Are you smarter than a 15-year-old?

When it comes to online scams, probably.

While senior citizens remain by far the most victimized group overall, losing nearly $2 billion last year in online scams, the surge of Gen Z victims has been alarming., a company dedicated to preventing online scams through reverse search technology, released a study on the State of Internet Scams 2022 and found that money lost by victims under 20 years old (who are typically tech-savvy), grew by 1125% over the last five years compared to 390% for seniors.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, people were home a lot more and were online more, said SocialCatfish founder and CEO David McClellan. There was a lot of money being given to people in the forms of stimulus checks, and extra unemployment benefits, to name a couple.

Therefore, he said there was an uptick in scams, not only in New Jersey but across the country and even worldwide.

Victims lost as much as $18,000 per scam, McClellan said.

Why are teens falling for online scams?

People think that those who fall victim to scams are dumb but the study found that is not the case: 75% of victims had some college education or completed college education.

But McClellan said loneliness and isolation are what pushed them into falling for these online scams.

He said there is a huge uptick in romance scams among teens. With the pandemic, people weren’t going out and meeting others for future dates.

“People started falling for a lot more romance scams. We also noticed that they weren’t only happening on dating sites. They were happening on apps like Words With Friends and on social networks,” he said.

Identity theft was another big scam where people were clinking on links and handing over personal and financial information.

Investment cryptocurrency scams have also increased, McClellan said.

“We saw a big uptick in crypto-related scams over the last 18 months. Especially with crypto, and prices rising and falling, it created a lot of interest,” he said.

The number of teens that lost money increased by 1125%, which is staggering, he said because when you think of teens, you think of them as being tech-savvy. While that’s the case, that’s also the reason why they fall for these scams.

New Jersey is the 6th most scammed state in the nation with 12,817 victims losing $206,982,032 in 2021, McClellan said. That amounts to just under $12,000 per scam.

Nationally, a record $6.9 billion was lost to online scams in 2021, up nearly double from $3.5 billion in 2019, prior to the pandemic.

Teens lost just $8.2 million in 2017, compared to $101.4 million last year.

Many times young adults, 20 years old and under, go on Tik Tok and Instagram and they want to be an influencer, McClellan said. So, when someone randomly messages them, they’re more curious than cautious.

“We actually interviewed a lot of people in that demo to try and understand this.  We found out that they were overconfident with their ability and skills because they grew up teaching their parents on how to use their phones, iPads, and computers,” he said.

The 4 Common Scams Targeting Teens and How to Avoid Them in 2022:

  1. Sextortion: The FBI announced a dramatic spike in sextortion plots, especially against teenage boys. Scammers pose as women on social media, send nude photos, and ask for the same in return. Once received, the victim is told if he does not send money, the photo will be sent to all his family and friends and posted online.

How to Avoid: Perform a reverse image search to confirm if the person you’re chatting with online is who they say they are.

  1. Student Loan Forgiveness: Since the government announced up to $20,000 in student loans can be forgiven, fake websites with fake Department of Education logos are tricking people into providing their bank and personal information in hopes of having their debt forgiven.

How to Avoid: Only use the Department of Education’s official financial site at

  1. Online Gaming: Players use credit cards to make in-game purchases. Scammers pose as fake vendors and send phishing links during the in-game chat to make these purchases. If clicked, the scammer will have access to all your personal and financial information.

How to Avoid: Do not click on links in your direct messages, not even if it’s from a friend.

  1. Talent Scout: Tik Tok and Instagram users receive direct messages offering modeling and acting opportunities. They ask for a fee to apply but there is no job waiting. They will request personal information during the fake application process and use it to commit identity theft.

How to Avoid: Be wary of direct messages offering fame and fortune. Research the company first.

In direct messages, look out for poor grammar. Anyone refusing to use video chat or people wanting money in the form of gift cards are huge red flags, McClellan said.

Do due diligence. If you meet someone online, make sure you can video chat with them. Run a reverse image search.

He also encourages anyone who has been or thinks they have been a victim of an online scam to report it. Only 1 in 3 people report scams, McClellan said.

Report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the FBI, or at

Jen Ursillo is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at

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