Most of us would be surprised to learn that millennials report losing money to scammers far more often than seniors do. According to the Federal Trade Commission, 43 percent of those who reported fraud in 2017 were ages 20-29, as opposed to the 15 percent of people ages 70-79.

Millennials’ online activity and changing sense of privacy makes this newest generation of young adults potential victims for scammers looking to steal funds and identities in today’s technological marketplace. Wisconsin’s consumer protection bureau knows that teaching millennials savvy ways to protect their identities and financial information can slow the trend.

“Our ultimate goal is to prevent the losses that can result from scams,” says Lara Sutherlin, who heads consumer protection programs at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). “There is an endless array of scams out there, but many are the same operation dressed up as a different package. The best way to avoid falling victim is to know what red flags to look for.”

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Scams Evolve, Education is Key

Every year, the Wisconsin Bureau of Consumer Protection fields about 100,000 inquiries and written complaints from Wisconsin consumers regarding scams and identity theft. The bureau’s outreach and education efforts encourage these reports. Meanwhile, its investigation and resolution resources deliver results, returning millions of dollars every year to victims, Sutherlin says. It’s interesting to note that while more millennials are falling victim to scams, they do tend to lose less money than senior citizens. Scammed consumers ages 20-29 had a median loss of $400 compared to $751 for those ages 70-79 and $1,700 for those ages 80 and older.

The scamming methods vary, from fraudulent charity pitches and office supply scams to phishing emails and data breaches. Scam artists may trick small businesses into handing over W-2 information to steal personnel information. Criminals may act as a government agency or a utility company to demand money.

Many young people believe that they are more immune to scams because they are so web-savvy, but con artists still hit victims hardest by phone. In fact, 70 percent of 2017 fraud reports to the FTC involved contact by phone. Younger consumers are most susceptible to “imposter” scams: calls that claim to come from government agencies or well-known businesses demanding money or personal information.

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Preventing Scams

The Bureau of Consumer Protection uses education to combat scams, and staff members welcome invitations to speak at schools, businesses, nursing homes and community centers. In the event of a scam or identity theft, bureau staff provide mediation services, handle investigations and collaborate with attorneys and law enforcement.

“There is also a lot of coordination with law enforcement in the state and beyond our borders,” Sutherlin says. “We work with other states and federal agencies because most of these same scams are happening elsewhere.”

Consumers who recognize a scam or fall victim to one can call the bureau’s hotline at (800) 422-7128 or email DATCPHotline@wisconsin.gov.

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