When most people hear about scams, I think the assumption is that older adults are the ones impacted. However, a recent consumers report tells a very different story. Millennials are actually 25% more likely to report losing money to fraud then people over 40. The report also found that millennials are twice as likely to fall victim to shopping frauds online.
Here are some of the most common frauds that target millennials and some suggestions about how to combat them.
Online Shopping Scams:
Have you ever seen an Instagram ad for a pair of designer-looking shoes or a copy of an expensive dress? The price seems too good to be true, so you take a chance and order the items. When and if the items arrive, the goods look nothing like they did online. The shoes are held together with hot glue and that dress looks like a dishrag.
This is not an uncommon experience in the world of online shopping and you may have even had something similar happen to you or someone you know. (To be honest, I fell victim to this one over the summer via Instagram. I was bombarded by ads for adorable, yet incredibly inexpensive, baby clothes and excited to get my hands on such a deal. At the time, I chalked it up to the cost of doing business online, but what I learned was I had fallen for an online shopping scam).
The typical shopping scam starts with a bogus website or, increasingly, mobile app. Some fake online stores mimic trusted retailers with familiar logos and slogans and a website that’s easily mistaken for the real thing. They offer popular items at a fraction of the usual cost and promise perks like free shipping and overnight delivery.
Some of these copycats do deliver merchandise in the form of shoddy knockoffs worth less than even the discount price. More often, you’ll wait in vain for your purchase to arrive. And your losses could just grow from there: Scammers may seed phony sites, apps or links in pop-up ads and email coupons with malware that infects your device and harvests personal information for use in identity theft.
- Watch for too good to be true bargain basement prices for designer items.
- Be wary of shoddy website design or broken English in the copy.
- Look at the options for contacting the retailer in case there is an issue with your order. Often scammers don’t provide contact information like phone number and email and instead ask you to fill out a contact form.
- Websites with URLs with extra words or characters can be suspect. Most stores use only their brand name in web addresses such as www.gap.com so be on high alert for sites that look like a popular retailer but are not.
How to protect yourself:
Do your homework. If you encounter an online retailer via social media make sure to pause before purchasing and do a little digging.
- If you are unfamiliar with the brand, search online for reviews. You may find that some of the popular consumer sites will tell you all you need to know!
- Always pay for items online with a credit card so that you can dispute the charge if the items don’t turn up or if they arrive and are not as advertised.
- Check the phone numbers and addresses of the store site to ensure they are genuine before you purchase the items. That way you know you can contact the seller if there are any issues with the product.
Work from Home Scams
Want to be your own boss? Earn thousands of dollars working from the comforts of your home. There are many ads targeting millennials for a variety of work-at-home jobs and businesses that promise you’ll earn big bucks working from home on your spare time. I understand the allure, especially for stay-at home parents or for those on a fixed budget. Some of these ads even promise you a refund if you don’t succeed….so what’s the harm, right?
Here’s the reality, many of these jobs are scams. These programs often require expensive starter kits or certifications that are useless, or end up using your credit card without your permission, or get caught up in a fake check scam. Other work-at-home offers just don’t deliver on their promises. The ads don’t tell you that you may work for weeks without payment, or don’t disclose all the costs up-front. You might spend money based on promises you’ll quickly earn it back — but you don’t. People tricked by work-at-home ads have lost thousands of dollars, not to mention their time and energy.
- Watch out for opportunities that push you to SPEND money in order to make money.
- Be careful if you are asked for personal financial information, such as social security number, bank account information, early in the interview process.
- Is the job listing very generic or sounds too good to be true? Beware of opportunities that promise a get rich quick fix.
- Be wary if the contact email and information for the individual recruiter is a personal email address such as email@example.com or looks like a legitimate company’s email but actually isn’t, such as firstname.lastname@example.org
How to protect yourself:
- Ask lots of questions! Make sure you do your due-diligence in investigating the company and the job itself. The Better Business Bureau and Federal Trade Commission are both good resources to find and report online job scams.
- Rather than Craigslist or Facebook, consider using a reputable job searching tool like Flexjobs or Zip Recruiter where they pre-screen every job and company before posting them to the site.
Debt Relief Offers:
Millennials are notoriously saddled with debt so it’s not that surprising that our generation reports falling victim to debt relief scams. In fact, millennials were 86% more likely to report losing money to debt scams compared to those over 40.
Most of these scams target individuals with significant debts (credit cards and auto loans being the most obvious) and promise to negotiate with the creditors to settle or greatly reduce the repayment obligations. These scams often charge a large up-front fee but then fail to uphold their end of the bargain. Here is what you should know about these scams and how to protect yourself.
- Any legitimate debt relief company won’t ask you to pay upfront- In fact it’s illegal. In 2010, the Federal Trade Commissionmade it illegal for debt settlement companies to charge upfront fees.
- No one can guarantee that your creditors will forgive debts. Beware of any company that makes grandiose promises.
- Any company that says they can stop collection calls or lawsuits and tells you to stop communicating with your creditors.
- The company won’t send you information about its services unless you provide financial information such as credit card account numbers and balances.
How to protect yourself:
- If you need debt relief assistance there’s legitimate help out there. You can talk to your creditors directly to negotiate a modified payment plan. You also can look for credit counseling through a nonprofit agency. Some credit unions and colleges also have credit counseling for students/grads.
- Do your homework on a debt relief service you are considering working with. Search online and check with your state’s attorney generaland consumer protection agency to see if the company has been the subject of complaints.
- Make sure you know the disclosure requirements for debt settlement companies. Among other things, they must explain all fees for and conditions on their services, estimate how long it will take to settle each debt, and lay out the risks of stopping payments to creditors.
Here is the bottom line, millennials are targeted every day and while we may not have the greatest share of wealth, we are vulnerable to all kinds of scams. Many of these scams are tech based and I think we all like to assume that as tech-savvy millennials we are immune and can identify a scam a mile away. Unfortunately, fraudsters are only getting smarter and more sophisticated. While it might be inconvenient to step back and ask a few more questions, you may be happy you did.