Teens falling for online scams at higher rate than seniors: study

Teens and their phones go hand in hand, and fraudsters are catching on and calling the shots. 

"Something that we had found was that teens are falling for online scams at a higher rate than seniors," said Breanne McClellan, co-founder of Social Catfish. 

Social Catfish, a company dedicated to preventing online scams through reverse image search technology, compiled FBI and FTC data for the ‘State of Internet Scams 2023’ study.

It showed that over the last five years, money lost by young adults, 20 years old and younger, grew nearly 2,500% from 2017-22 compared to 805% for seniors. 

According to Social Catfish, young adults under 20 lost $8.2 million in 2017 compared to $210 million in 2022.

"It's a dramatic increase," said McClellan.

Social Catfish listed five of the top scams teens are falling for. First, the social media influencer scam. 

"What scammers will do is create fake accounts that look just like the actual influencers account," said McClellan. "Then they’ll host a fake brand sponsored contest. They'll ask you to pay a small fee or provide your bank account information to win that prize that they’re sharing."

To avoid this type of scam, look for that blue check mark on instagram accounts and keep in mind that fake accounts will have fewer followers. 

Two other common techniques are romance or sextortion scams. Both involve someone posing as an attractive person using a fake image. In sextortion scams, the scammer may ask for an explicit image and then threaten to make the photo public if a ransom is not paid. 

To avoid both of these scams, perform a reverse image search to confirm the identity. If the person will not video chat or meet in person, they are probably a scammer.

Online shopping scams involve fake websites created to look just like the legitimate online store, selling items at a huge discount. 

Finally, online gaming in-app purchase scams. 

"They'll do this through fake ads on the game," said McClellan. "The victim is not aware that they are unknowingly downloading malware once they've they've clicked on the ads and decided to go ahead and download what they think is an in-app purchase." 

For online purchase and shopping scams, only make purchases directly from the game’s manufacturer and look out for website URLs that have typos. 


According to Social Catfish, if the customer service email ends in ‘gmail.com’ or ‘yahoo.com,’ that is a red flag.

McCllelan said overall advice for teens is the same for seniors. 

"Never give money to someone you don't know, and do your research," said McClellan. "Look into the person you're talking to."

One factor that has contributed to the numbers going up is actually a positive thing. 

"People were embarrassed before to come forward, and now they're seeing this is happening more, and they're feeling a little bit more comfortable to come forward," said McClellan. "We just need more people to come out and help bring a stop to these types of scams."

Victims of a scam or attempted scam are encouraged to report it to the FTC, IC3FBI and Better Business Bureau.

Have a story idea or problem you need help with? Email 7OYS@fox.com