August 21st is National Senior Citizens Day in the U.S., and Better Business Bureau has some great news: the stereotype of the “little old lady” as scam victim is wrong. BBB research shows that seniors are less likely to be victims of scams because they are more likely to recognize a scam when they see one.
Seniors have gotten the message, loud and clear, that scammers target them, especially for investment scams, tech support scams and imposter scams (“Grandmas, I’ve been arrested in Mexico. Please send money!”). Seniors are doing their homework to become educated about con artists and their tactics. Even more surprising, young people – despite their tech-savvy nature – are more vulnerable to scams than seniors.
The research was conducted by the BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust (BBB Institute) and is available at BBB.org/TruthAboutScams. BBB surveyed more than 2,000 adults in the U.S. and Canada. Questions were about the respondents’ perceived vulnerability to scams, who they think is most likely to be scammed, and about the factors that helped them to avoid being scammed. The participants did not know that BBB was the sponsor of the survey.
Stereotypes usually paint scam victims as vulnerable and elderly, or gullible and poorly educated, but those assumptions are wrong. Everyone is at risk but, surprisingly, younger and more educated individuals are actually the most likely to be scammed. Marketplace scams affect one in four North American households each year at an estimated loss to individuals and families of $50 billion, yet most consumers believe they are invulnerable.
“Optimism bias” is the idea that other people are more vulnerable than we are, and it’s associated with risk-taking and failure to pay attention to precautionary advice. It’s one of the reasons young people are more vulnerable to scams than seniors. Seniors may also be less impulsive than younger consumers, and less likely to make online purchases (or exercising more caution when they do, such as researching a company first or only shopping at familiar websites).
More than 35,000 people have reported scams to BBB Scam Tracker since it was launched in 2015. Analysis shows that the top five scams that target seniors age 65 and older, and how often they are conned, are:
Tax Collection Scam: more than 2,400 reported to Scam Tracker, fewer than 1% lost money
Sweepstakes/Lottery/Prizes Scam: more than 800 reported, 10% lost money
Tech Support Scam: more than 500 reported, 30% lost money
Debt Collections: nearly 250 reported, 2% lost money
Government Grants: close to 200 reported, 6% lost money
Although seniors are the most scam-savvy group, too many are still losing money. BBB reminds seniors – and all consumers – to be cautious whenever someone you don’t know asks for money, personally identifying information, access to your computer or records, etc. Report scams to BBB Scam Tracker at BBB.org/ScamTracker. Research businesses at BBB.org.