Study: You Can ‘Catch’ the Online Fraud Germ

Online fraud is as much a part of the internet experience as “likes” and “retweets.” Whether it be Nigerian princes looking for social security numbers or social media hackers asking your friends’ for money, there is no end to the methods of scamming when it comes to the world wide web. Fortunately, there are outreach groups and helplines dedicated to helping people put their lives back together after a cyber altercation. Unfortunately, there are still millions of people a year falling victim to these digital predators. And the reasons may have just come to light.

A recent study conducted by the AARP showed the characteristics typical of a victim of online fraud, and it turns out that one’s emotional state plays a large role in whether or not your are vulnerable to these attacks. The report showed that feelings of isolation, the loss of employment, negative financial situations, and concerns about debt are the most common feelings among people that have fallen victim to these scams.

“We speculated that these negative life events weaken your immune system,” says Doug Shadel, author of the study and senior state director of Washington’s AARP. “If two people go into a room and there are cold germs, and one person gets a cold and the other doesn’t, what’s the difference? One person has a stronger immune system. We speculate when you’re coping with some stressful event, you’re just more likely to catch the fraud germ, if you will.”

In addition to the feelings that facilitate online fraud, typical behaviors were also recorded in the study. Some of the most “popular” behaviors that led to people being scammed included clicking on pop-up ads, downloading apps, frequently inputting credit card information online, and being impulsive, among others. The key takeaway from this information is that victims are most likely to be trusting individuals that are willing to roll the dice. Fortunately, this doesn’t last long after the first scam is successful.

“Victims tend to be more open,” Shadel says. “But people wise up. They realize you shouldn’t be clicking on every pop-up you get.”

The problem with these numbers is that they are only reporting the scammed parties that come forward. Unfortunately, online fraud is rarely reported and brings with it a stigma of unintelligence and untrustworthiness. It is easy to say that a scam should’ve been spotted a mile away. But if we refuse to acknowledge the skill and prowess of these online fraud perpetrators, we are only setting more people up for disappoint down the line. Particularly because these scammers know what they’re doing.

“There are areas of desire we all have, and scam artists are good at finding the people that fall for those particular scams,” says Marti DeLiema, a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford Center on Longevity’s financial security division.

Unfortunately, the existence of online fraud will only grow deeper and more complicated as technology marches up the mountain. Whether it will be Nigerian prince holograms or virtual reality Ponzi schemes, the key to protecting yourself and your loved ones is to keep your cool and communicate. Making sure your finances are secure is important in every walk of life and the internet should be no different. Additionally, opening up about the “weird guy that keeps asking about your birth date on Facebook” will make it more and more difficult for scammers to get what they are looking for. After all, everyone has an embarrassing tale of online fraud and no one should feel bad about their story.

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Written by:
Conor is the Lead Writer for For the last six years, he’s covered everything from tech news and product reviews to digital marketing trends and business tech innovations. He's written guest posts for the likes of Forbes, Chase, WeWork, and many others, covering tech trends, business resources, and everything in between. He's also participated in events for SXSW, Tech in Motion, and General Assembly, to name a few. He also cannot pronounce the word "colloquially" correctly. You can email Conor at
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