An AARP study released last week identifies an online victim profile based on 15 key behaviors and life experiences that increase a person’s vulnerability to online fraud.
The study follows initiation of the AARP Fraud Watch Network to help educate Americans about various forms of fraud including online scams and empower them to get accurate information on how not to get scammed.
Caught in the Scammer’s Net, the survey released recently, surveyed over 11,000 people nationally and 826 people in Arkansas. According to the survey analysis, 31 percent of Internet users in Arkansas may be at increased risk of being victimized based on this new profile. Nationally, the study found that 19 percent of Internet users may be at increased risk of being victimized based on the new profile.
The Arkansas survey is available at www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2014/internet-fraud-victimization-attitudes-behavior-arkansas.html This page also includes a link to the national study.
The national study, which compared victims and non-victims, finds that it is the combination of online behaviors and life experiences that put a person at the greatest risk of being scammed.
Brian Dedrick, public information officer for the North Little Rock Police Department, said officers do their best to educate the public about this type of fraud.
"We continually try to get this out to the community when we have reports of this type of fraud taking place in our community. We just spoke at Park Hill Baptist Church in relation to this to try and educate people on this matter. We also will be posting to our Facebook page as incidents occur to try and inform our community of these type of scams."
Jacksonville Police Department Spokesperson April Kiser her city’s police department handles local cases.
"If the suspect or suspect business is local, we investigate it," Kiser said. "Often times, the suspects or business are out of state. We don’t have the resources to travel and serve search warrants in other states so we refer the victim to the FBI."
She said a victim can make a complaint through through the following website: IC3.gov.
"Also if the victim is aware of a physical address of the suspect in another jurisdiction, they may file a report with the law enforcement agency that serves that area," Kiser said. "We will still take a report for the victim because their credit card company or bank may require it in order to reimburse the victim for their loss."
Kiser added that the department assists victims of online fraud by advising them of procedures to recuperate loss funds and to prevent further loss. Online fraud victims are directed to alert their financial institution of the fraud, file a police report, check their credit report, and place fraud alerts on their credit report.
"As for the investigations of these crimes the Jacksonville Police Department must be able to determine that the crime took place in its jurisdiction in order to pursue criminal charges against suspects," Kiser said. "If jurisdiction cannot be established, due to the act taking place on the internet, the victim is referred to the Office of the Attorney General to pursue criminal charges against offenders."
Lt. Jamie Michaels of the Sherwood Police Department said many online fraud causes originate out of the area.
"Because incidents of online fraud usually cross state lines, the Attorney General’s Office usually handles/investigates these types of complaints," Michaels said.
Michaels added that online scam cases are handled by the State Attorney General’s Office.
Based on the national sample, victims were more likely to engage in online behaviors such as:
• Opening email from unknown sources — 27 percent of victims verses 17 percent of non-victims said they had done so in the previous seven days;
• Clicking on pop-up ads — 26 percent of victims verses 10 percent of non-victims said they had done so in the previous seven days;
• Signing up for free trial offers — 18 percent of victims verses eight percent of non-victims had done so in the previous week.
But victims in the national sample were also found to have experienced 53 percent more negative life events or stressors such as:
• Loss of a job (23 percent of victims vs. 10 percent of non-victims);
• Reports of often or sometimes feeling isolated (66 percent of victims verses 42 percent of non-victims);
•Being concerned about debt (69 percent of victims verses 57 percent of non-victims);
• Experienced a negative change in financial status (44 percent of victims verses 23 percent of non-victims report experience in the past two years).
"Clicking on a pop-up or signing up for a free trial offer, by itself, does not guarantee one will be scammed," said Michael Rowett, Associate State Director-Communications for AARP Arkansas. "But if such online engagement occurs during a vulnerable moment when you’re feeling lonely or have just lost your job, it can add up to the perfect opportunity for a scammer."
When comparing the differences between victims of online fraud with non-victims, victims were found to be involved with an average of seven of the key risk factors. According to the survey, 489,469 Arkansans (31 percent of the state’s Internet users, as noted above) have demonstrated at least seven key risk factors and therefore may be at high risk of victimization.
"Just as a weakened immune system lowers your resistance to disease, negative life experiences lower your resistance to fraud," Rowett said. "That’s when doing something risky online puts you right where the scammer wants you."
The survey also showed that while the vast majority of Arkansas online users (82 percent) say they are concerned about being scammed over the internet, they were only able to correctly answer an average of 5.17 of the 10 questions in a simple online test designed to test their knowledge about how to be safe online. Arkansas’ average was higher than the overall national average of 4.66 out of 10 questions.
Other survey results included:
• Nearly 75 percent of Arkansas adults that access the Internet — or as many as 1.1 million people — received at least one online fraud offer in 2013.
• An overwhelming 91 percent of Arkansas online users say they are concerned about providing personal information over the internet. However, 30 percent of Arkansas respondents with personal email accounts say they have never changed their password for that/those accounts. Likewise, 28 percent of these respondents say they never change their password for accounts that include sensitive information like online banking or bill payments.
Rowett also noted that according to the Federal Trade Commission, reports of consumer fraud have increased by over 60 percent since 2008 and online scams doubled from just over 20 percent of all fraud in 2007 to nearly 40 percent of all fraud in 2011.
The AARP Fraud Watch Network connects people to experts, law enforcement and Arkansans who are spotting fraud and sharing their experiences so others know what to watch out for. Available free of charge to AARP non-members and members alike, and people of any age, the Fraud Watch Network provides:
• Watchdog Alert emails that deliver breaking scam information,
• Prevention tips based on the latest information from experts,
• An interactive map with the latest law enforcement warnings from each state,
• A phone number people can call to talk to volunteers trained to help fraud victims, and
• Access to a network of people who are sharing their experiences with scams so they can help others protect themselves.
The GFK Group conducted the Internet-based survey for AARP last November and December. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.1 percent. The Arkansas survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 5.7 percent.