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Profile of a Scam Victim

A message from an easy mark

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Our fraud expert builds the perfect scam victim — does it sound like you?
The I Spot

Do you know me? I'm an ordinary sort. I might be your neighbor, your best friend, your spouse's cousin. Heck, I might even be you.

One problem: Crooks really like me.

Con artists make a dirty living identifying the people most likely to fall for schemes designed to separate honest folks from their cash. And while I might look overwhelmingly average, there are actually certain things about me that criminals target when choosing their next victim.

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Here's a predator's profile of me.

Age: Let's just say over 55, shall we?

Home: I used to live in Grand Rapids, Mich., but now I live in South Florida. If you have ever lived through a Midwestern winter, you'll get it. But my fellow Floridians consistently lead the nation in per capita reports of being defrauded. There are a number of reasons for that; it's a state that has attracted more than its share of drug criminals who easily shift into cells of scam artists. There are more older people here, and statistics show that people my age are the most likely to be preyed upon by scammers. At least I'm no longer living in Michigan: The Wolverine state leads the nation in complaints about identity theft.

Quote: "I like living in the country." No offense to urbanites, but I prefer a quieter life and the charms of rural America. Federal regulators have found that this makes me more likely to be preyed upon with one of those lottery or sweepstakes schemes — you know, the kind that I should immediately see through because it sounds too good to be true but that still works well enough to keep an entire subspecies of predatory vermin occupied. My neighbor, a 70-something woman who lives alone and never went to college, is even more vulnerable.

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Salary: More than $50,000 a year — enough to get the attention of con artists.

Education: I'm a college-educated white man over 50, financially literate if I do say so myself. That perhaps exaggerated sense that I understand the financial world makes me a prime target for investment scams.

Marital Status: Recent widower. Vulnerability to a rip-off skyrockets after a stressful life change — a loved one's serious illness, a job loss, a divorce. In my case, the recent death of my spouse left me even more exposed, because my partner had handled our finances. This is the kind of weakness that criminals seem to be able to ferret out and exploit.

Personality: I'm extroverted and open to new experiences. Some people might consider me overconfident and prone to risk-taking. What do they know? Scammers are likely to ask for me when they call, and not my adult daughter. I'd describe her as too timid to take a chance. Crooks would say she's appropriately averse to risk.

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My weak spots: Predators know that I am conscientious about my family's safety and well-being. That's what they are counting on when they call me up with the grandparent scam. That's the one in which someone who has learned enough details about me, perhaps through a hack of my email account, makes a convincing call posing as a grandchild in distress and begging for a quick cash drop. I'm also a prime target for the IRS scam, in which a convincing letter or phone call warns me of arrest or ruinous fines unless I send money to settle a tax debt. Even if I smell a rat, I might follow through to avoid jeopardizing my family.

So that's a little about me. If you recognize one or two aspects of yourself in me, be alert. Scam artists make a science of the demographics of victimhood. Don't let your profile make you someone's prey.

Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling. Monica Vaca, an assistant director at the Federal Trade Commission, and Marti DeLiema, a research assistant at the Stanford Center on Longevity in Palo Alto, Calif., provided demographic data on typical scam victims.

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