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Q. Why do some consumers engage with scammers and others shut them down immediately?

A. New fraud research shows that people who live alone or have low financial literacy levels are more likely to lose money to scammers. The research also shows that the highest engagement and victimization rates involve online purchases and social media—outpacing telephone, mail and email fraud.

A new report, "Exposed to Scams: What Separates Victims from Non-Victims," comes from the BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust, the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, and the Stanford Center on Longevity. The report was released in recognition of World Investor Week.

During the study, researchers surveyed more than 1,000 Americans and Canadians who were targeted by scammers and reported the fraud to the Better Business Bureau via BBB Scam Tracker www.bbb.org/scamtracker. Nearly half of those surveyed did not engage with the fraudster. However, nearly a quarter did, losing an average of $600.

The study found when phone and email were used by scammers to target consumers, relatively few consumers engaged with the scammer or lost money. However, when exposed to a scam on social media, 91% engaged and 53% lost money. Similarly, 81% of consumers who were exposed to a fraud via a website said they engaged with the scammer, and 50% lost money.

Consumers were more likely to be victimized if they did not have anyone to discuss the offer with. Consequently, those who engaged scammers and lost money were less likely to be married and more likely to be widowed or divorced. Generally, those who engaged, and those who lost money, reported significantly higher feelings of loneliness. Social isolation appears to play a role in fraud victimization.

The likelihood of victimization for this sample is greater for individuals who are under financial strain, are younger adults, or have low levels of financial literacy.

Research showed that 51% of people who reported a third-party intervention were able to avoid losing money. Cashiers, bank tellers, employees of wire transfer services and other financial services companies where consumers were about to send money to a scammer, served as an important last line of defense.

Nearly half of those surveyed said the news media was their primary source of information about scams. Word of mouth was the next best form of protection and awareness.

Prior knowledge of fraud helps decrease the chances of victimization. One-third of consumers who were targeted by a scammer, but did not engage, already knew about the specific type of scam. In addition, consumers who understood the tactics and behaviors of scammers did not engage with the fraudsters.

To learn how to avoid scams, go to BBB.org/AvoidScams. To report a scam, go to www.BBB.org/ScamTracker

Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga.

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