Digital natives who grew up after the birth of the Internet are more susceptible to a variety of scams intended to drain cash from victims with emailed promises of money orders, according to a recent study, and it is older men who more often fall prey to phony tales of romance, investments and friends in need of help.
The Better Business Bureau report found men ages 18-24 were more susceptible to frauds involving fake checks, money orders and loans, while men ages 55-64 are the demographic most likely to be fooled by higher-dollar-value schemes involving home improvements and investments.
On Fridaymorning, Consumer Affairs Undersecretary John Chapman laid out Baker administration efforts to protect the public from increasingly sophisticated scams and from local businesses that charge usurious rates for used cars.
"Massachusetts consumer protections are stronger than many states," Chapman said. "Here we don't allow for interest rates higher than 21 percent and we have stringent timeline requirements for repossessions."
Chapman said monthly payments for cars can be so high that many sales wind up as repossessions, and some auto dealers use "GPS starter interrupters" to make a car unusable if payments are missed. The undersecretary said his office is considering legislation requiring dealers to "prominently disclose" the use of that type of device, which he said presents public safety and privacy concerns.
The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation has begun working with the Division of Banks, the Office of Elder Affairs, the state Department of Veterans Services, and the AARP on a task force seeking to curb financial exploitation of elders.
Chapman said bankers can flag money movements that could be evidence that someone is the victim of fraud.
Mike Festa, Massachusetts state director of AARP, said older people are often exploited by family members or friends.
"It's awkward," Festa told the News Service. He said protecting older people from scams must be balanced against allowing them to control how they spend their own money. He said older people worry about alerting authorities once they have been victimized by a scam artist for fear that relatives will wonder whether the older person is "losing it."
"These scammers are very good at what they do, and they are heartless," Festa said.
Chapman told the News Service that the public is becoming savvier at detecting fraudulent schemes and fraudsters are becoming more sophisticated. Chapman plans to reach out to younger people this spring with a social media campaign.
Paula Fleming, the chief marketing and sales officer for the Better Business Bureau serving eastern Massachusetts and other parts of New England, said the millennial generation is more susceptible to online scams because they think they know how to spot a fake, and they conduct so many transactions over the internet.
"They're overly confident they won't get scammed," Fleming told the News Service. She said phone calls to older people are more resource-intensive for con artists, but generally result in much larger sums of money lost by the victim.
The Better Business Bureaureportfound men 65 and older are the group most likely to be conned with a fake story about a friend or family member in an emergency, and men ages 45-54 are most likely to send money to someone pretending to be engaged in a romantic relationship with them.