Friday, September 16, 2016
Don't Be a Sucker!
The Better Business Bureau, specifically the BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust, conducted a survey of the victims of scams. Contrary to what might be expected, they found “Millennials are actually more vulnerable to scams than Baby Boomers.”
The stereotypical retiree falling for Internet phishing, suspicious phone call or mail document promising vast riches (if only they pay a small deposit in advance), is apparently in error. Of more than 30,000 reports to their Scam Tracker reporting tool, “89% of seniors (age 65 and up) recognized the scam in time, while only 11% reported actually losing money. For those age 18-24, however, more than three times as many failed to recognize the scam – 34% reported losing money.”
The reason given for this unexpected result is Optimism Bias, the feeling that others are more vulnerable to con artists than you are. This is less likely among seniors who have been warned repeatedly about people trying to get their money. It is more typical to hear stories about the “little old lady” for two reasons: she’s usually a more sympathetic victim; and seniors are more likely to report being cheated.
I think there is yet another reason. Millennials have been raised in an environment where critical thinking is optional at best. They have been exposed to so many questionable sources of information that when a scammer crosses over from borderline ethical behavior to an illegal promise, it’s not as noticeable to them.
Take TV doctors, for example, promising miracle cures, magical advice to improve wellbeing and guaranteed weight-loss programs. If a doctor were to give only sound advice free of gimmicks and wishful thinking, it would boil down to just a few things we have heard (and ignored) over and over: eat right, exercise, get enough sleep, reduce stress, use sunscreen and a few others. Critical thinking reminds us it’s not rocket science. Yet the shows go on year after year with a loyal audience.
Look at the proliferation of dietary supplements and special food labels designed to give the impression of a healthier option. There was a time when everyone took substantially the same vitamin as everyone else and was satisfied. Now there are different vitamins for men and women and men over 50 and pregnant women and the list goes on. We spend over $20 billion a year on vitamins and herbal supplements, most of which have never been tested and with “no credible evidence they offer any benefits for the average person.” The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), an independent group of doctors, opted in 2013 not to recommend regular use of any multivitamins. It doesn’t recommend the use of any herbal supplements, and it advises consumers not to take beta-carotene or vitamin E.” Yet we continue to wolf them down.
I needn’t talk about all the other food-related myths circulating with no scientific background. I’ve covered it elsewhere (September 2016, January 2016, July 2015, June 2015, April 2014, and many other examples). Again so many Americans buy into these concepts and needlessly waste money on natural and organic products or are drawn to groceries whose advertising appeals to the latest fad, craze, fear or hope; the market for them continues to grow.
Finally, there is social media. Millions of pieces of advice, both medical and personal, stories, both cute and serious, and other information flies through cyberspace every second. It gets read and reposted and few seem interested in verifying its validity. My wife once pointed out the error in one entry on Facebook and was basically told, “I don’t care about the facts: it was a good story.”
With such a casual approach to life in so many other areas, with this disinclination to question or investigate, and with such general distain for critical thinking, it should be no surprise that the younger generation is more gullible, more susceptible to the scam. They are merely reacting to the illegal and fraudulent enticements in the same way they do to these many borderline ethical pitches they confront daily.