The ‘it won’t happen to me’ mindset leaves you unprepared – here are some common factors that put any of us at heightened risk of falling prey to online fraud.
Sometimes you need to say things that go without saying: The internet has revolutionized our lives, changing the way we work, learn, entertain ourselves and interact with each other. The benefits of our wired world are manifold, but so are the risks – including the risk of falling victim to a scam.
Fraud has, of course, existed in various shapes and sizes for many, many years. However, the internet has given new life even to age-old schemes, vastly expanding the opportunities, and especially the number of potential targets, for scammers.
What’s more, scams are growing in sophistication and none of us is immune to any of the various flavors of online schemes that have proven their staying power. The more venues we use to enjoy the advantages of the internet, the more opportunities for fraudsters to explore and exploit, be it for inheritance scams, various types of shopping cons, bogus job offers, fake sweepstakes and lotteries, and even dating fraud, to name just some of the most common scams doing the rounds.
But if we know this, why do we keep getting sucked into these ploys? Let’s look at some of the most common reasons why the various tricks and social engineering methods aimed at parting us from our money are so effective.
- Cumulative knowledge pays off
First off, many schemes have been around for a long time, so there’s a kind of cumulative knowledge that is passed on to the “next generation” of tricksters. The tried-and-tested techniques and personas are often built meticulously and many phishing emails are crafted so you don’t notice that something is amiss – at first glance, anyway.
- Our digital “breadcrumbs” are used against us
Some scammers will use all available and seemingly harmless data about you to their advantage, watching your every move online, typically on social media, in order to eventually exploit your digital footprint. Unless you’re careful, the more you interact online, the higher the odds that they’ll know a lot about you – ultimately, they may have an easier time duping you.
- Scammers are good storytellers
Many con artists can create plausible stories and personas that may not always trigger your spam filters. Likewise, they’re quick to exploit current events for their own gain, including by taking advantage of fears surrounding public emergencies.
- We’re in a hurry
Scammers pressure you to act now, they don’t want you to think things through. A prize will be a limited time offer and a bill will be due on the same day, to name just some examples where you’re being rushed into taking some action. You might then just pull the trigger without considering the full picture and verifying if the message is legitimate. Remember to pause and think before taking any decisions.
- Everybody loves a free lunch
Exploiting your financial difficulties or just a plain desire for easy cash, many schemes start by offering fake freebies or involve promises of sky-high investment returns. How could you turn this down, right?
- We’re hardwired to obey authority
People tend to trust those in positions of authority. Fraudsters often impersonate people who hold some kind of expertise: a government worker, a lawyer, a company executive or an expert in a specific field. These are all people we were taught to trust. Scammers will try to look official and use the names of companies or organizations you might recognize.
- We may be distracted
Scams are increasingly frequent, and it may happen that someone tries to scam you on a day when you feel ill, tired or otherwise vulnerable. As you’re concerned with more important things, you may pay less attention to details, opening the door to possible risks. Fraudsters can even perceive and take advantage of your vulnerability.
- Scammers are focused
And they may be one step ahead. While you’re trying to figure out if a phone number calling might be legit, they’re already taking over your mind, as it were.
- We like to help
Ploys that involve requests for help create empathy with the scammer or with the people who the fraudster claims to represent. For example, narratives of personal tragedies or public emergencies remain effective. Even if in the back of your mind you know it might not be true, you are still inclined to help “just in case”. Scammers realize that people want to feel useful.
- Scammers have “empathy”
If you happen to interact with, say, a romance scammer, typically via messages, they may spend a while grooming you to gain your trust, making you feel understood and even test how far they can go with you.
What to do if you get scammed
- If it is a scam on social media, contact their support center, if it is a shopping scam, contact the service provider to denounce the scam and ask for help.
- If there’s money involved, call your bank and let them know. This is especially helpful when it comes to recovering money thought lost.
- Don’t make any payment in order to win a “prize”.
- If you’re told about future financial gains on the stock market or from a Bitcoin project, don’t pay your “taxes” beforehand.
- Change all your passwords in case the scammer has your personal details.
- Check your privacy settings on social media. Limit who can tag you on photos and comments.
- Report the scam to the relevant authorities. For example, in Europe you can start by visiting the Cyber First Aid website, in the US on the website of the Department of Justice.
In closing, never assume you can’t fall victim to a scam. Fraud may happen to anybody regardless of how tech-savvy and smart they are.
by André Lameiras, ESET