3 Most Common Scams By Age Group and How to Avoid Them

Three generations of women smile at the camera while hugging each other


When you think about the victims of online scams, do you picture only the unsuspecting elderly falling prey to these schemes? While senior citizens certainly are targets (in fact, a recent FBI report states that people over the age of 65 lost nearly $1 billion to scammers last year), they are not the only age group affected by online scammers.

Criminals will gladly take money from anyone of any age group, from Boomers to Gen X to Millennials. Online scammers continuously change their methods, carefully crafting their scams to suit their victims. No matter your age or education, you could fall for a financial scam.

That's why it's important to understand the three most common types of scams targeted by generation to help you and your loved ones stay safe.

Millennials Fall for Financial Scams More than Any Other Age Group

Ironically, although millennials have a reputation for being tech-savvy, they are the most likely to fall for online scams. A report from the FTC found that millennials were 25% more likely to report losing money to fraud than adults over the age of 40.

The financial scams most often directed at millennials prey on their desire for easy ways to make money or fix debt-related problems. Millennials are also twice as likely than people 40 and over to report losing money in online shopping scams.

For example, the Better Business Bureau explains that millennials are most likely to fall for check cashing scams. These online scams present themselves in numerous ways, but always involve counterfeit checks which are altered versions of a real business' check. They can look like regular checks, cashier's checks, or money orders.

Beware of any quick schemes involving paying you to be a mystery shopper or nanny or even a sweepstakes winner. The scammers will "pay" you with a fake check, then ask you to quickly wire money or send gift cards back to them – before their check bounces.

Another common variant involves offering to pay for something with a check that is more than the cost of the goods. The scammer asks the millennial to wire them back their "change," and then they make off with the product and the extra funds after the check bounces.

How to Avoid These Scams

The best scam prevention tip for this type of financial scam is to simply be wary of checks. Millennials often do not use them, so many are unaware of how they work. Never assume that a check will clear until the funds are in your account. If someone asks you to deposit or cash a check and wire money back, it's most likely a scam.

Online Scams Directed at Boomers and Gen Xers

Scammers tend to prey on the desire for love and companionship among people aged 40 to 69, through the practice of catfishing. Catfishing is a unique type of scam involving online dating via social media sites.

How it works is the online scammer sets up a profile featuring an attractive person with a likeable personality and then tries to befriend random people. Once someone shows interest, they work to keep you engaged and quickly profess their love. However, they will always come up with seemingly valid excuses for never being able to meet in person.

Eventually, the scammer will use your faux-romantic connection to ask for money. They come up with elaborate reasons for needing money, like having to fix a broken car before they can come visit you or that they have medical expenses they cannot afford. They'll ask for the money to be sent via wire transfers or in gift cards, thus tricking their victims into sending them money freely.

Once a catfisher feels like they have gotten all the money they can from a victim, they disappear, leaving the person brokenhearted and significantly poorer.

Catfishing is one of the most lucrative scams out there. People will do anything for those they love, and unscrupulous scammers take advantage of that. Each catfishing victim loses about $2,600 on average.

How to Avoid These Scams

To avoid a romance scam, it's important to research people you meet online and avoid sending them money. These criminals are incredibly sophisticated, often faking an entire life and will lead their victims on for months or even years.

Watch for these red flags.

  • They refuse to meet in person or do a video call.
  • They seem overly accommodating, never disagreeing or arguing with you.
  • You find other profiles with their picture when you do a reverse image search on their photo.
  • They ask you for large sums of money for an emergency or transportation to meet you.
  • Their social media profiles are empty, not showing many interactions with friends or family.
  • After talking to you for a short time, they are already ready to say they are in love with you.
  • They have elaborate stories for why they cannot talk to you or see you in person.

Financial Scams Focused on Seniors

Scams that target seniors are wide-ranging. Scammers like to focus on the elderly because they are generally polite and trusting and often own their own home and have good credit and some sort of savings.

Ploys range from romance scams to people posing as government officials and from sweepstakes/lottery scams to scams in which criminals pretend to be a grandchild or child to the elderly victim. In all cases, the con artists will eventually ask you to send money for one false reason or another.

Most of these scams take place over the phone or in person, although some do take place online, in the form of criminals posing as tech specialists looking to gain remote access to the suspect's devices, for example.

How to Avoid These Scams

According to the National Council on Aging, look for these telltale signs of a scam:

  • Con artists asking you to make decisions fast and threatening you.
  • Not being able to obtain a real number or scammers using fake caller IDs.
  • Scammers pretending to be the government (e.g., IRS or DEA).
  • Asking you to provide them with personal information such as your Social Security number or bank account numbers.
  • Offers of free travel.

When in doubt, ask a friend or family member about any suspicious activity before giving out any personal information or sending money.

Ultimately, the best way to avoid financial scams is to follow safe financial practices. Always carefully research people and organizations before sending money and avoid sending funds through untraceable methods like wire transfers or gift cards.

Remember, if something seems too good to be true online, it usually is. Being especially cautious can help you avoid a major financial disaster. Be sure to report any suspicious activity to your state's consumer protection office.