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. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link

Friday, January 8, 2016

Always, always look a gift horse in the mouth

Do you love your giveaways?  Social media are full of them; free iPads, iPhones, free holidays, free first class travel for a year with British Airways, Virgin flights, BMWs and so on.  All you have to do is like a page and share their post.

Harmless enough, right? No. Most of these giveaways are fake pages that need you to proliferate their scam to other people and once you like them, unless your profile is watertight, they have access to your social media, your likes, dislikes, photos, friends and if you particularly naive, your phone number and date of birth.

People love giveaways.  We like to think that lucky things do happen and they do but this belief is often exploited by scammers and the way to get you to comply, the rewards are often big (does anyone ask themselves before sharing, why would British Airways give away first class travel for a year, likely to cost them hundreds of thousands of pounds) and/or in line with current desires.

Last hoax giveaway, even though not particularly malicious, was that Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook will be giving away free money to people sharing the status about it.  

People got excited and shared it and there is nothing more legitimate than a post saying; according to this and that, this is not a hoax.  It adds legitimacy but does anyone bother checking?  This is precisely how scams work.  If one sees a post like this (or any advertising some giveaway) from a friend, the credibility of a friend extends to the message, even if it has been shared thousands of times and is not actually written by a friend in question. 

So next time you see shared giveaways, check the page that is sharing it and Google the giveaway (more here).  This is often enough to spot a hoax or a scam.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Saying 'No' can save your life

Do you have difficulty saying no to people?  Especially if they are assertive and forceful?  You are not alone.  I will explain how scammers exploit our inability to say no in more ways than one. 

Some people have difficulty saying firm 'NO' to people that are forceful, whereas some get rebellious when they encounter those with arrogant or forceful personalities.  If you recognise yourself as someone who has difficulty with strong personalities, you may be vulnerable to specific scam techniques, especially when the scam is executed face to face.  Scammers look for victims that are going to comply and often can tell within a few seconds of meeting you, whether you are likely to be a victim.  If you find confrontations uncomfortable and have been known to go along with things that you don't want to do when people assert themselves over you, then you are particularly vulnerable to forceful scam techniques employed by scammers that usually target people door to door.  Often we are brought up to be polite and saying no somehow registered as being rude, especially if we feel that we have wasted someone's time.  This is why double glazing salesmen come to your home for 3 hour demonstration; after 3 hours you are likely to feel guilty you wasted their time, despite the fact you don't owe them anything and it is up to them how long they take demonstrating.  Many people have difficulties saying no for this reason.  So what can you do about it?  First of all, it is good to be aware of individual vulnerability and look for ways of adapting to avoid situations that would lead to compliance with unwanted purchases/deals.  

1. Practice saying 'no, thank you'.  It is perfectly OK to say no to people.  If they are selling something and spent time telling you about it, don't feel guilty as this is their job.  You only need to decide if you want what they are selling.   

2. Understand that this will make you vulnerable to similar things forever and think of ways of getting out of situations that force you to feel uncomfortable.  One of the people I spoke to that had a similar problem told me that he lies to people in such situations, telling them he has no money at present.  You can also say you need someone else to make a decision before going ahead.  For example, you can say; I want to ask my son/daughter, who is a police detective, for an opinion as I always run all decisions past them.  If the salesmen mocks you for wanting to run a decision past someone first, please be aware this is also a persuasion technique and don't give in.  Who cares what a random stranger selling you something thinks of you.  

3. Another thing you can do is to tell them to come back when someone else is with you.  This is not a no, it is more 'not now'.  Genuine salesmen will respect this and come back another time.  Ask them to make a solid appointment or give you the number to call to make an appointment when you arrange with a friend/family member to be present.  

If you think that only people who have difficulty with pushy scammers are vulnerable, think again.  Even if you react to forceful and aggressive people pushing you to do something you don't want to do, you can still be caught out by inability to say no, but it will be more subliminal. 

