New-Age Grifters: Email A Big Fraud Channel, BBB Reports

J.M. Pattee, the legendary 19th-century Lottery King, said: “The people wanted to be humbugged, and it was my business to do it.” That outlook is in full flower today, judging by the 2017 BBB Scam Tracker, released on Wednesday by the Better Business Bureau. And email is a big part of it.

Granted, email was not the only medium being used for fraud last year, or even the most prevalent. Websites and the phone were tied for first place, with 23% of scam messages being delivered by each (particularly in the form of robocalls when the phone was used).

Email was second, with 17%. But remember: Some of the evil on websites is dependent on email to get the suckers there. (And probably to make phone calls too).

Direct mail, once the vehicle for swindles of every type (including those of the Nigerian Prince), accounted for only 2%. So you can’t call it junk mail anymore.

Text messaging has yet to come into its full maturity in this field — it also delivered only 2% of the pitches.



Year-over-year, the BBB saw a 46% increase in scam tracker reports — to more than 47,000.

Overall scam susceptibility fell from 18.% in 2016 to 15.8% in 2017, and the median dollar loss also fell by 17% to $228. But some groups were more likely to fall than others.

Young people were the most vulnerable (or gullible). Of those in the 18-24 age category, 25% were deemed susceptible by the BBB, and 18.7% of those ages 25-34.

In contrast, only 14.4% in the 45-54 bracket were at risk, and 13.2% of those age 65 or older. And young adults tend to be snookered in most by email, websites and other online channels, whereas their elders prefer to be victimized by phone. 

However, the 18- to-24-year-olds only lost a median of $180. Those who are most long in the tooth took a $3,800 hit.  

The greater credulity of the young is confirmed by a different sort of survey from the Federal Trade Commission. According to USA Today, 40% of those in their 20s who were scammed lost money, compared with 18% of the grandparents. But, again, the older folks lost more, with the highest median robbery — $1,092 — belonging to those over 80.

In the BBB update, military veterans wee slightly more open to fraud than non-vets — 17.5% vs. 15.6%. And they suffered higher losses.

When it came to gender, women were slightly more prone to falling for scams than men — 16.5% vs. 15%. But men lost more — a median of $320, compared with $200 for females.

So what did all these poor fools fall for? Read it and weep. 

  • Online purchase
  • Investment
  • Employment
  • Advance Fee Loan
  • Fake Check/Money Order
  • Home Improvement
  • Tech Support
  • Travel/Vacation
  • Family/Friend/Emergency
  • Government Gran 

And what kinds of online purchase scams did they get lured into  Pets — i.e., puppies, birds, exotic animals — were first. (How heinous). Next was clothing.

That said, the three biggest growth areas were phishing (a 439% increase), travel/vacation (256%) and healthcare/Medicaid/Medicare (136%).

In the FTC report, the big three hustles were debt collection, identity theft and imposter scams.

How far we've advanced from the days of J.M. Pattee!  

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