Personal Finance

Tech-savvy teens falling prey to online scams faster than their grandparents

Alex Potemkin | E+ | Getty Images

Being ultra-tech-savvy apparently isn’t enough to protect you from online scams, a new report suggests.

The number of individuals age 20 or younger — members of Generation Z who have grown up on smartphones and the internet — reporting they are victims of cyber-fraud has surged 156% over the last three years, according to a study from Social Catfish, an online identity-verification service. That compares to 112% growth during the same time among people age 60 or older, the group with the next-fastest scam growth.

“It is alarming,” said David McClellan, president of Social Catfish. “The generation we think of as being the most savvy with the internet … is where the numbers are growing the fastest when it comes to scams.”

For the under-21 crowd, complaints to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center reached about 23,200 last year (up from 9,000 in 2017), resulting in roughly $71 million lost (compared with $8.3 million in 2017).

“This age group is very comfortable being online and being very public about their lives,” McClellan said. “So that makes them very trusting when they’re on the Internet.”

While the growth in complaints was fastest for the nation’s youngest generation, more older Americans are victimized overall: Last year, 105,300 or so complaints of online scams among those age 60 or older resulted in a collective $966 million loss, the study says.

Overall, victims of all ages collectively lost $4.2 billion in 2020, according to an FBI report, which the Social Catfish study relied on as part of its research.

Here are some common scams that target teens or young adults and how to avoid them, per Social Catfish:

• Job scams: Be wary of any job that seems too good to be true, or asks you to pay money for training. Never provide any personal information without investigating the company thoroughly.

• Online influencer scams: These involve creating fake social media accounts that mimic the influencer, hold a contest and then ask the “winner” to pay a fee or provide their bank account number to get their prize. Never send money or bank information to anyone you do not know.

• Online shopping scams: This fraud arises from a website created to look like a legitimate online store selling items at a huge discount. However, the item you ordered never arrives and the fraudsters have your credit card and personal information.

Red flags that a site is fake include a high frequency of typos or a customer service email that looks like a personal one (e.g.,, ends in gmail.com). Additionally, be sure to research the company if the deals look too good to be real.

• Romance scams: These fraudsters end up winning a person’s heart and then try to get the victim’s money, as well. If the person will not video chat or meet in person, that’s a huge warning sign.

If you are the victim of an online scam, you can report it to the Federal Trade Commission and the FBI.

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