We tend to comply more when a person before us is affable, likeable or appears to be similar to us.  This is how scammers get our trust quickly.  In the absence of any solid experience with the person in front of us, our brain will make short cuts and concentrates on certain features; attire, politeness and so on.  We all make judgements on daily basis and often these judgments need to be quick, therefore they are based on our previous experience.  For example; if you dealt with a person of a certain religion, race and so on...and you had good experience, it is likely that you will assign that good experience to a whole religion or race until you get a different experience.  Same with people who seem similar to us in some way.  Scammers often impersonate their victims for this reason; they may say they grew up locally, know someone from the country you are from and so on.  They may ask you questions about your life style and tell you they feel the same about certain things you tell them.  All of this will make you like them more and the more you like them, the less able you will be to say no when they make a request for a payment.  So what can you do in such situations? 

1. Understand that saying no to someone who is trying to sell you something is not the same as saying no to someone who helped you many times before and is an established friend.  You don't owe them anything, even if you feel that you do, this is just psychology.  

2. Be extra careful if someone you are dealing with (where large sums of money are involved or where someone asks you for money) seem to be 'your kind of person' or seems to click with you, especially in a short time frame.  This is especially true of romance scammers - they will often be great listeners and the more you tell them about what you need/want, they more they will appear to be just what you are looking for.  You can lie and say you have no money just now.  Or talk it over with friends and family to get a non biased opinion, but also listen to their opinion.  Many people disregard their friends or family's opinion.  As they say... two heads are better than one.  It really is true. 

3.  A truly nice salesman will always be as friendly the next day or next week.  Make a rule to never do anything in the moment.  Come back tomorrow or arrange another meeting if you really want the product.  Use the time to think about the product/investment away from the person selling it.  When you separate the two, you may realise that you liked the product because you actually liked the person selling it.  

And always, use the time away to check the facts in every possible way before you commit to parting with your money. 

I am currently running a scam vulnerability study. If you have been affected by a scam, please help me by filling a survey. The research aims to develop a measure of vulnerability to fraud.  University of Portsmouth research, ethics committee approved. 


Sunday, October 25, 2015

Why 'limit' a good thing? Limited and one time offers explained

Have you ever found yourself enticed by a limited or one time offer?  This is a persuasion technique that salesmen often use to entice us to buy stuff we really could do with not buying but I will explain how this also works for scammers.

One time or limited time offers are usually discounted and therefore present a 'good deal' but if they didn't have 'limited time' attached to them, we could go about our business and not buy it, the reasoning being that you can always come back tomorrow and buy it, or next week, or next get the drift.  But once there is a time limit attached to it, it becomes a bit more pressing, as we need to make a decision about buying straight away, or at least in the short time frame.   By the mere fact that there is a time limit on it, the thing in question becomes scarce (or at least scarce at that price) and scarcity will entice you further.   We are hard wired to go crazy when we think something is scarce.  This is ingrained in us and it is an evolutionary tool that helps survival of the species.   In the olden days food was scarce and people ate lots when there was a chance to eat and starved when there was nothing to eat. In the modern age, this is no longer a concern but the instinct to grab something that is scarce with both hands is still prevalent.  And scammers and sleazy salesmen exploit this. 

What limited time offers do is put a rush on our decision making.   You could go home and think about it but then you might miss the offer.  When we are strapped for time our decision making process suffers because our brain makes shortcuts.  Instead of evaluating the deal, the quality of the item, the use, the daily need for it... we focus on the time limit and the good price, sometimes also on the person selling it to make our decision. The more likeable you find the salesmen, the more likely are you to think favourably of the product.  This fact is true of any sale but it is particularly true in situations when you are put in the position where you need to decide on the spot.  And they are trained to remind you of all the 'good' things about the product and forget the 'bad'.   And let's face it, how many times have you found that a one time offer you went for is back next weekend or next month or is available all the time? 

