact) the riskiest scams are related to online purchases.
On top of these online purchase scams, adults under the age of 54 are most susceptible to employment scams, which makes sense as this is the age group that is often looking for work and can be easily attracted to “too good to be true” employment opportunities.
For older adults, anyone over 55 years old, romance scams and travel scams hold the top spots, with online purchasing falling in a close second. It’s likely surprising for anyone reading this that romance scams (typically anything to do with online dating) occur more often with people who aren’t who you’d typically think about as the target audience for apps like Tinder or Bumble. But the fact is – older adults are dating, older adults are using online dating apps, and older adults are being scammed on record scale.
So, what is it that makes older adults so susceptible to romance scams and travel fraud?
For the most part – loneliness.
A key factor that can indicate the risk of falling victim to a scam is feeling lonely. As adults age and drift away from friends, family, work, and other hobbies, they can become more willing to lean into a romantic situation that might not be as romantic as they believe.
In conjunction with feeling lonely, older adults are less prone to discuss their dating life with the friends and family that they are still in contact with since dating, especially online dating, can feel a bit awkward in our later years. If older adults don’t discuss their dating life, they lose out on any unclouded judgement about these relationships. These older online daters wind up relying completely on their own judgement, and that can easily be swayed by the feeling of love, or at least what they think is love.
Continued, scams involving romance or travel can mount in total value as victims continue to pay out money towards false characters on a regular basis or shell out thousands towards travel opportunities that won’t ever come to fruition. While a 26 year old on a dating app might feel like they got scammed out of a few drinks after a bad date, an older adult can wind up paying through the nose when a scammer convinces them that they need help with their mortgage, legal battles with an ex-spouse, or any major expense that tugs on the heartstrings.
What Age Group is Most At Risk?
So who is actually the most at risk for scams? The answer, if you add up all of the factors, tends to be older adults.
While it is true that young adults are falling for certain scams more often, they are typically small value, single occurrence scenarios like a fraudulent eCommerce purchase that might cost them around $100 and a bit of frustration. Older adults, on the other hand, are more often becoming victim to larger scale fraud and exploitation that can continue for months on end. And of course, older adults tend to have more savings from which the bad actors are able to dig.
How Can You Avoid Scams?
For online purchases, simply be sure that you are vetting a website before making a purchase. Do a quick Google search and look for reviews or websites where someone may have reported fraud (Reddit is often a good source of user generated content).
Be skeptical of anything on social media that seems too good to be true. If you’ve been searching for an item and know that it typically costs $200 and then you see an advertisement for the same item for just $75, there is a good chance that it is fraudulent.
Don’t answer phone calls from unknown numbers or respond to text messages from mysterious strangers. And, if you do happen to answer the phone or get a text message, whatever you do, do not give out any private information (bank information, passwords, address, or even user names) and certainly don’t give anyone access to your phone or computer by downloading apps or handing over login information.
For romance scams, and many other long cons, the key is communication. Stay in touch with friends and family and don’t be ashamed to tell them about the person you’ve been speaking to online. Ask friends or family about travel deals that you are interested in before making a purchase. The easiest way to stay safe from nearly any scam is to be sure you have a trusted circle of family and friends who you can speak to about what’s going on in your life. A collective brain is going to be a lot more powerful than just your own.
And if you have been scammed, or think that you’ve been scammed, realize that you aren’t alone. Follow this guide on what to do next.