Born Yesterday

Have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell? Try a Millennial.

There’s a famous saying attributed to P.T. Barnum that there’s a sucker born every minute. That is, unless you’re from the Millenial generation, in which case the suckers got cranked out faster than the production line at Willy Wonka’s candy factory. Need proof? Here’s USA Today:

Move over, grandma and grandpa. Your Millennial grandkids reported losing money to financial scams last year than you did, new government data shows.

In all, 40% of Americans in their twenties who reported fraud in 2017 indicated they lost money to the schemes, the Federal Trade Commission said last week in its annual databook of consumer complaints.

The percentage surpassed the 18% of U.S. consumers 70 or older who reported they lost money to fraudsters last year, the FTC said.

Long story short, Millennials got took at a rate more than twice that of seniors. No word on how much of that fraud involved Nigerian princes or foreign lotteries—but at least the oldsters can say that the fake Viagra scam looked like it could have been plausible.

Don’t fret, however. There is one cloud in the silver lining:

[T]he median loss reported by adults in their seventies was $621, and for those aged 80 or over it was $1,092. Both age groups reported a higher median loss than the $400 for those aged 20-29, the data showed.

So even though Millennials got swindled more, they actually lost less money overall. It’s cold comfort, to be sure—kind of like that time as a kid when I ordered Sea Monkeys from the back of a Richie Rich comic book, only to have a package of brine shrimp arrive in the mail 4-6 weeks later—but it’s better to learn these life lessons on the cheap, especially when your allowance from mom and dad barely covers the Netflix subscription.

Still, that does leave the question as to why Millennials fall for these petty cons at such a higher rate than their forebears. Perhaps it‘s just because the fraud has gone so high-tech, and they’re the generation that has basically grown up with a smartphone in their hands. Back in the old days of free AOL disks and dial up internet, we only got online after we got home, and even then the bandwidth was so bad that it took ten whole minutes just to load the Space Jam page. There really wasn’t enough time for cyber-baddies to ply out attentions with clever ploys. Millenials, on the other hand, are connected every waking moment of the day—so they’re constantly bombarded with all kinds of this and even more of that. It’s inevitable that they’d be bigger victims for that reason alone.

Of course, you could also make the less sympathetic argument that over the last couple of decades, schools have ditched critical thinking skills in favor of politically correct pablum, and this has resulted in a whole generation of young adults who are ripe for the plucking. I mean, this is the same bunch that thinks Tide Pods make for a great snack. Is it any wonder that they’d be lining up to be the next fool parted from his money?

We indeed live in interesting times.

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Alex Wilson
Alex Wilson

I would also note that this is specifically talking about the younger cohort of millennials and a lot of people in the older cohort don't fit the common stereotypes of millennials. We run the gamut from around 21-38 and the experiences of the older generation of millennials is very different from the experiences of younger millennials. Older millennials didn't grow up with smart phones (My wife and I were both in our mid-20s before we had one), the only social media site we had as teens was MySpace and we had to use desktop computers and dial up internet to access it, and many had already begun their careers prior to the financial collapse and recession.


Perhaps 10,20,30 or 50 years ago (at minimum 50 years ago) did not have the money nor the equipment to buy into scams.

Bob Edwards
Bob Edwards

You're conclusions are grossly under determined by the data. It's no surprise that someone is more gullible in their 20's than in their 70's. The question is are today's twenty year old's more gullible than 20 year olds 10, 20, 30 or 50 years ago?


Maybe those 70 year old are less gullible because they were scammed in their 20’s.

Or maybe it’s easier for 20 somethings with smartphones to report fraud, so they tend to report more of them and at lower values than 70 year olds.

It would be interesting to examine the data behind this to see what kind of scams drive this. But I don’t think you can claim that one generation is better or worse than another. Especially when you only have one year of data to compare them.