So next time you come across a limited time offer, just remember that this is a technique used to trigger our primal behaviour, which will then override any reasoning regarding the product.  Just knowing this may allow you to walk away until you thought about it.  Sometimes even saying to the person who is selling the product; "Let me think about it while I complete my shopping" will be enough for you to detach from the situation and think about it rationally.  You can then always come back to it if you still think it is a good idea. 

Have you been affected by a scam? I am currently researching what makes us vulnerable to scams. Please help me by filling the survey - CLICK HERE

Saturday, October 3, 2015

How scam safe is social media?

Almost anyone I know has a Facebook account and why not, it is a great way to keep in touch with friends, share ideas, pictures, achievements and so on. But how safe is social media nowadays?  People using websites such as Twitter tend to share less personal information than those who frequently use Facebook and scammers exploit that fact.  What many people don't realise is that every bit of information is extremely valuable to scammers.  There is a popular belief that scammers are just after your passwords, pin numbers and bank account details.  This is not always so.  Scammers now trade personal details and any personal detail is of value, however small.  Marital status, number of children, date of birth, where you work, your likes and dislikes and so on...they are all valuable.  Let's explore why; if you randomly get an offer that is nothing to do with what you enjoy or have a weakness towards, it is very likely that you will gloss over it without properly reading it and discard it.  But if you get an offer that presents you with something you are passionate about, your attention will be directed towards it and it is more likely that you will feel excited about it.  This will, in turn, lead to less information processing.  The fact that we are so bombarded by offers through email means that it takes a special offer to get our attention and scammers now know this and are not afraid to put some work into getting to know you in order to scam you with what you are likely to go for. 

Many people think that Facebook is safe as you only share things with your friends and family that you added as friends.  This is true to some degree but you also share your details with pages that you like.   I will explore couple of popular ways that scammers use Facebook to get to your details. 

Taking identities of your friends

Have you ever received a request from a someone you already have as a friend on Facebook?  It is very likely that this is a scammer who has cloned your friend's identity and is now adding their friends in order to have access to their details on Facebook.  Always be careful of such requests.  Email you friend through old Facebook account to ask if they added you again and wait for a response or contact them via other means to ask.  Once you add this new account, all your information on Facebook is in the hands of the scammer.  Remember, even harmless details are now sold between scammers for profit. 

Fake competitions, prize draws, give aways  and raffles

This is something that is incredibly rife on Facebook.  Perhaps you have seen your friend sharing a status by a company advertising a give away on Facebook and all you have to do is like the page and share the status to be in with a chance.  Whilst some legitimate companies do this type of thing, large number of prize draws on Facebook asking you to share their page or status are fake.  Once you like the page, the page will have your details.  Be careful what you like.  By sharing the status you are giving your friends a feeling that what you are sharing is legitimate.  Scammers often exploit this as they know that a recommendation from a friend is likely to be perceived as credible.   So how you can tell if the page is real or fake.  First of all, look at the page without liking it.  If it is a large company such as Virgin, they are likely to have many followers, not just few hundred.  You can also put the name of the company in the search and see how many results come out and see what other pages with the same name say.  Finally you can search in Google for the giveaway and it is likely that you may discover if it is a scam that way.  

The worst possible thing you can do is click 'like' and 'share' on Facebook, without thinking or investing few minutes to cross reference information.  Scammers are then invited to your photos and your details and these often get used in romance scams or setting up profiles on Twitter or other sites.  Having just an access to your photos is valuable to scammers.  Often they save the whole albums, create fake profiles and scam other users (this is a popular technique in romance scams) and having lots of consistent photographs, especially with family and friends, adds credibility to a fake profile.   

Take time to check the information when you next encounter a prize draw or an offer, especially if it is extremely enticing.   You know the old saying... if something looks too good to be true, it usually is.  Often now, even if it doesn't look too good to be true, it could be fake. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Reading the small print is often tedious but extremely important

Know that in fraud, you are often alone.  Scam warnings cannot warn against new types of scams evolving every day so it pays to be careful and reading the small print can often save you.
Think about known websites, such as Gumtree, eBay and PayPal.  Everyone has one of these at some point in their life, and we often associate credibility with known brands, companies and names.  But how safe are you when using these sites? 

