What Kind Of People Are Most Likely To Be Scammed?

Scam Victimology

A SCARS Insight

Who Is Likely To Become A Victim?

The Answer Is More Surprising Than You Might Think!

Over the last 6 years, SCARS has provided services to nearly 7 million scam & cybercrime victims. Through our interactions within our support groups, website visitor comments, emails, and other communications we have learned important insights about the demographics of scam victims. Additionally, our team has 30 years of continuous experience educating scam victims and the public about these dangers.

Here is an overview of scam victims from Psychology Today magazine (July 2021):

  • In 2020, 50 million Americans lost money in scams. Anyone can be targeted, but research suggests some individuals are more vulnerable.
  • Susceptibility to scams may depend on the nature of the scam, demographic characteristics, and personality traits.
  • People can avoid scams by buying time before making a decision, seeking trusted advice, and staying up to date on current scams.

This paints a fairly dismal view of what is happening. But a large part of what makes a person susceptible to becoming the victim of a scam is complex. In this article, we will explore some of those factors.

The First Thing You Must Learn

The first thing you must learn is that most people (not all, just most) do not really know what they are talking about when it comes to scams!

Why is that?

Because they are not doing the research to really understand the problem. Most articles about scams are just information copied over and over. So the same things are being told endlessly and watered down or incorrectly interpreted along the way.

Another reason is that the same biases that help people to become victims applies to those writing about it unless they are careful and have the first-hand experience and knowledge to be a real expert.

Another factor is that everyone wants to solve this problem and tends to think of themselves as experts. But the fact is that instant experts are not experts at all, because they have neither put in the time or had the training and experience to truly understand the global scope of this plague.

Onward To Understanding

As we have said, SCARS deals with one of the largest single groups of scam victims – victims from every culture, every religion, every country. We interact with victims in multiple languages through our multiple offices and partners in over 60 countries around the world. SCARS is also trained and certified in what we do.

This gives us access to knowledge unavailable to most, including hundreds of academic studies and research papers on this topic. However, we also fully admit that there are brilliant academic researchers and scientists working to better understand these phenomena as well; people such as Monica Whittey, Casandra Cross, and others. We are very fortunate to be able to factor their research into the work we do and the victims’ assistance services we provide.

Who’s Most Likely To Become A Scam Victim?

That Is The Question! Who?

The very simple answer is everyone!

But we can break it down into other very likely factors that can contribute to becoming a scam victim. Of course, then that raises the question of who is likely to become a survivor (someone that successfully recovers) from scams – but that is a topic for other articles (take a look in our Psychology of Scams article catalog to find more about that.)

Not everyone will agree with our analysis on this, but here are the factors that we have observed that contribute to susceptibility to becoming a scam or fraud victim.

NOTE: some of what is going to be said will sound like victim-blaming – it is NOT. But it is a blunt discussion of the issues and breaking people into classes that contribute to being scammed. Part of the purpose of this document is to provide a little shock value for potential victims, showing the things they are doing that they should not, and the things they are not doing and should. It can also help family members or friends see the characteristics in people they know that could lead someone to become a victim. Additionally, if you see yourself in any of these, you should consider changing the dynamic to be safer online – just change your behavior to line-out each of the factors & characteristics below that apply to yourself!

The Factors

1. Ambivalence Towards Online Risks

A person who generally does not overly care, and is neither aware nor has devoted any real time or attention to the reality of living and working online.

Ambivalence manifests in many ways. For example, we see careless drivers every day on the road, but at least those drivers were forced to take a course and then pass the driver’s license examination to get their license. They have training and were made aware of the risks. The vast majority of online users have never given much thought to their risks or at least very minimal concern.

This contributes to an attitude of invulnerability. Everything is safe, therefore they do not have to worry about it. Ironically, they probably believe that they are cautious or even skeptical in their daily life. They exhibit an attitude that nothing can go wrong, so why should they worry?

They are characterized by:

  • They almost never read guides or information about the online tools they use faithfully, such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram
  • They typically believe that the tools they use will look out for them
  • They are often sympathetic but also condescending toward online victims
  • They believe that the world is just and basically safe, and that bad things happen to people who are in the wrong place doing the wrong things
  • They believe that they can handle most things they encounter online

This does not mean that every victim has these characteristics, but people with these characteristics tend to be easy prey. Risk awareness and management are skills that are learned. Most scam victims had no idea of the risks and never bothered to find out until it was too late.

2. Over Sharing & Social

So many use online tools to share information about their lives with friends, peers, and family, without really thinking about the ways that information can be used or abused.

Social media tends to be one of the means that identity thieves rely on to be able to crack identifies, steal passwords, and take over accounts. Sharing is fine when it is done selectively with full privacy protections in place. It is safe when who has access to your content is under your control and you know who they are! Unfortunately, what we find (almost universally) is that victims have their information readily available and completely public before they were scammed.

They are characterized by:

  • They share and post information without any concerns about who might be able to access it or what they can do with it
  • They tend not to understand privacy & security concepts so they ignore them
  • They tend to believe that knowing more people online is a good thing regardless of who they are or where they come from
  • They express their pride in self and friend or family by posting everything everywhere
  • They share regardless of the risks
  • They will accept friend/contact requests from strangers with little or no concerns

Oversharing is directly proportional to a person’s risk online. Most scam victims were over-sharers!

3. Fantastical Thinkers (Idealists)

People have grown up with Disney Fairytales and tend to believe that good things happen to good people. Many believe that they are lucky and good things will come their way. Still more believe that most people are good and honest and believable.

