How to Spot – and Stop – Online Scams That Target Millennials and Gen Zers
As a Millennial, you may consider yourself to be reasonably tech-savvy and believe you can spot an online scam from a mile away.
But that may not be the case: Today there’s evidence that people who use online technologies more frequently may be that much more susceptible to online scams. New research suggests that Millennials and younger generations may be even more likely than older generations to experience a security breach and suffer financial losses.
Real Money, Real Losses
Where are these scams occurring? They appear to be across the board. Data from Atlas VPN, a virtual private network provider, found that about 52% of Gen Zers and Millennials have had an account password stolen at one time or another. And about 48% have had their social media accounts hacked.
It’s not just your online security at stake. It’s your hard-earned cash, too. The FTC reports that Millennials are twice as likely as older generations to lose money while shopping online. With each incident of fraud costing them an average of $400, it’s a high price to pay for a lesson in scamming.
But there’s an easier way to prevent these cybercrimes: It begins by understanding how and why younger generations like you are actually more susceptible to online scams, not less.
How Scammers Target Your Online Habits
When you consider that Millennials and Gen Zers spend a significant amount of time online, it’s not surprising that the odds of being scammed are higher.
Cybersecurity researcher Ruth Cizynski, who’s also an author at Atlas VPN, points out that with younger generations being so accustomed to doing many tasks online, they may be more trusting of unfamiliar contacts and URLs.
According to a research study cited by the online protection service provider McAfee, three areas top the list when it comes to breaches: passwords, unsafe browsing, and tracking and privacy breaches.
Along with these opportunities are common scams hackers use to exploit consumers’ trust:
- Online shopping fraud: Racking up the most in dollar losses, this scam occurs when items you’ve purchased online are never delivered or aren’t as promised.
- Business imposters: An online entity pretends to be a business you know and trust.
- Government imposters: Scammers may also pose as a government agency, such as the IRS, requesting “back taxes” or personal information.
- Fake check scams: Scammers may try to pay you for online goods you’re selling with counterfeit or stolen checks. Alternatively, they may ask you to purchase gift cards on their behalf, paying with counterfeit checks. Or they may write you a check for an amount higher than what’s owed to you and ask for the difference.
- Job hunting scams: You may be tricked by scammers promising high returns in exchange for an investment.
- Romance scams: Scammers set up fake profiles on dating apps so they can create a relationship that helps them eventually cheat unsuspecting victims of their money.
Ways to Protect Yourself from Online Scams
Knowing about these common approaches is a great way to protect yourself. In addition, there are tools and techniques to help shore up your online security habits.
- Watch for the telltale signs of phishing and smishing.
Cybercriminals know they can reach their victims online in many ways. You may be familiar with requests via email, asking you to click on a link. This approach often proves effective: The FTC says Millennials are 77% more likely than their older counterparts to lose money on a scam that starts with an email.
But increasingly, scammers are using texts by sending messages containing mysterious-looking links. Should you click, you’re either taken to a website that is requesting personal details or attempting to download malware onto your phone or computer.
If the text message or email looks suspicious, is unexpected, or comes from an unfamiliar entity, then it’s probably malicious.
Watch for emails and messages containing odd misspellings and typos, especially those appearing in a website name or link address. These are red flags indicating the link could direct you to an imposter site. Hover over the links to see if the actual web address and the link match. If they don’t, then it’s another indication you’re about to be scammed.
Should any of these situations hold true, don’t click and don’t respond.
- Get help with your passwords.
Since password breaches are a top risk area, amp up your security by getting a password manager. The best practices around passwords – including creating long, unique passwords – also make them difficult to remember. Employing a password manager helps you create better passwords, change them frequently, and store and access them safely.
- Use a VPN service.
Using a VPN, or virtual private network, protects your online activities when you’re not using a secured network. The VPN will encrypt your data, masking it from spying eyes – which is especially important when using public Wi-Fi networks.
- Employ security software on your devices.
Installing comprehensive security software on your phone and computer can provide a range of protective tools, including antivirus protection, spam filters, web advisors and more. These tools may also help should you click on a bad link.
- Sign up for identity theft protection.
Being informed quickly whenever your personal information is compromised, and having extra help when it is, helps to prevent losses.
- Upgrade your online shopping habits.
Research online sellers to see what others are saying about them. And when paying, use a credit card, since they offer protections other forms of payment don’t.
If you are the victim of online fraud, then report it immediately to the FTC at https://reportfraud.ftc.gov. Doing this step may help stop scammers from defrauding others.
While the threats of online security aren’t going away anytime soon, there are many signs to watch for – and steps you can take – to help ensure your online journey and your finances remain secure.