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New AARP Report Profiles the Most Likely Victims of Online Fraud
Tuesday, March 18, 2014 6:55 AM

A major national AARP study identifies an online victim profile based on 15 key behaviors and life experiences that increase a person’s vulnerability to online fraud. The report, “Caught in the Scammer’s Net,” a national survey of 11,000 adults, finds that 34 million Internet users may be at increased risk of being victimized based on this new profile.

The study, which compared victims and non-victims, finds that it is the combination of online behaviors and life experiences that make a person at the greatest risk of being scammed. Among the 15 questions probed in the survey were whether participants had engaged in certain behaviors, including opening an email from an unknown source, clicking on a pop-up or signing up for a free trial offer in the past week. In addition, the survey asked whether people were experiencing life stressors, including “sometimes or often” feeling personally isolated, and whether they lost a job or “experienced a negative change in financial status” in the past two years.

When comparing the differences between victims of online fraud with non-victims, victims were found to be involved with an average of seven of the key risk factors. According to the survey, 19 percent – or as many as 34 million Internet users – have also demonstrated at least seven key risk factors and therefore may be at high risk of victimization.

Victims were more likely to have engaged in behaviors including:

  • Clicked on pop-up ads – 26 percent of victims and 10 percent of non-victims said they had done so in the previous seven days;
  • Opened an email from an unknown person – 27 percent of victims and 17 percent of non-victims said they had done so in the past seven days;
  • Signed up for free trial offers – 18 percent of victims and 8 percent of non-victims had done so in the previous week.

But victims were also found to have experienced the following life experiences:

  • Sixty-six percent of victims and 42 percent of non-victims said they “often or sometimes feel isolated.”
  • Twenty-three percent of victims and 10 percent of non-victims said they had experienced loss of a job.
  • Forty-four percent of victims and 23 percent of non-victims said they had suffered a “negative change in financial status” in the past two years.

The Federal Trade Commission has reported that online scams doubled from just over 20 percent of all fraud in 2007 to nearly 40 percent in 2011.