What makes people vulnerable to online scams? Study provides answers

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SALT LAKE CITY — Some people fall for online scams, some people don't. A new study aims to answer the question, why?

"If it's too good to be true, then it's probably a scam," is a common warning from consumer advocates, state agencies and federal regulators. Still, thousands of Americans fall prey to fraudsters every day.

“Any time a scammer can find you in an emotionally fragile state, I think they try to take advantage of that,” said Alan Ormsby, who leads the Utah office of the AARP.

That organization surveyed 11,000 adults to get a better understanding why some people fall for scams while others don't.

Researchers found people experiencing a negative event such as job loss, reversal in financial status or just accumulating debt are nearly twice as likely to fall for a scam.

“That sense of fear, if you’re not able to make ends meet, if you’re afraid, you’re not going to be able to take care of your own needs. It heightens that emotional sense of ‘I’ve got to do something,’ ” Ormsby said.

Fraud Watch Network website
The AARP just launched its Fraud Watch Network. The website, www.aarp.org/money/scams- fraud/fraud-watch-network/, lets people report scams and find out about scams hitting their neighborhood. It is free for anyone to use.

That urge to do something, the study said, is seen in people who engage in risky online behavior. It helps explain why scam victims are much more likely than non-victims to click on pop-ups, sign up for free trials or open emails from people they don't know.

“If something comes into your mail’s in box that says ‘Make $500 a day stuffing envelopes,’ most of us would say that doesn’t sound right. You can’t really make $500 a day stuffing envelopes,” Ormsby said. “But if you’re really fearful that you’re not going to be able to make ends meet, you might say, ‘Well, I’ll try that. I’ll click on that.’ ”

Ormsby said people who've recently experienced a stressful event need to be especially cautious. They likely are not thinking about how to guard against scams, and that makes them vulnerable, he said.


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Bill Gephardt


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