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Are You An Easy Target For Scammers?

March 5, 2014, 10:10 PM by Angela Kennecke

Are You An Easy Target For Scammers?

You probably figure it can never happen to you--you won't fall victim to some Internet phishing scam or get your identity stolen online, right?

The fact is, according to a new survey 75 percent of South Dakotans are at risk for getting scammed on the Internet.

From clicking on links in unfamiliar emails to following a pop-up ad to a website, there are online behaviors that can predict if you're likely to fall for an Internet scam. 

"In the survey, 25 percent of South Dakotans are at high risk at becoming a victim of these online scams because they were exhibiting seven of the high risk behaviors or life experience things," AARP SD Director Sarah Jennings said.

The survey by AARP identified 15 behaviors and life experiences that put people at risk for fraud.  Some of the behaviors include signing up for a free trial offer for something or clicking or opening an email from an unknown source.  But the survey also found that life-stressers can make people more vulnerable to scammers.

"Say you're concerned about debt or may you lost a job, or went through a divorce and are feeling isolated.  When you put those life experiences together with some of these behaviors it creates the perfect storm of vulnerability to speak and those are the people most at risk for fraud," Jennings said.

And while 120,000 South Dakotans have been identified as high risk of becoming a victim, 75 percent say they've gotten at least one scam email and most people are at some kind of risk for being scammed. 

"All of us are being targeted," Jennings said.

AARP has started a Fraud Watch Network that alerts people of scams in their area available to anyone who signs up.  You can also take a quiz to see if you're an easy target for scammers.

The Federal Trade Commission says online scams have doubled in recent years and more than $20 billion was stolen from 13 million victims.

Risk Factors:


In the past 7 days prior to being surveyed, respondents admitted to:

  • Clicking on pop-up advertisements: Opened by 26 percent of victims compared to 10 percent of non-victims, pop-ups are often used to install computer malware or lead to surveys that glean personal information.
  • Opening email from unknown sources: 27 percent of victims versus 17 percent of non-victims risked similar malware and detail-seeking phishing risks in emails.
  • Downloading apps: 39 percent versus 28 percent. Yet another method to install malware to steal computer files, passwords and accounts.
  • Selling products on online auction sites: 23 percent versus 7 percent. Scammers pose as buyers, paying with counterfeit checks or money orders — often for higher amounts than the sale price, with a request to send back the difference.
  • Purchasing a product through a money payment business: 47 percent versus 30 percent. When using these services, link them to a credit card, which offer more protection against fraud. There’s more risk linking to a checking or debit card account because if those systems are hacked or someone gets your payment transfer information, your bank account is now exposed to the scammer.
  • Signing up for “free trial” offers: 18 percent versus 8 percent engaged in these traps, which lock buyers into hard-to-cancel contracts — and merchandise may not arrive until after the trial ends.
  • Additionally, victims scored higher on several indicators of acting impulsively and admitted to posting more personal information online such as birthdates, marital status, names of children and even Social Security numbers that could be used for identity theft. They were also more likely to visit websites that required them to read privacy and terms of agreement statements – significant because those sites often require providing personal information.

Life Experiences

Confirming previous research, the AARP report finds that feeling vulnerable increases fraud vulnerability. So be extra careful when making decisions online (or in-person) – and take note, friends and family members, if loved ones are experiencing any of the following:

  • Feelings of isolation, report by two in three victims, compared to a minority of non-victims
  • Loss of a job: 23 percent versus 10 percent
  • Negative change in financial status: 44 percent versus 23 percent
  • Being concerned about debt: 69 percent versus 57 percent

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