A new study from the Better Business Bureau says that those most susceptible to scams are younger people—millennials—who are well educated or consider themselves to be savvy consumers.

The reason? They are afflicted with a so-called "optimism bias" that makes them feel invulnerable and causes them not to take safety precautions, according to the study, Cracking the Invulnerability Illusion. That leads to a tendency to ignore warnings and other advice that could prevent them from being targets of scams.

The study stands out because seniors are commonly believed to be among the most victimized by scams. And indeed, seniors are hit hard by scams. Consumer Reports reported last year that financial fraud costs seniors $3 billion a year. 

But the survey by the Better Business Bureau of more than 2,000 adults found that those between the ages of 18 and 24 were more than three times as likely as seniors to not recognize a scam. Those aged 25 to 34 were most likely to report losing money to a scam.

Dee Pridgen, a professor of law at the University of Wyoming's College of Law who has studied scams and consumer law, says young people take higher risks than older people and that can make them easier targets for scammers.

The Counterfeit Check Scam

Consider Josh Reiss, 20, of Interlaken, N.J. He wishes he had listened to his 55-year-old father who warned him earlier this year that an internship program he had applied for sounded fishy.

After putting Reiss through a series of tests, the company sent him a $7,000 check, instructing him to use the money to purchase a computer, software, and other items. As directed, Reiss deposited the check and then used his debit card to wire about $6,000 to the U.S. suppliers the company told him to use.

Soon after, his credit union notified him that the company’s check was fake. Reiss now owes the credit union $6,000 because he didn't have enough money in his account to cover the cost.  

Reiss says his father had warned him that the company's instructions sounded strange. He also cautioned Reiss not to buy anything or send personal information until he was sure the check was good.

But Reiss says he ignored his father’s advice because he was excited about the internship. When his father later found out that his son had been conned, Reiss says, “There was a lot of sympathy, but he was disappointed that I wasn’t capable of realizing what was happening.”

“The most important thing is to recognize that scams can happen to anyone—young, old, rich or poor," says Katherine Hutt, a spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau. "We are all at risk, and we all need to be cautious.”

What to Do

Understand you’re vulnerable. No matter how savvy you think you are, don’t assume that you can spot a rip-off. Con artists spend a lot of time thinking about creative ways to fool even the most sophisticated consumer. And their schemes change constantly.

Learn about scams. Finding out about the latest scams and the techniques con artists use is the best way to protect yourself, the report says. There are many free sources of information, including the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and your state attorney general or consumer protection office. The BBB Scam Tracker posts thousands of cons, including some of the newest ones, by date reported. Some resources let you sign up for email alerts.

Research first. Whether it’s someone selling a product or service, requesting a charitable donation, offering employment, or anything else, investigate first. If it’s a company, look for a report on the BBB website. Read any complaints or reviews, and look for any known government actions, which the BBB also reports.

File a complaint. If you suspect a scam or are victimized, report it to government agencies and private groups, such as the Better Business Bureau. Don’t put off complaining because you think you should have known better. And don’t assume that complaining will get you nowhere. There are many cases in which state and federal agencies have obtained refunds for victims. And by getting the word out, you may help others learn about the con and avoid it.