Let’s start with Gumtree.  Just as any other free advertising site, it is full of scammers advertising for potential victims.  Fake jobs, fake items and so on.  But although Gumtree’s terms of use stipulate that ‘you shall not violate any laws’, they are more than aware that people often do and clearly state;
we do not have any obligation to monitor the information transmitted or stored on our sites, services, applications and tools and we do not accept any liability for unauthorized or unlawful content on Gumtree or use of Gumtree by users.’

What this means is that, once scammed on their website, Gumtree has no responsibility to help you because you accepted their terms of use.
If someone told you this before looking for items, would this make a difference?

PayPal is another company that is seen as highly credible. It provides a safe way of paying that covers the buyer in case of scams. But how safe is it?
It is pretty safe if you read and understand terms of use but it is not foolproof.  Who reads all the small print?  And even when you do, often written in the legal language, it is difficult to understand.  PayPal doesn’t help themselves by listing bullet-pointed T&Cs that only highlight the good parts of their guarantee and many people only read those without considering the whole agreement.

I am listing some things that would invalidate your PayPal protection, as explained in their full terms of use, that you may not know about:

    1.   Some items are listed as not covered by PayPal – do you know which? This includes vehicles, property, gift vouchers etc.  Scammers know this and will send you an email purporting to be from PayPal (and it will be very convincing) explaining that, due to the large amount, PayPal is requesting you to pay via bank transfer.  PayPal does not cover any bank transfer.

    2.   Did you send payments in instalments? You will not be covered if so.

    3.   If the item is not as described and you need to return in, you have to post tracked to be able to claim money back and this could be costly and you will not get your postage costs back.

    4.  If the person selling you something sends an empty envelope with a tracking number, you will have a very hard time proving that you did not receive your item – scammers exploit this.

    5.  Once you cancel the complaint you raised against a seller, the matter will be closed and you will no longer be able to re-open it.

The list is not exhaustive, there are lengthy legal points to consider when shopping with PayPal.  Both, sellers and buyers are supposedly covered but some of the legal points contradict themselves and scammers exploit this.
For example, seller often only needs to send a tracking number as only proof of sending an item.  Often they will send a letter to a different address and provide a tracking and you will never receive anything but seller would have satisfied the conditions of sale and your money is lost.
Equally, you could do the same as a buyer sending something back and the seller will be out of pocket for that item.

So are you really covered for fraud in either case?  Only up to a point but is that enough?  Scammers are now extremely skilled at exploiting legal loopholes.  Another loophole is that once you raise the claim against a seller for goods you paid for but have not received, scammers often write to apologise profusely about not sending an item and promise to send it, asking you to cancel the complaint.  Once you do, PayPal is no longer liable to help you.  PayPal has made things better slightly by extending the period to raise a claim from 45 days to 180 days after purchase.  Often scammers would claim things are on the way and taking slightly longer to arrive.  If you have a bank account linked to PayPal and this happens, you have no other way of getting your money back as banks also cover themselves with legal terms and conditions that avoid liability.  Sending someone money from your bank account is considered to be a willing payment.  However, if you have a credit card registered with PayPal instead, you will probably get help from your credit card fraud department if you get defrauded.

So how do you know if a seller on eBay or Gumtree is a scammer?   There is no easy way, of course, but it pays to flick through their feedback (please see my post on faking eBay feedback) and read all the comments and also see what else they are selling.  Use your intuition – if something feels not right (too good to be true, seller says viewing is difficult as he/she is abroad, seller rushing you to make a decision etc.) don’t buy it.  But also know where you stand with fraud protection. 

It pays to know all terms and conditions and not just what the companies want you to take in, which is usually just the good points.  The summary of terms and conditions will not mention exclusions and disclaimers, which may be crucial for you. But I agree, reading the small print can be extremely tedious, however, it may save you from scams.