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", a survey of 11,741 adults, including 1,018 in Ohio, finds that 1,100,000 Ohio Internet users may be at increased risk of being victimized based on this new profile.
The 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. Among the 15 questions probed in the survey were whether participants had engaged in certain behaviors, including opening an email from an unknown source, clicking on a pop-up or signing up for a free trial offer in the past week.
In addition, the survey asked whether people were experiencing life stressors, including “sometimes or often” feeling personally isolated, and whether they lost a job or “experienced a negative change in financial status” in the past two years.
“This survey shows that the simple list of online dos and don’ts aren’t enough to protect people from being scammed,” said Nicole Ware, Cincinnati project director for AARP Ohio. “It’s just as important to consider life stressors that may undermine a person’s ability to fend off a scammers attack.”
According to the survey, 18 percent – or as many as 1,100,000 Internet users in Ohio – have also demonstrated at least seven key risk factors and therefore may be at high risk of victimization.
Nearly two-thirds of Ohio adult Internet users received an online fraud offer in the past year. Asked if they had received one of 16 different types of fraud offers that had been previously reported to the Federal Trade Commission, the data shows that 65% of Ohio adults who access the internet – or as many as 4.1 million Ohioans – received at least one or more fraudulent online offers in the past 12 months.
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)
Ware noted that according to one research report on identify theft, more than $20 billion was stolen from 13 million victims in 2012. The Federal Trade Commission has reported that online scams doubled from just over 20 percent of all fraud in 2007 to nearly 40 percent in 2011.
The study was led by the AARP Fraud Watch Network -- a national campaign to protect Ohioan and all Americans from identity theft and fraud.
“The Fraud Watch Network connects people to experts, law enforcement and people like them who can help them spot and avoid scams,” added Ware. "We’re arming people with information about what makes them vulnerable and giving them access to the tools they need to outsmart con artists before they strike.”
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.