April 4, 2014

Survey can reveal your level of online vulnerability

A new survey by the AARP can be a tool to help you predict whether you are likely to become a victim of Internet fraud.

A new survey by the AARP can be a tool to help you predict whether you are likely to become a victim of Internet fraud.

In 2012, more than 16 million Americans had their identity stolen by online scammers. The FTC has reported that online scams doubled from 20 percent of all fraud in 2007 to 40 percent in 2011. It’s a safe bet that the number is even higher now.

The recent survey of American adults has led AARP to estimate that there are now 34 million Internet users who can be identified as being at high risk of becoming scam victims. The good news is that analysis of the survey, called “Caught In the Scammer’s Net,” can tell you whether you are among that number.

Fifteen specific behaviors, life experiences and knowledge attributes were identified as common among online fraud victims. A careful look at what those factors are, combined with a bit of self analysis, can tell you whether you are at risk.


Here are nine online behaviors that victims are more likely to engage in:

1. Click to open pop-ups.

2. Open e-mails that come from unknown people or sources.

3. Sell merchandise on online auction sites.

4. Purchase products using an online money payment business.

5. Sign up for free trial offers.

6. Download apps.

7. Visit websites that require the reading of a privacy policy.

8. Visit websites that require the reading of a terms of agreement statement.

9. Are impulsive.

Victims were also more likely to provide personal information on social media sites, such as landline phone numbers, personal schedules and calendars, addresses and cellphone numbers.

Life experiences

The survey questioned people about their concerns and about the events that had been encountered in their lives. Those who had been victimized by online scams were more likely to have experienced:

• Feelings of isolation and/or loneliness
• The loss of a job
• A negative change in their financial status
• Stress associated with moving
• Divorce
• A serious injury or illness


Both victims and non-victims displayed poor knowledge regarding Internet use. On two questions, however, victims were significantly less likely to answer correctly.

Victims were:

• Unaware that just because a website has a privacy policy does not mean that they will not share your information with other companies.
• Unaware that banks never send e-mails to their customers asking them to click on a link verifying their information.

If you are among the many who find that some of the above traits describe you, or even if not, there are at least five recommended ways to improve your online safety, according to the FTC.

They are:

• Never give out personal information unless you are 100 percent sure who you are dealing with. Do not respond to suspicious e-mails.
• Shred documents when discarding them.
• Be sure to use a secure browser, watch to be sure “https” is at the beginning of a web address and avoid using public networks when possible.
• Be sure passwords are over 6 characters long, contain upper and lower case, have numbers and special characters in them. Change them frequently. Don’t use dictionary words or private information in your passwords.
• Check your social media privacy settings and set them for maximum privacy. Limit your profile to just certain groups or friends. Never reveal your Social Security number, full name or date of birth on social media.

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