Generation Z is more often the victim of online scams than their baby boomer grandparents. The generation that grew up with the internet is not immune to becoming the target of hackers.

Generation Z, born between the late 1990s and the early 2010s, is often considered a generation of “digital natives,” having grown up with the internet and new technologies. Nevertheless, this does not protect them from the dangers and pitfalls of the online world. According to a recent survey conducted by Deloitte, members of Generation Z are more likely to fall for online scams than their baby-boomer grandparents (this generation includes people born between 1943 and 1960. During this period, the proportion of married adults increased as well as the birth rate).

Anyone can fall for online scams, including the generation that grew up with the internet. If you are part of Generation Z, meaning you were born between the late 1990s and the early 2010s, you or one of your friends may have been the target or victim of an online scam. In fact, according to a recent survey by Deloitte, Generation Z members fall for these scams and get hacked more often than their grandparents.

The Deloitte survey shows that 16% of American Generation Z members have fallen victim to an online scam, compared to only 5% of baby boomers. Generation Z is also twice as likely to have a social media account hacked (17% vs. 8%). Furthermore, 14% of those surveyed from Generation Z reported having their location information misused, more than any other generation.

Youthful generations are also more exposed to cyber crimes such as phishing, identity theft, romance scams, and cyberbullying. The cost of these scams can be high for young people: according to a Social Catfish report, victims of online scams under 20 years old lost about $8.2 million in 2017. In 2022, this figure increased to $210 million.

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There was a record $10.3 billion lost by Americans due to online scams in 2022, compared to $6.9 billion in 2021 and a 277% increase from the $2.7 billion five years ago, according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. The average loss per victim increased from $8,142 per incident in 2021 to $12,859 last year.

Victims of online scams – whether they are investment, romance, cryptocurrency or other scams – often lose their savings, and some even end their lives. In our analysis, we found that only 4.2% of monetary assets lost were recovered in 2022.

Social Catfish is releasing its third annual study on the state of internet scams in 2023. The goal of this study is to offer a comprehensive and real-time overview to equip people with the necessary knowledge to avoid becoming a victim. The mission of Social Catfish is to help eradicate online scams using reverse search technology.

The digital natives are mostly aware of these things,” explains Scott Debb, a full professor of psychology at Norfolk State University, who studied the cybersecurity habits of young Americans. In a study published in 2020 in the International Journal of Cybersecurity Intelligence and Cybercrime, Debb and a team of researchers compared the self-reported online security behaviors of millennials and Generation Z, both known as “digital natives.” Although Generation Z is highly conscious of online security, they have not performed as well as millennials in implementing many best practices in cybersecurity in their own lives.

So, why? Why is the generation that probably knows the most about the internet (for now) so vulnerable to online scams and hacking?

What are the reasons for this increased vulnerability of young people to online scams?

A few theories seem to come back time and time again. Firstly, Generation Z simply uses technology more than any other generation, so they are more likely to fall victim to a scam through this technology. Secondly, growing up with the internet gives young people a familiarity with their devices that can, in some cases, lead them to prefer convenience over security. Finally, the cybersecurity education provided to elementary school children is not very effective in speaking about online security in a way that truly matches young people’s experiences online.

“I think Generation Z is reflecting on it. We have to live with these threats every day,” says Kyla Guru, 21, a computer science student at Stanford, who founded a cybersecurity education organization as a teenager. When she teaches classes to students about email security, phishing, or social engineering, there is often instant recognition. They say, “Oh my God, I remember receiving something very similar” or “I’ve already seen a case of phishing.” Or even, “I’ve seen a ton of spammers like this in my Instagram direct messages.”

“They do a lot of online shopping,” said Tanneasha Gordon, director at Deloitte and head of the company’s digital trust and data business. She added that there are “so many fraudulent websites and e-commerce platforms that literally cater to them, that take them from the social media platform they are on through fraudulent advertising.” Phishing emails are also common. And while a more digitally savvy person may not fall for a copied/pasted and typo-riddled email, there are many other more sophisticated and personalized ones. Gordon also added that young people are often victims of identity theft on social media and compromised accounts.

Older Americans also make purchases, bank transactions, and meet people online. But for all generations except Generation Z, the technologies that enable this access have not always been available. There is a difference between a person who got their first smartphone in college and another who learned to input a password on their parents’ iPad when they were a child – the latter experience is much more that of Generation Z or Generation Alpha, the generation that follows Generation Z and is rapidly approaching adolescence. Millennials, especially the older ones, may have had occasional access to computers at school, but young generations may have received laptops from their schools to use constantly in the classroom.

The responsibility for security when using these applications should not lie solely with the individual user

These differences have led to clear speculation about what this shift might mean for how people approach cybersecurity. Indeed, the generational difference could lead younger people to prioritize convenience over security when using their devices, according to Debb.

Social media applications like Instagram and TikTok are convenient by design. Install the app on your phone and you stay connected, ready to post or browse at any time. The application sends alerts with updates and messages, designed to prompt you to open it. Debb offers a hypothesis: if Instagram forced users to log out every time the app closes and to re-authenticate with two-factor authentication to open it again, using Instagram would likely be more secure. It would also be extremely frustrating for many users. Older generations may accept those frictions a bit better. But for those who grew up with social media as a crucial part of their personal expression, this level of security might simply be too burdensome.

But the online experience of Generation Z is not really a black-and-white choice, where convenience is behind one door and security is behind the other. On the contrary, best practices for online security should be much more personalized based on how young people actually use the internet, said Guru. To stay safer online, it could involve switching browsers, turning on different settings in the apps you use, or changing how you store your passwords, she noted. None of these measures necessarily involves compromising your comfort or using the internet in a more limited way. Approaching cybersecurity as an integral part of online activity, rather than as an antagonist, could help connect better with Generation Z, Guru said.

“It’s us who will change the scene in the future,” said Guru. “We are the ones advocating for climate change or gender rights. So I think your threat model changes as soon as you assume that kind of responsibility or role.”

Another factor also comes into play: Many experts argue that the responsibility for security when using these applications should not lie solely with the individual user. Many applications and systems designed to be practical and quick to use could do much more to effectively protect their users. Gordon has floated the idea that major social media platforms send out phishing emails – the type one may receive from their employer, to test for their own vulnerabilities – which would lead users who fell into the trap to educational resources. Privacy settings should also be easier to access and understand.

Sources: Social Catfish, Deloitte, National Cybersecurity Alliance

And you?

Do these reports seem credible to you or not? To what extent? Can they, in your opinion, apply to your country?
What are the most common or dangerous online scams you have encountered or heard of?
What measures do you take to protect yourself from online scams? Have you ever used online security tools or services?
What is the role of social media platforms, companies, and governments in preventing and combating online scams?
What are the consequences of online scams on the confidence, privacy, and well-being of internet users?
How can we educate and raise awareness among young generations about the risks and responsibilities associated with using the internet?

See also:

Adolescents, although tech-savvy, fall victim to online scams more quickly than their grandparents, according to a study by Social Catfish
Generation Z is more inclined to fact-check online information, but also seems more inclined to believe false information, according to The News Movement

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