Thursday, May 28, 2015

How scammers are using identity theft to manipulate social norms in order to persuade

We all have had our email hacked at least once.  I personally had my email hacked once.  My scammer/hacker did little more than spam my friends with adverts for electronic goods with a personalised message from (supposedly) me, saying that I just bought this amazing stereo system and my friends should use the link to do the same, at a reduced price.  Knowing me too well (I would never brag about a stereo system like I would do about a designer handbag or a nice scarf), my friends alerted me quickly.   I changed the password for that email and that was the end of my advertising. 

However, some hacking is not so innocent and is not done by a computer generated programmes.  Scammers are now so opportunistic as well as astute that they often combine several techniques to get you to send them money, and not small amounts either.   What can start with a simple email hacking can quickly turn into sophisticated persuasion technique and I will explain how. 

We are all brought up to be nice to others and help our friends and family.  Society as a whole is built on those fundamental unspoken rules and this is ingrained in us.   We help our friends and family and they help us, when in need.
Scammers know this.  They also know that, where one would usually be suspicious to get an email from a stranger, asking for money, they would be less cautious if that email came from a friend. 
We are hard wired to help when our friends
need it and scammers exploit this

The scam usually consists of an email from your friend, a person that you know, telling you they have been stranded on holiday, their possessions stolen and they need some money to get new passports and to get home.   Naturally, you are horrified and consider helping.  They tell you to wire money to them via Western Union in a particular country to help them get their affairs in order.  If you do, money is lost forever and there is little anyone can do for you. 

Fraud is still very much a crime that is still largely ignored by police and largely goes unpunished.  This is especially true of personal fraud, so it pays to know how scammers work and be careful online.  

Scams evolve almost daily.  Scammers carefully follow news and as soon as there is anything happening that a scam can be invented around, they invent it.  This is why usual warnings are not always very useful in warning against scams that are yet to come.  It helps to understand how persuasion works and how it is exploited by fraudsters.  So what can you do to prevent being a victim of this type of scam? 

If you ever get an email from a close friend asking for help, if you can, give them a call instead to check the facts first.  If you cannot get hold of them, you could respond to the email expressing your concern but also asking a random question such as " how is your son coping?' - when you know that this particular friend doesn't have a son.  Chances are that the scammer will not know this and will respond saying that the son is distressed etc.  Or something similar.  If it is a genuine request by a friend, they won't mind and you will get a warning sign if it is not a genuine friend of yours.  It is also good to let your friend know by some other means that their account has been compromised and urge them to change passwords connected to that email.  This also means passwords connected to any social media that they use with the email in question, just to be sure. 


People often underestimate scams as something only gullible people fall for until it happens to them.  Scams are now so rife that you cannot avoid them in daily life, especially if you use the internet.  It is often a form of organised crime, where people are employed to converse with potential victims.  You can't stop being a target but by taking time to scrutinise things that reach you in detail, you may prevent being a victim.