Mar. 6—Members of Generation Z are now the primary victims of scams, something that's been linked to consumer habit shifts since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Adults age 18 to 24 reported the highest median losses ($150) and the highest likelihood of loss (56.6%) to BBB Scam TrackerSM in 2020, according to the Better Business Bureau.
The younger age group started rising in the ranks of those scammed over the past several years, duped by a variety of ruses peddled via email, social media or websites, according to John North, president and CEO of Better Business Bureau of Dayton and Miami Valley.
"This (past) year, what really kicked it up was the pandemic and more and more people going online," North said. "What we know about that younger generation is that they are very comfortable online, they are very savvy online and they were practically born with a cellphone in their hand."
That familiarity often means younger people putting down their guards when it comes to scams, believing that they may know a little bit more than most people when it comes to all things internet.
"They're more trusting online, more likely to go online to make purchase, more likely online to do any kind of business," North said. "So just the mere increase in online activity, their particular exposure to this technology, has made them more vulnerable."
Anna Keister, 24, of Springboro, told this news outlet the only way she pays for items now is using her phone.
"I never carry any cash," Keister said. "I use Apple Pay for everything."
Keister said if someone was able to steal her phone and crack its security, "they would get a lot of my personal information."
She said she can see how people her age can get scammed in online schemes.
"The company I work for showed us how easy it is getting caught up in scams," Keister said. "I was amazed at some of the tricks they play on people with emails."
Younger generations, especially those in the 18 to 24-year-old range, were susceptible to and helped fuel scams dealing with unemployment reimbursement checks and the purchase of personal protective equipment.
"Scammers are just taking any opportunity that they can with anything that you see going on in the media to try and get those dollars," North said.
Consumers looking to purchase a puppy online also have fallen victim to scammers, sending a down payment to get the pet and then finding out that the seller needs additional money for problems with the shipment or care for the canine companion, he said.
"Once they realize that they've got a live one on their hands, they just keep upping that price, keep finding something else wrong as to why the puppy can't be delivered at this moment and trying to milk them for whatever they can," North said.
The risk of financial loss rose significantly in 2020, according to "Online scams rise during COVID-19 pandemic: 2020 BBB Scam Tracker Risk Report," which focuses on the impact of scams in the wake of the pandemic and the demographic groups most at risk.
Nearly one of every two reports to BBB Scam Tracker (46.7%) noted a financial loss, with two-thirds of reports (64.7%) resulting in financial loss being online purchase scams, which was the top riskiest scam in 2020. Online purchase scams were the most common scam reported to BBB, comprising 38.3% of all scam reports.
"If there is a shortage of a product, or an opportunity to leverage a person's heightened emotional state, scammers will use that scarcity or fear for their personal gain," said Melissa Lanning Trumpower, executive director of the BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust, BBB's educational foundation, which produced the report.
Scammers also will pose as a recognizable and respected organization or brand to get consumers' attention, Trumpower said.
In a survey of more than 5,000 individuals that reported scams to BBB Scam TrackerSM in 2020, 43.1% said they spent more time online due to the pandemic, and 57.1% said they purchased more online because of the pandemic.
Previously, older age groups consistently lost higher median dollar amounts to scammers year over year, even while young adults tended to lose money more often. This year, the financial loss reported by those 18 to 24 year olds was equal to that of adults 65 years old and older.
"We've always known that senior citizens have been more vulnerable, people calling them on the telephone and being able to get their personal information and also then losing a good amount of money, more money than some of the other age populations that we know of," North said. "They're comfortable when someone calls them. They're part of that Greater Generation, or Baby Boomer generation, that is just trusting."
While senior citizens certainly have more money, those who are 18 to 24 years old are spending more money online and often times have access to their parents' money to make purchases for their parents or use those funds for themselves, he said.
Another way scammers take advantage of younger adults in particular is by using checks, a payment method less familiar to younger generations, North said. Fake check scams were the second most risky scam for adults ages 18-24 in a year where payment via online payment systems rose across all age groups. .
Staff Writer Rich Gillette contributed to this report.