Unfortunately, romance and other kinds of scams tend to prove the opposite. That is not to say that most people, when it suits their self-interest are good, but people are not black and white, almost everyone lives in the gray. Even scammers justify what they do and believe they are not doing anything wrong (well, many of them at least.)

They are characterized by:

  • The world is what their cognitive (confirmation) bias tells them it is
  • They generally believe what they are told and only rarely verify the information they receive
  • They tend to believe the major news sources and that someone on TV or online will not lie
  • They tend to accept marketing and sales stories about products and services without much question
  • They tend to believe what their friends, peers, families, and authority figures tell them (except that uncle who is always making up stories)
  • When they meet someone new online they take them at face value – trusting the stranger that says nice things to them
  • They tend to believe fantastic stories as long as the story develops slowly and methodically over time
  • They tend to be susceptible to careful grooming – because they want to believe, as controlled by their cognitive biases

4. Needy, Isolated, Alone

When we look across the victim demographics we see select groupings emerge. One of them is people who are alone (and lonely), divorced, or widowed.

People alone have fewer connections in their social circle to help provide feedback and a safety net. They don’t have as many trusted friends or family members that they can talk to about the things going on in their lives. Plus they more desperately need affirmation or attention from others.

In some cases, people have also had past traumas that set them up for victimization. Past traumas can play a role in their need for approval and acceptance.

They are characterized by:

  • They have a real need for human connection and affirmation
  • They tend to be lonely and need someone to hear and listen to them
  • They desire to have someone in their life even if it is someone they only know online
  • They prefer distance interaction believing there is no commitment and it is safe
  • They are probably divorced or widowed, but might also be a lonely married person looking for someone to talk to

Being needy or alone is not a bad thing in itself, but it can create vulnerabilities that scammers can exploit.

5. Charitable and Caring

Good people care about what happens to others, especially when they are facing hardship. Charitable people donate to good causes and try to help their family or friends when they can. So when a stranger comes along with urgent needs they are (at least initially) eager to help.

They are characterized by:

  • They tend to be trusting of hard-luck stories and willing to help
  • They tend to want to do good with their money
  • Men tend to want to be “White Knights” and save damsels in distress
  • Women tend to be nurturing and generous with the time, attention, and money
  • They will often do favors that will lead to ever greater favors or more money going to a scammer

Being charitable is a good thing, but it can lead to being too generous with strangers and that can be dangerous.

6. Overly Polite With Stangers

People are raised to be polite to others and often to be somewhat passive. When people meet strangers they often take a passive approach to what the stranger suggests, out of fear of offending or a desire to be polite. This creates an opportunity for a stranger to take advantage of them.

They are characterized by:

  • They tend to be very polite when receiving phone calls from strangers
  • They have difficulty disconnecting from telemarketers
  • They tend to listen too long to sales pitches and marketing messages that they are not interested in
  • They have some difficulty asserting themselves to end a conversation
  • They tend to be more passive around other more aggressive people
  • They often wonder if they have been rude with someone they just spoke with
  • They tend to second-guess themselves a lot

These are characteristics of a nice person, but these make for easy targets.

7. Believing They Are Too Intelligent

Often people believe that they are too smart to fall for a scam, a con, a fraud, or deception. Yet the very belief in that makes a person vulnerable because they are relying on an ability that is not backed up by knowledge and skill.

They are characterized by:

  • They often believe they are very intelligent and trust in it when it is not warranted
  • They believe that they have skills or knowledge they do not have
  • They tend to believe that adversaries (scammers) are stupid or dumb
  • They tend to ridicule others who fall for scams and fraud – the victims are dumb to have fallen for it – they never would
  • They tend to have strong cognitive biases, such as confirmational bias – allowing them to see the world as they want it to be, not the way it really is

The problem with people who believe these things is they do not do the work to acquire the skills or the knowledge they need to live in the world safely.

8. Unworldly

The world is not a caring and forgiving place. Nor is it safe for the unwary. Many people have very provincial views of the world and how it operates, and the risks all around them. It is not that they are ambivalent, but they are just unknowing about so much that it makes them very vulnerable.

This is where we see cultural, class, and economic divides or differences play a major role in victimization. People around the world have no idea of what awaits them online or in the real world. They simply don’t know what they don’t know.

They are characterized by:

  • They tend to be less sophisticated about how the world functions – this impacts initial vulnerability and how they approach crime reporting and recovery
  • They tend to expect others to automatically treat them fairly – they deserve respect and truth
  • When something bad happens they tend to believe someone will save them
  • They do not understand very much about other cultures and other mindsets regardless of where they are from
  • They tend to believe that the world is safe and especially the internet – even though they know about local risks and dangers
  • They have large social circles but know few people who can advise them on the outside world
  • Then tend to believe that if they are wronged by someone that the police will fix everything

Unfortunately, these are also people at high risk of suicide when the final realization sets in. We see these kinds of victims all around the world, but more in Asian countries. It is very hard for them to comprehend that there are massive numbers of people just waiting to steal from them.


There are many characteristics and factors that help to make someone an ideal scam victim candidate. These are but the most common that we see (except for those with mental health issues, which we also see often).

If you see yourself in any of these then perhaps these are behaviors that you should consider changing, especially online. You rarely get second chances with professional cybercriminals. Once the door is opened and the conversation begins, they will lay on the grooming and manipulation, until very quickly you are hooked and under their control.

Avoiding scams is about knowledge, not intelligence. Staying safe online is about skills and changing your behaviors to reduce or eliminate risks.

Always Report All Scams – Anywhere In The World To:

Go to reporting.AgainstScams.org to learn how

U.S. FTC at https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/#/?orgcode=SCARS and SCARS at www.Anyscams.com
Visit reporting.AgainstScams.org to learn more!