Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Do scams really happen only to 'some' people?

Once upon a time it was a common belief that scams only ensnare gullible and greedy people, and if you were neither, than you were safe.  And maybe this was true but it no longer holds.  Let me explain why. 

Scams used to cost money to execute many years ago.  A scammer would have to go door to door, make phone calls (and many years ago, phone calls were not cheap), send a fax or set up a venture to defraud.  It would not always pay off for scammers and it would only pay off in cases where they get someone who fits the bill of a 'typical scam victim'.  And there are many traits that may make you more likely to engage with a scam; impulsivity, emotional thinking, greed etc. 
However, since the internet, scammers have been given a unique opportunity to create multiple identities, to call or contact potential victims with almost no cost to themselves and to even program computers to do that for them.  Somewhere along the internet brick road, defrauding became easy, affordable and anonymous.  This, in turn, encouraged more fraud.  When a person is hit with higher volume of scams, there is a chance that one will pay off - that is just simple maths.  The more fraud pays off for scammers, the more they invest in making scams look legitimate and this leads to more victims. 

When something becomes profitable and there is a low risk of prosecution, it will attract intelligent people to it and this is also true of scams.  Scammers are now very aware of human psychology, they often also know things about you before they target you with scams that are likely to appeal.   They invest in appearing legitimate, often manipulating the social media and the internet (i.e. good looking websites, registering a fake company - this is not checked by the government and the scammer only needs couple of months to defraud many victims).  It is often hard to spot a scam these days as people often don't know whom to trust.  And scammers, feeling safe from prosecution, go to great lengths to defraud; impersonating governmental websites, faking identity documentation to open bank accounts and so on.  

The amount of fraud and the fact that it can be delivered from anywhere in the world makes it extremely challenging for the authorities.  It is not always possible to track down the exact person who defrauded you from somewhere else in the world.  The resources are just not there.  And fraud is so omnipresent now that there are very few people out there who can say they have never been defrauded, either by a fake ebay auction or by having their identity cloned.  

The popular thinking, that scams only happen to a small number of people with specific characteristics, no longer applies today and may actually make one less cautious and therefore, more vulnerable to a scam attack.  Never underestimate a scammer, they are businessmen who know their business well.  Fraud is now an organised crime.  And it's here to stay.