A common misconception is that millennials are adept at spotting and avoiding mobile and online fraud because they are digital natives. But millennials are just as susceptible to financial scams and identity theft as any other age group. Millennials’ affinity for technology actually makes them a bigger target for sophisticated cons.
Here are a few ways millennials get duped into fraudulent situations.
1. Phone Scams
A 2016 study by Truecaller, a service that identifies the origin of unknown numbers and potential spam calls, found “27 million Americans lost approximately $7.4 billion in phone scams last year.” Of those victims, 38% of male millennials and 17% of female millennials admitted to being “fooled” by a scam caller.
Mobile phones are such an everyday tool for millennials that they reflexively respond when they receive a call or text message. One of the more discreet scams works by placing an automated call to a victim’s cell phone. The call appears on the caller ID as a U.S.-based area code, but the call is programmed to hang up after one ring. Confused, the victim attempts to call the mystery caller back, unknowingly placing a costly international call. The result is a slew of expensive pay-per-call rates on your next cell phone bill.
These are called “robocalls,” and they’re a fast and easy way for scammers to scale their reach across a greater number of victims. The way the scammers reroute the origin of the call makes it difficult for law enforcement to track down these operations.
These scam calls and text messages serve a number of purposes, one of which is to verify whether the phone number is actually a live line. When scammers obtain a list of numbers, they typically check to see if the numbers are legitimate, working phone numbers; their best confirmation is when you respond by picking up the call, calling back, or sending a text response.
What to do: If you accidentally pick up a scam call with a live person on the other line, say “no thanks,” explicitly state you do not want to receive solicitation calls and hang up. Then, register your cell phone number on the Do Not Call Registry.
When faced with a robocall or text, do not press any key in the message’s keypad system. Even pressing a number that allegedly removes you from their list can trigger a signal that your phone number is active, which may encourage scammers to keep calling, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Instead, hang up and report the call to the FTC.
2. Job Scams
As the largest generation in the U.S. workforce, millennials can be easy prey for fraudulent job posts. According to a September 2015 FlexJobs survey, 17% of millennials admitted to succumbing to a job scam at least once, and only 48% of the 2,600 millennials surveyed said they were “on guard” for fake employment offers during their job hunt.
False job listings can take the form of a seemingly legitimate recruitment message. With the total number of LinkedIn users at 414 million, the professional social media website unwittingly lists a number of illegitimate job posts from unscrupulous businesses looking to take advantage of eager workers without the intention of paying them or from scammers posing as popular employers to wheedle Social Security information, passwords or money out of targets.
The FBI also warns job applicants of “unsolicited emails for work-at-home employment.” Flexible work arrangements are highly valued by millennial workers, but if the job pitch sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, there’s reason to raise the red flag.
What to do: Before accepting a LinkedIn connection request, dig deeper into the requester’s page. Warning signs to look for include: an incomplete profile, low number of connections and connections from foreign countries. Look up the person’s name on Google to see whether they are who they claim to be or even exist at all. If you find yourself (digitally) face-to-face with a scammer, immediately contact LinkedIn to report the account.
3. Using Public Wi-Fi
Millennials are constantly connected to the internet using mobile devices, like their phones, tablets or laptops. Subsequently, more locations such as the public library, coffee shops and malls offer complimentary Wi-Fi for their patrons. The problem, however, arises from what millennials choose to do while connected to these unsecured networks.
“This is a savvy generation that questions marketing and understands all things digital, but they lack the cynicism of Gen X,” said Ann A. Fishman, president of Generational Targeted Marketing, LLC, a specialized marketing firm providing insights into the preferences, trends, and buying habits of millennials and other American generations.
“Everything today is connected to the internet,” she said. “Smartphones are the key to the internet — and millennials shop over their phones, bank over their phones and supply passwords over their phones everyday. The more sophisticated the source of the fraud, the less trustworthy the technology millennials are using.”
According to Extreme Networks, a global networking solutions provider, a Wi-Fi attack on an open network can take less than two seconds, leaving too-trusting millennials vulnerable to multiple attacks in a single sitting.
What to do: Refrain from logging into personal records, accessing bank accounts and making purchases while connected to public Wi-Fi. Keep Wi-Fi activity to general Web browsing and wait to do financial transactions or check account balances when you’re at home on your own secured network.
4. Charitable Donation Scams
Achieve, a research agency for organizations striving to make a positive impact on the world, found that millennials are inclined to do good by others. According to Achieve’s 2015 Millennial Impact Report, 84% of millennial survey respondents donated to charity the previous year.
“[An] area of vulnerability for millennials is their burning desire to help people in need around the world,” said Fishman. “This generational characteristic is their strength and their weakness. … They will not question a well-presented scam about climate change. Helping others is in their DNA.”
Fraudulent charities and relief efforts feed on millennials’ need to make the world a better place, soliciting monetary donations for a good cause but pocketing donations behind the scenes or, worse, stealing donors’ credit card information or identities.
What to do: Maintain a healthy level of skepticism when confronted with an obscure organization. Exercise due diligence in researching the charity, its cause, and how budgets are allocated, and reference multiple sources confirming the same information before offering a donation.