4. Living in Florida
Florida is the top state for consumer fraud complaints, with about 1,000 complaints per 100,000 residents, according to a report at 24/7 Wall St. that’s based on 2014 Federal Trade Commission data.
Florida’s dubious distinction may be because of its larger population of seniors, who are frequent targets of fraudsters. Other states with high rates of fraud include: Texas, New Jersey, Arizona, California, Maryland, Delaware, Michigan, Nevada and Georgia.
A 2014 report by AARP, “Caught in the Scammers’ Net,” says that 66 percent of scam victims say that they “often or sometimes feel isolated.”
Dating sites are prime territory for fraud — and people who are lonely are especially susceptible, says an AARP article on such scams. Emotional vulnerability and a lack of transparency in internet dating can combine to convince people that their prayers have been answered, even when a “dream partner” met online is too good to be true.
The article tells how Enitan, the name given to a former scammer interviewed for the article, worked:
Using stolen credit card numbers, the scammer would flood dating sites with fake profiles. Victims can be found anywhere — scammers also forage for connections on social media — but dating services provide the most fertile territory. Profile photos are pirated from social media or other dating sites. To snare women, he’d pose as older men, financially secure and often in the military or in engineering professions. For male victims, he just needed a photo of an alluring younger woman: “Guys are easier to convince — they’re a bit desperate for beautiful girls.” The common thread between them: loneliness. All his victims, Enitan says, described themselves as divorced or widowed. “The lonely heart is a vulnerable heart.”
Want to learn more about online dating scams, and how to protect yourself? Read: “Is Your Online Love Interest Putting Your Money at Risk?”
6. On the internet
Many people link the idea of telemarketers with fraud, and for good reason: People who listen to telemarketers’ calls are more likely to get hooked, DeLiema says.
And the digital age has produced a far bigger pipeline for fraudsters to contact potential victims: Through email, fraudulent online ads, online shopping scams and more.
Heimdal Security, which provides cybersecurity services and intel, offers a guide to the most common online scams and ways to spot them before you lose anything.
7. Part of an identifiable group
The Securities and Exchange Commission warns that some scams “prey upon members of identifiable groups, such as religious or ethnic communities, the elderly, or professional groups.” How it works, according to a consumer report from the federal agency:
The fraudsters who promote affinity scams frequently are — or pretend to be — members of the group. They often enlist respected community or religious leaders from within the group to spread the word about the scheme, by convincing those people that a fraudulent investment is legitimate and worthwhile. Many times, those leaders become unwitting victims of the fraudster’s ruse.
In other words, scammers may seem like people you know, or someone who seems to be like you, including family.
Among the cases of affinity fraud that are cited in the SEC report are African-Americans, Armenian-Americans, retirees and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
8. In debt
Being in debt makes you vulnerable to scam artists who prey on people looking for a way out of a difficult situation. Scam artists can be hard to identify because they pose as legitimate businesses. Be particularly wary of businesses offering debt consolidation and help negotiating with creditors. Scammers also often insert themselves into the businesses of mortgage refinancing and foreclosure counseling.
People in desperate situations grasp at straws. Con artists know this and show up looking for immigrants who need help with their legal status, for example, or for victims of natural disasters who are willing to pay for help filing a claim, finding a new home or getting home repairs. One rule of thumb: Never engage a contractor who shows up uninvited to your home.
In the end, most of us are a bit vulnerable, in one way or another. Scams are so prevalent today that almost anyone can get stung. A few of the AARP report’s list of traits shared by vulnerable scam victims:
- Job loss
- Ignorance of bank procedures
- Downloading apps
- Clicking on online pop-ups
How to protect yourself
Here are more ways to arm yourself against fraud:
- AARP’s Fraud Watch Network is a good resource for people of all ages to learn about new scams and find out how to spot them and to stay safe.
- The Fraud Watch state map links to law enforcement alerts and notices about scams in your area.
- Report fraud to the AARP Foundation Fraud Watch Helpline: 877-908-3360.
- Trust your gut: Back away and take time to think when you feel pressure to buy or invest, or even just simply if your internal alarm goes off and you don’t know why. Offering something “only for a limited time” is often a tip-off to a con.
What scams have you avoided or fallen prey to? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.