A few years ago, an elder in my family — we’ll call him Tyrone — got into a conversation with some men that he met on the street. The men, who seemed humble and persuasive, said that they were raising money to build a church and a school in a small, struggling African village. Any money that Tyrone gave to them to help their effort would be paid back — with interest — within a few weeks. Tyrone, who was in his early 80s at the time, saw this as a win-win situation: He could help his less fortunate African brethren and gain some extra coin at the same time. So Tyrone went into his house, dug deeply into his secret stash, and gave a few thousand dollars, yes, a few thousand dollars, to the men. Needless to say, Tyrone never saw the men, or his money, again.
Here’s the thing: We could say that the reason Tyrone was scammed was because of his age and perhaps a diminished mental capacity, and that might be true. But we could also say that the scammers played into some positive traits that Tyrone, and our people, tend to exhibit in spades. We are empathetic, compassionate and we truly want to help others make a way out of no way, if at all possible. And if we can make a little somethin’ somethin’ in the process, well, that’s mo’ better.
Black women between the ages of 40 and 49 (with an annual household income of less than $100,000 a year) showed the least familiarity when 17 different types of scams were presented to them. In other words, lots of us are scam-bait material.
According to a 2020 survey done by AARP, about 2 in 5 Black adults have been targeted by a scam and roughly 1 in 5 of us have lost money in one. The swindles that we’re most susceptible to are work-from-home scams, lottery scams, romance scams, affinity/investment scams and the top-rated grandparent scam — where someone calls to say that a grandchild is in a financial bind that can be averted with a quick infusion of cash. But seniors aren’t the only gullible ones: 1 in 5 Black Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 report being targeted by a green energy (think bogus solar panel contractors), government impostor or mortgage scam. Black women between the ages of 40 and 49 (with an annual household income of less than $100,000 a year) showed the least familiarity when 17 different types of scams were presented to them.
In other words, lots of us are scam-bait material.
Read This If You Are Lonely, Stressed or a “People Pleaser”
Statistics show that more than half of those who have been scammed were victimized more than once. Moreover, certain behavior types and conditions make you a more likely target for scammers. For instance, if you’re someone who likes to please people, an email or social media post asking you to support a coworker or a cause might hook you in. Conversely, if you’re feeling lonely or under stress, that “sympathetic” call you receive may make you more prone to divulge personal information. And if you are someone who respects authority — beware: Government entities (IRS, Social Security, police) rarely conduct business over the phone. Despite your desire to be a “good” citizen, if you did not initiate the call, hang up. Chances are that if the government legitimately wants to reach you, they will. Snail mail may be slow, but it still works.
Educating yourself to the various scams lurking in the world, on your phone and in cyberspace is the first step toward keeping yourself safe. Check out AARP’s weekly podcast The Perfect ScamSM to hear from people who have been scammed, as well as from con artists and experts who spill the beans on how scammers operate.
Other Ways to Become Scam Smart:
Use a robocall blocker for your cellphones and landlines. List your phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry to decrease unwanted telemarketing calls.
Don’t use the same passwords over and over again. Those who rely on a variation of the same password are more likely to become a fraud victim. Try using a passport manager such as LastPass, Keeper, Dashlane or Bitwarden to help you keep track.
Be wary of answering calls from a stranger. While almost half (45 percent) of all Black adults report that they don’t answer a call from someone they don’t know, you’re more likely to be a victim of a fraud if you answer calls from unknown people or enter prize contests.
Don’t go it alone. According to the AARP Fraud Watch Network, many scam victims say that they feel lonely and isolated from family and friends, which makes them more likely to fall for the fake friendliness of scammers. If you feel lonely or isolated, AARP and AARP Foundation have programs to help you connect with others in your community. Go to connect2affect.org.