Fraud icon iStockPhotoIndianapolis, IN – A new AARP study identifies an online victim profile based on 15 key behaviors and life experiences that increase a person’s vulnerability to online fraud.   The report, “Caught in the Scammer’s Net,” surveyed more than 11,000 people nationally and 562 in Indiana. According to the survey, 978,598 Internet users in Indiana may be at increased risk of being victimized based on this new profile.

The national study, which compared victims and non-victims, finds that it is the combination of online behaviors and life experiences that put a person at the greatest risk of being scammed.

Based on the national sample, victims were more likely to engage in online behaviors such as:

  •  Opening email from unknown sources – 27% of victims and 17% of non-victims said they had done so in the previous seven days;
  • Clicking on pop-up ads – 26% of victims and 10% of non-victims said they had done so in the previous seven days;
  • Signing up for free trial offers – 18% of victims and 8% of non-victims had done so in the previous week.

But victims in the national sample were also found to have experienced 53% more negative life events or stressors such as:

  •  Loss of a job (23% of victims, 10% of non-victims);
  • Reports of often or sometimes feeling isolated (66% of victims, 42% of non-victims);
  • Being concerned about debt (69% of victims, 57% of non-victims);
  • Experienced a negative change in financial status (44% of victims and 23% of non-victims report experience in the past two years).

“Clicking on a pop-up or signing up for a free trial offer, by itself, does not guarantee one will be scammed,” according to AARP Indiana State Director June Lyle.  “But if such online engagement occurs during a vulnerable moment when you’re feeling lonely or have just lost your job, it can add up to the perfect opportunity for a scammer.”

When comparing the differences between victims of online fraud with non-victims, victims were found to be involved with an average of seven of the key risk factors.  According to the survey, 978,598 Hoosiers have demonstrated at least seven key risk factors and therefore may be at high risk of victimization.

“Just as a weakened immune system lowers your resistance to disease, negative life experiences lower your resistance to fraud,” Lyle said.  “That’s when doing something risky online puts you right where the scammer wants you.”

The survey also showed that while the vast majority of Indiana online users -76% – say they are concerned about being scammed over the internet, they were only able to correctly answer an average 5.16 out of 10 questions in a simple online literacy test designed to test their knowledge about how to be safe online.  For instance, 56% of Hoosier respondents are unaware that a privacy policy does not always mean the website will not share information with other companies. Thirty-eight percent are unaware that banks do not send email to their customers asking them to click on links to verify personal information.

Other survey results included:

  •  72% of Indiana adults that access the Internet – or as many as 2.7 million people – received at least one online fraud offer in 2013.
  •  While Indiana adults who access the internet are concerned about providing personal information over the internet, nearly a third of these respondents with personal email accounts say they have never changed their password for that/those accounts. Likewise, over one-third with personal email accounts say they never change their password for accounts that include sensitive information like online banking or bill payments.

Lyle also noted that according to the Federal Trade Commission, reports of consumer fraud have increased by over 60 percent since 2008 and online scams doubled from just over 20 percent of all fraud in 2007 to nearly 40 percent of all fraud in 2011.

The AARP Fraud Watch Network connects people to experts, law enforcement and fellow Hoosiers who are spotting fraud and sharing their experiences so others know what to watch out for.  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, go to http://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2014/internet-fraud-victimization-attitudes-behavior-indiana.html.

The GFK Group conducted the Internet-based survey for AARP last November and December.  The margin of error was 3.1 percent.