AARP AARP States Washington Press

New report reveals unique profile of most likely victims of online fraud - are you next?







For Immediate Release
March 5, 2014

Jason Erskine
206-517-9345 office
206-604-7085 cell

New report reveals unique profile of likely victims of online fraud– are you next?
Nearly one-million Washington web surfers may be at high risk of victimization

Seattle, WA – It all started when Jackie Swett’s computer starting acting up. She couldn’t log in to her email account and then a notice popped up on her screen offering to help. The 50-year-old Bellevue resident called the 800 number on the pop-up ad and was told her computer was badly infected, and could only be helped with a $199.99 firewall and security program. She also gave them remote access to her computer with the promise that they could find and fix the problems. But it turns out that her problems were just beginning since the offer was a scam and her money, credit card number and computer had just landed in the hands of a thief.

“I’m a computer newbie and didn’t really understand what the problem was or how best to fix it,” said Swett. “And because I struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I’m pretty isolated and don’t have a lot of friends to turn to for advice on things like this.” Swett ended up having to cancel her credit card and pay another $500 to have her computer fixed by a legitimate company.  To make matters worse, her information appears to have been sold to other scammers, and her phone has been ringing off the hook with a wave of bogus pitches ever since. “It has been a nightmare,” she says. “These people can turn your life totally upside down.”

Unfortunately, Swett isn’t alone. According to a new survey from AARP, she fits a unique new profile of the most likely victims of online fraud.  The report, “Caught in the Scammers Net” revealed that online fraud victimization isn’t determined by keystrokes and clicks of the mouse alone.  While certain online behaviors were shown to contribute to victimization, it’s when they are combined with some common life stressors or events that the real trouble starts.

Based on the national sample, the survey identified 15 key risk behaviors and life experiences that increase vulnerability to online fraud.  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 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,” said AARP State Director and survey author Doug Shadel.  “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 nearly one-million Washington web surfers (942,681) have demonstrated at least seven key risk factors and therefore may be at high risk of victimization.

“If you think of scams in terms of a disease we’d like to prevent, then our survey shows that the simple list of online do’s-and-don’ts that most of us are familiar with isn’t enough to inoculate internet users from victimization,” said Shadel.”  “It’s just as important to consider the negative life events or stressors that can lower your immune system and your ability to fend off a scammers attack.”

The survey also showed that while the vast majority of Washington state online users (77%) say they are concerned about being scammed over the internet, they were only able to correctly answer roughly half (5.5 out of 10) of the questions in a simple online literacy test designed to test their knowledge about how to be safe online.  For instance, 45% of Washington respondents are unaware that a privacy policy does not always mean the website will not share information with other companies.  Twenty-nine percent of Washington respondents are unaware that banks to not send email to their customers asking them to click on links to verify personal information.

Other survey results included:

•    Nearly three quarters (73%) of all Washington adults that access the Internet – or as many as 3.1 million people – received at least one online fraud offer in 2013.

•    Ninety-percent of Washington state online users say they are concerned about providing personal information over the internet.  However, nearly a third (32%) of these respondents with personal email accounts say they have never changed their password for that/those accounts. Likewise, over a quarter (28%) of these respondents say they never change their password for accounts that include sensitive information like online banking or bill payments.

Shadel 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.

AARP issued the findings as part of their statewide “Fraud Watch Network” consumer protection effort with the Washington State Attorney General’s Office.  The network is designed to provide the eyes and ears against fraud across the state.

“Consumers must vigilantly protect their information online,” said Attorney General Bob Ferguson. “By joining the ‘Fraud Watch Network,’ consumers will receive alerts and notifications about new scams as they emerge and can join the effort to report suspicious activity to the Attorney General’s Office and the AARP Foundation Fraud Fighter Call Center.”  The public can sign up for the “Fraud Watch Network” at or by calling toll-free 1-800-646-2283.

The GFK Group conducted the Internet-based survey for AARP last November and December.  The margin of error was 3.1 percent.  A full copy of the report is available at or by contacting AARP Communications Director Jason Erskine at 206-517-9345 /



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