Twelve years ago, before anyone could have possibly mistaken me for a “senior citizen,” I was reaching to push the button on the self-serve machine at the local post office to buy some stamps when an obviously impatient voice piped up behind me. “Excuse me!”
I turned around to see a young school-aged girl standing behind me with a slightly-annoyed look on her face. “Do you need some help with that?”
I looked at her with what must have been a puzzled look, when she looked at the stamp machine, and then me, and said, “Do you know how to do that?”
Suppressing the urge to say what I was thinking (“Hey, kid, I could build one of these machines, if I wanted to.”), I simply smiled, and said, “No, it’s OK, I’ve done this before.” It seems the young whippersnapper behind me had simply assumed that the old geezer in front of her couldn’t possibly know how to use such a modern, high-tech piece of complicated machinery.
The prevailing public belief that senior citizens are incapable of mastering modern technology, while untrue, is not without precedent. It is true that older generations struggle to grasp technological principles that did not exist for most of their lives, as compared to younger generations who cannot conceive of life without a keyboard, screen, and fast Internet.
This situation confused me for the longest time, until, one day, while helping my Dad with his computer, it dawned on me that learning about computers, and indeed, technology in general, is the same as learning a language. The clicking, the typing, the tapping, the swiping, all amount to a visual, audible and tactile language that comes easily to those who have learned it from birth. To those who need to learn the language later in life, mastery of the language is more challenging.
But oh, when senior citizens finally learn the language of technology, I advise the smug, eye-rolling younger technology users to get out of the way, because the seniors will flat roll you over. The major difference between the two groups is that the seniors, from birth, learned how to learn new skills, while many of the younger groups simply learned skills merely by virtue of their existence. While it may take longer for a senior English-speaking American to learn Japanese than someone who was born in Japan, when they do learn it, they learn it with a vengeance, and do not take it for granted.
These observations parallel the conclusions reached by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in its Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2017 report, released in March, 2018. The report covers information gathered in 2017 regarding fraud, identity theft and other consumer protection issues. The FTC report is considered the authoritative statistical reference for scams, thefts and Internet crimes committed in the United States.
Fraud loses are on the rise. Total dollar losses from fraud increased $63 million, as compared to 2016, rising to a total of $905 million. One of the most interesting and eyebrow-raising sections of the report relates to which age groups were scammed more often than others. According to the Federal Trade Commission, and contrary to popular belief, Millennials (age 20-29) were scammed at a two-to-one rate compared to Seniors (70 years and older). Of all those who reported, 40% of Millennials reported losing money to fraud, as compared to 18% of Seniors.
Conclusion? Millennials are more likely to be scammed than Seniors. But, why? Why is it that Seniors are not the brain-dead knuckle-dragging mouth-breathing old-school Luddites they’ve been portrayed as for all these years?
Experts indicate a certain level of pride and arrogance exists among Millennials, especially young males. They consider themselves too smart, too educated and too tech-savvy to be scammed, attitudes which can actually make them more susceptible to being duped. Younger consumers are also far more open to divulging personal information online, which contributes to the problem.
“We’ve bought into the stereotypes about scam victims – they’re usually seen as vulnerable and elderly, or gullible and poorly educated,” said Emma Fletcher, product manager with the Better Business Bureau Institute. “We are all at risk, but younger and more educated individuals are actually the most likely to be scammed.” Rubens Pessanha, also of the BBB Institute, believes older people may actually be more savvy about scams than younger ones.
Monica Vaca, associate director of the FTC’s Division of Consumer Response and Operations agrees that older consumers are more prepared to spot a scam. “Older consumers are doing a really good job recognizing fraud when they encounter it,” Vaca told MarketWatch. “They’re taking the next step to warn other people about it.”