You might be surprised to learn that 44% of young adults ages 20 to 29 have lost money to fraud, according to an infographic released by the Federal Trade Commission. This compares to just 23% of people aged 70 to 79 who have lost money.
Yet, most of the education around fraud focuses on things like “grandchildren scams” or scams related to Medicare or Social Security. While schools and parents teach children and teens about the dangers of cyberbullying, they are neglecting the financial aspects, experts said.
When it comes to cybersecurity education, according to Ally Armeson of Cybercrime Support Network, we tend to focus on the older generation. “We need to talk about the financial piece with our 12-, 13-, and 14-year-olds,” she said. “As a society, we’re not hitting the financial basics. And we’re certainly not hitting on cyber safety when it comes to finance.”
It’s especially crucial because Gen Z has developed a comfort level with technology that their grandparents may not have, which makes them even more susceptible to scams.
“Young people use technology more, and they use a wider variety of technology,” Armeson said. “They are going to run into bad actors more.”
Natalie Berthe, founder and CEO of Cybersecurity for Humans, agreed about the perils lurking online for Gen Z. “They are used to being immersed in the digital world, and it’s hard to see the danger in something when you’re so familiar with it.”
Early education to protect against fraud is key. But it’s not too late to teach Gen Z how to protect themselves online. It starts with knowing how to recognize some of the most common scams and the best ways to protect yourself.
“Cybersecurity is a human problem, not an IT problem,” Berthe pointed out.
These experts described five common scams and ways to recognize and avoid them.
Impersonation scams involve someone pretending to be a friend or loved one, most frequently. These scams often garner media coverage under the name of “grandchildren scams” targeting older adults. But anyone, including members of Gen Z, can fall victim.
Boomers and zoomers will be approached differently, Armeson said. “The scammers will use different language.”
To avoid these scams, do your due diligence, Armeson advised. “Scammers are really good at communication that gets us emotionally connected in some way. If you are feeling emotional, that’s an indicator that you need to slow down.”
She recommended sharing the conversation with a trusted person, such as a friend, family member or mentor. If someone is impersonating a loved one, reach out to a mutual friend via a different channel or reach out to the person being impersonated either in person or by phone.
Young people are exceptionally susceptible to influencer scams, Armeson said. Scammers using this technique will offer a content creator on social media free product — they only have to pay the shipping and provide their mailing address.
“They never get the product, and they are out $10 or so,” Armeson said. When a scammer replicates the ruse hundreds or thousands of times, they can make significant income. Plus, more importantly, they get the victim’s address, which puts them one step closer to being able to hack into financial accounts or open accounts in the victim’s name.
“Unsolicited communication should always be researched,” Armeson warned. She recommended checking to see how long the potential scammer’s account has been active, how many followers they have, the quality of those followers, and the quality of images.
“If they only have a few followers or if they have a crazy amount of followers but have only been around a few weeks, that’s a red flag. Are the followers fake accounts, as well? Do the pictures look like stock photos?” she said.
You can also do a Google reverse image search to see if photos have been generated by AI or taken from a stock photo site.
Fake Contests and Giveaways
While boomers tend to fall for companies claiming to offer a prize over the phone or by lettermail, members of Gen Z are more likely to fall for scams in the form of apps, games, or other prize giveaways.
But, just as with impersonation scams, there are red flags to look out for, according to our experts.
“If any contest or giveaway requires you to pay money for your prize, skip it,” Berthe said.
Sometimes, you’ll need to provide your date of birth and Social Security number to collect prize winnings.
“Check the website,” she said. “Look for any inconsistencies.” For instance, cross-check the copyright at the bottom of the site with the name of the company, and read reviews on the company and the game. “Do not give them any identifying info, like your SSN, DOB, or street address, until you are absolutely sure that it’s legitimate. Check, double check, triple check, and then maybe still say no,” she advised.
She also recommended against playing games on Facebook or Instagram, as they are often a haven for scammers and hackers. If you really want to play, she said, “Never use the same email address for these contests and games that you use for anything else, especially personal use, banking, or social media login. Create a junk email address just for this purpose to protect the rest of your assets.”
If someone approaches you within a game, do not give out your phone number or any other identifying information, she warned.
Online Marketplace Fraud
Online shoppers looking for deals often turn to places like Facebook Marketplace, which is also known to be filled with scammers.
Berthe offered a few tips that shoppers of any age should follow. “Never take payment in the form of a certified check or cashier’s check. Never accept payment that is not the exact amount agreed upon. Meet the person in person and inspect the merchandise,” she said.
Again, she emphasized never giving out your phone number, which bad actors can use to try to hack into your social media accounts.
Armeson pointed out that zoomers tend to do a lot of shopping within their favorite social media platforms. This practice can also expose them to scams.
“Scammers create fake ads that look really good,” she explained. “So, instead of going to the official website, shoppers click on the ad, and they’re taken to a fraudulent website. They never get the product. Or, if they do get the product, it’s really sub-par.”
To avoid this, make note of the product name that you want to buy, but then enter the official URL for the company in your web browser so you can shop directly from the website. “Convenience is too tempting for all of us. As humans we choose convenience over safety,” Armeson said.
Taking these few extra steps to confirm and verify who you’re dealing with online, whether it’s a company or an individual, can help you avoid fraud.
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