Ahead of the holiday season, a California-based online dating investigation service is warning a specific consumer group to be on high alert for online scams: teenagers.

Money lost by teenagers grew by 1125% over the last five years compared to 390% for seniors, according to Social Catfish’s new State of Internet Scams 2022. Teens lost $8.2 million in 2017 compared to $101.4 million in 2021.

“This speaks to the growing sophistication of scammers and the overconfidence of tech-savvy teens online,” Social Catfish warns. But the company also found the data to be “surprising” and “alarming.”

The trend was surprising, it said, because “young people are considered to be more tech-savvy than older generations.” It was “alarming,” it said, “because 54% of U.S. households polled by Social Catfish do not monitor their children’s activities online, leaving them vulnerable to Internet risks.”

There are three online scams specifically targeting teenagers this holiday season, Social Catfish warns: romance scams, social media influencer free holiday giveaways and online shopping scams.

The romance scams are designed to prey on teenagers who feel lonely and who look online for an emotional connection, the report notes. Scammers approach them like they do with adults, using stolen photos of someone else and “shower them with love and affection” to eventually ask them for money. The report suggests one way to avoid becoming a victim is to perform a reverse image search to confirm the person’s identity.

Scammers are also creating fake Tik Tok and Instagram accounts impersonating social media influencers and offering free holiday giveaways. These scams include a link to redeem a product that doesn’t exist but instead includes a phishing link to steal their personal information.

One way to tell if the social media influencers are real is to check how many followers they have (low numbers indicate a fake account) and to never click on any suspicious links.

Teens are also falling prey to online shopping scams stemming from fake stores and fake ads created by scammers offering holiday discounts for products that don’t exist. They create fraudulent websites that look like legitimate stores but are designed to capture personal and financial information of consumers. One way to identify the fake sites it to notice spelling errors in the URL and grammatical errors on the site, the report suggests.

While teens are falling prey faster than other age groups, seniors are also being increasingly targeted. According to the most recent FBI data, more than 92,000 Americans over age 60 reported combined losses of more than $1.7 billion –representing a 74% increase in total losses from the previous year.

Social Catfish’s report analyzes data from the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center and the Federal Trade Commission. According to the FBI’s ICCC, a record $6.9 billion was lost to online scams in 2021 – nearly double from $3.5 billion in 2019. The number of victims also increased from 467,361 in 2019 to 847,376 in 2021.

The FTC reported that Americans lost $770 million on scams through social media – an 18-fold increase since 2017.

The 10 states most impacted by online scams, the report notes, were California, Texas, New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Illinois, Michigan, Virginia and Washington.

The greatest number of residents in California, Texas, New York and Florida lost the most.

More than 67,000 Californians lost over $1.2 billion, with an average loss of over $18,300. Over 41,000 Texans lost over $606 million with an average loss of $14,732. Over 29,000 New Yorkers lost over $559 million with an average loss of $19,000. More than 15,000 Floridians lost over $528 million with an average loss of $33,000, according to the analysis.


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