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Grandparents less gullible than Gen Z when it comes to online scams

NetworkTigers discusses why Gen Z are three times more likely than their grandparents to fall for online scams.

Gen Z is usually considered a generation of true digital natives: teens and young adults who have never known life without a smartphone. But new data released from cybersecurity analysts with Google reveals that Gen Z’s familiarity with surfing the net might have a surprising downside. Gen Z internet users are much more likely to fall for online scams, hacks, and phishing attempts than their grandparents’ generation, according to an analysis of data from the last five years. The amount of money scam artists have been able to drain down from the 20 and under demographic has been rising exponentially as Gen Z falls for this one style of scam above all else. 

Rising financial losses from Gen Z internet users

The rate of financial loss in America due to internet scams has been rising steadily over the past five years. According to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center, Americans lost $10.3 billion in reported internet scams and hacks in 2022. Given how reluctant some scam victims are to come forward, data analysis group Social Catfish estimates that the actual number of losses might rise as high as $200 billion. 

These reported losses represent a sharp increase from the $6.9 billion reported loss by the FBI in 2021 and only $2.7 billion five years previously. The average loss rate per victim also rose from $8,142 per scam in 2021 to $12,859 in 2022.  

One age group has contributed to this rise exponentially: Gen Z. Over the past five years studied, no age group has fallen for online scams more than people aged 20 or younger. Back in 2017, Gen Z (the age group born between 1997 and 2013) lost $8 million in financial scams perpetrated online. Today, online scammers secured $210 million from the 20 and under demographic. 

American seniors have seen an 805% rise in how much money scam artists have been able to take from their age group. By comparison, the amount of money lost by Gen Z rose by nearly 2,500%

The number one scam Gen Z falls for

“90 percent of data breaches start with phishing,” reports Michael Sinno, a security engineer at Google. He continued, “Young people are spending more and more time online in different apps in different ways and scammers are honestly adjusting to learn their habits.” As Gen Z reaches higher earning potential in years to come, their digital privacy habits may need to adjust as well to avoid falling prey to more scams and financial losses. 

Phishing attempts are only becoming more challenging to spot as AI gives rise to the use of “deep fakes.” Deep fakes in phishing may look like seemingly trusted sources, whether they are trusted establishments or close friends or family, requesting payments or access to private data. These fake messages have greater penetration into Gen Z as a group, given that the majority spend most of their time online. 

Google estimates that it blocks $100 million phishing scams per day. However, data privacy engineers with the company are urging users to consider using passkeys, which involve facial recognition technology or biometrics instead of passwords, to secure their accounts and private information. 

Top 5 Gen Z cybersecurity weaknesses

  1. Social Media Influencer: Fake influencers and so-called “brand sponsorships” often target chronically online teenagers and young adults to convince them to enter contests or giveaways or to purchase non-existent or low-quality goods. 
  2. Romantic relationships: Catfishing is a very real risk for all generations and one that often goes underreported due to stigma. Romance scams often involve using attractive photos to induce internet users to send along personal information under the guise of beginning a relationship. 
  3. Sextortion: The darker side of catfishing, sextortion traditionally involves sending sexually explicit photos and requesting ones be sent in return. These scam artists then blackmail those who respond into paying so the sensitive material is not leaked.
  4. Online Gaming and In-App Purchases: Fortnite and Roblox scams and other entertainment hacks often target young gamers and get them to download poisoned files or give out credit card information, both their own and their parents. 
  5. Online Shopping: Online shopping scams take advantage of younger and older generations with fake sites and phishing attempts to gain credit card information or data leaks from less secure online shopping platforms. 

Polls show that Facebook is a leading source of online scams, but other social media sites are not far behind. When it comes to improving cybersecurity habits, Gen Z may need to put the pedal to the metal to avoid being taken advantage of in the future.

Gabrielle West
Gabrielle West
Gabrielle West is an experienced tech and travel writer currently based in New York City. Her work has appeared on Ladders, Ultrahuman, and more.

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Grandparents less gullible than Gen Z when it comes to online scams