3 ways to avoid online fraudsters' tactics

  • As online fraud increases, Professor Mary Aiken highlights some of the psychological mechanisms used by cybercriminals.

    From major cyberattacks to text message scams, there has been an increase in online fraud and security incidents that has likely left many people in Ireland and around the world wondering how they can protect themselves.

    Cyberpsychologist Professor Mary Aiken, an expert on the impact of technology on human behavior, now offers some guidance.

    Bank of Ireland has partnered with Aiken to better understand what drives customers to click links in fraudulent texts or other messages.

    A recent survey by the bank of 1,010 people across Ireland found that nearly two-thirds of respondents had received a fraudulent message or call claiming to be their bank, while 74% regularly considered the threat of fraud while online. 

    Anxiety caused by scammers is also on the rise, with 68% saying they were concerned about being targeted by scammers online, compared to 62% in a 2020 survey.

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    Aiken said the Bank of Ireland investigation confirms what is being seen globally. Last year, Interpol reported an “alarming” increase in cybercrime, while the FBI reported that almost 300% increase in cybercrime in the US at the beginning of the pandemic.

    “The Gardaí also reported an increase in online crime up to 50% last year when criminals turned away from traditional types of pickpocketing and robbery to try to defraud people online, ”added Aiken. “It is difficult: trust is a very human trait, but in the age of technology we have to adapt.”

    Edel McDermott, head of the fraud group at the Bank of Ireland, said that despite the warnings and advice, people continue to click links and disclose their personal information to scammers.

    So, here are three great tips from Aiken.

    Put yourself in their shoes

    First, Aiken pointed out disinhibition online. This concept refers to the changes in our behaviors that occur when we move online. We may disclose information that we would not normally share and consider taking risks that would otherwise seem ridiculous simply because we are behind a laptop screen.

    By combining information collected online with profiling, cybercriminals can target individuals and cause them to reveal their personal information and details.

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    Aiken’s advice is “think like a profiler.” By being aware of the information you have online, you can better assess what information a cybercriminal might know (or guess) about you. Consider your “digital escape” and what traces of information might be online between your various social media accounts.

    By putting yourself in the shoes of a potential scammer, you can reduce the chances of taking unnecessary risks and revealing something you shouldn’t.

    Never trust, always check

    Psychological vulnerability is another mechanism that criminals can take advantage of. There have been many disorders and events in the last 18 months that have made people anxious, and anxiety can make people vulnerable.

    Taking advantage of this heightened state of emotions, cybercriminals can create an additional sense of urgency by placing instructions in their scam for victims to immediately provide personal or financial details.

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    These methods can be a particularly effective form of fraud when they occur in the context of major anxiety-provoking events, such as a pandemic or a major ransomware attack.

    The advice here is to take a step back and be instantly wary of any messages that push for urgent action. Be it a bank or a courier company, Aiken’s advice is to adopt the principle of “zero trust”, which means verifying with the alleged source of the message that it is legitimate.

    Make the right decision, not the easy one

    Awareness of cognitive dissonance is the third tip. Cognitive dissonance occurs when we have two conflicting pieces of information.

    For example, we may know that connecting to an unsecured public Wi-Fi network can be risky, but we may also want to use Internet services while away from home. By resolving this dissonance, we could say ‘It will be great’ and ignore the fact that it might not be great.

    The main tip is to think carefully before clicking or connecting. Cybercriminals are counting on the fact that you will assume everything will be fine. This doesn’t mean being constantly anxious, but rather hearing that voice saying ‘this is risky’ and waiting until you get home to check your bank balance.

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