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Young people are officially more likely to fall for scams

According to new research, 18-34-year-olds are twice as likely to be scam victims

There’s a common misconception that most scam victims are elderly people who are all too eager to reply to emails from mysterious ‘Nigerian princes’ promising them 30 million pounds if they just send over their bank details. But this isn’t the case: research published by Visa in 2021 found that, actually, people between the ages of 16 and 34 are more susceptible to being scammed and account for over half of the scams experienced in the UK.

More recently, a report published last week by Visa and Aston Institute for Forensic Linguistics (AIFL) found that one in four 18-34-year-olds in the UK trust scam messages, making them almost twice as likely to be a scam victim than those aged 55 and above. The research also found that 23 per cent of young people are unlikely to check scam messages for spelling and grammar mistakes, while 29 per cent are unlikely to consider how persuasive the language is.

While most young people know not to click any weird links sent to them from unknown email addresses, scammers have evolved over the years to become even more duplicitous. Many pose as companies or organisations like Royal Mail or HMRC in convincing phishing scams, while some are even more insidious and impersonate a family member or friend in order to ask for personal information or money. According to recent data published by Lloyds Bank, impersonation scams like these on Instagram have increased by 155 per cent in the past 12 months.

“While fraud can impact anyone at any point in their lives, younger people can be more susceptible to some types of fraud because of the ways criminals target people, including via text, Whatsapp and email,” a UK Finance spokesperson tells Dazed. “Younger adults are also more likely to share personal information online, through social media or by filling in details such as their email address and phone number on various websites or pages. This can put them at greater risk as fraudsters can use this information to make it easier for them to target individuals and appear genuine.”

24-year-old Charlotte* had her Instagram account hacked after a scammer pretended to be someone she knew. “I’d put an order in with a local sweet shop on Instagram for a Mother’s Day gift. I know who owned the sweet shop and purchased from them many times,” she explains. “Then on Mother’s Day I got a message from them saying ‘hi, could you help me?’ so I instantly said ‘yes, of course.’” 

“We had a normal conversation before they asked me to screenshot a link for them,” she continues, explaining that she later realised the link was to reset her Instagram password. “I came off my Instagram for two minutes, went back on, and I was logged out.”

The hacker began posting on Charlotte’s account, encouraging her friends to click on dodgy links as part of a phishing scam. “I was getting phone calls and messages from people asking ‘have you seen what’s on your Instagram, is that you?’,” she says. “I was crying, I was very stressed.” Eventually, she managed to regain control of her account after getting in touch with Instagram, and immediately reset her email and password. “It was so easy for them to hack my account,” she tells me. “I literally sent a screenshot and within seconds I was logged out.”

Thankfully, Charlotte didn’t lose any money to the scammer. But that wasn’t the case for Mariam*, who is also in her 20s. When she received a DM from a friend asking for money to pay a “hotel fine”, she didn’t hesitate to reply. “It read just like how my friend would message me, with all the ‘thanks xx’ at the end of the messages,” she recalls. “She's a really good friend so I was like ‘fine, I'll help, I don't mind’. We've also lent each other money and paid for stuff together in the past, so it didn't feel out of the blue.”

Mariam sent over the £80, but the scammer who had control of her friend’s account then requested even more money. “It was like £200 or something,” she recalls, explaining that she was reluctant to send over such a large sum. “I said no, but they kept being really pushy. I then messaged my friend on Snapchat and was like, ‘chill, why do you need £200? Stop being so pushy’, and she was like, ‘that wasn't me’. I freaked out.”

“I felt so dumb – and also scared, because I didn’t know who that person was or what they were going to use the money for,” she recalls. “The next morning I filed a report with Action Fraud and called my bank who linked me with a Fraud Officer. He dealt with my case and took loads of details and was super helpful.” Thankfully, with the help of Action Fraud, Mariam was able to get her money back.

Given that the ongoing cost of living crisis is hitting under-30s the hardest, it’s harrowing to think that young people are disproportionately affected by scams too. So how can young people protect themselves from fraudsters? “Criminals are experts at impersonating people, organisations and the police. They spend hours researching you for their scams, hoping you’ll let your guard down for just a moment,” UK Finance explain. “You should always stay alert and be careful where and with whom you share personal and financial information. Follow the advice of the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign, and always be cautious of any messages or calls you receive and avoid clicking on links in unsolicited emails or texts or messages.”