There are many facets of our daily life that are intertwined with a necessary consumption of technology. This increase in technology usage has unfortunately coincided with negative aspects to an overwhelmingly positive modern development. The more technology that is consumed, the more users are at risk for being scammed. Furthermore, as society advances to garner a stronger sense of protection against threats online, the complexity of disruptions increases as well.
By reviewing the trajectory of technological growth and correlating that to scam types, one can see some key developments in the size and sophistication of damage to the consumer. Before all these sophisticated tactics, scams were traditionally done by lurking scammers who would perform what is known as cold calls (unfiltered calls to personal phones and devices), also known as Phishing. Phishing scams now do not only present themselves through the medium of phone calls, but by emails, artificial websites, and social media. In more recent years, phishing scams have evolved to a point of impersonating notable organizations, such as:
Bank of America
The question top officials in cybersecurity continue to ask is “What led scammers to become what they are today?” One look and the modern day consumer would recognize every corporation on the aforementioned list. Quickly, phishing scams became more discreet, hiding behind a veil of corporate marketing, and soon victims from all age groups started to fall into the trap. Scams that used to be laborious and time-consuming could now be coded into automatic routines that casted a wider net across many generations of victims. Before, when scams were simple calls or emails, the victim pool was largely members of the 60-80 year old age group, but now there is evidence to support that Millennials are the next highest generation to become a victim of phishing scams. Following closely behind are individuals in the 10-20 year old age bracket. This surge is due to technology becoming so widespread, that even children are just clicks away from being scammed.
The scope of impact per a scammed individual varies, but unfortunately a large majority of victims are recorded to lose more than $2000 and/or priceless personal information (Social Security #, banking information, etc.). Phishing scams have always been in the form of impersonation, but with dangerous automated software and more sophisticated tools the door for enterprising cybercriminals to scale up their fraudulent activities has opened.
Moving away from phishing scams that require an email or phone call, consumers are now confronted with a new standard of crime on social media. These platforms open up a wealth of opportunities for scammers to connect with consumers, and the potential for harm is immeasurable. Three billion people - 40% of the global population - are active users of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Instagram, with a million new users estimated each day (Consumers International) . This popularity, combined with the open nature of social media platforms, makes it easy for criminals to reach incredibly large numbers of people, making social media a dream come true for scammers.
Social media enables ‘social engineering’ of scams, giving criminals access to vast amounts of personal data, which can then be used to target specific demographic groups and personalise scams to make them more convincing. Social engineering scams are the direct cause of the 10-20 year old age bracket seeing an increase in victims. It was found that 87% of 10-20 year olds spend 30 minutes or more of their free time scrolling through social media (Insights CBS). Scammers have recognized the vulnerability that comes with consumers being so young on social media and capitalized on it. Scammers make a connection with these young people using a person’s real name, or making reference to their hometown, recent holiday, hobbies and friends.
Social media gives scammers the ability to hide their true identities and motives behind the anonymity of fake profiles and accounts, which they use to mislead consumers, impersonate trusted sources and make offers that are too good to be true. These scams can be difficult to spot as they appear to come from trusted sources such as ‘family’, ‘friends’, ‘followers’, online community members or known brands. The most common types of scams on social media are:
E-commerce scam - scammers claim to be genuine online sellers;
Investment scam - scammers advertise a ‘too good to be true’ investment opportunity, sometimes using news stories and advertisements that appear to be from genuine sources;
Impostor scam - scammers pose as authentic brands, genuine friends or family, to gain a consumer’s trust asking them to purchase goods, send money or click on links which download malware to their computer.
Putting the responsibility of fending off fraudulent activity onto the consumer is a large ask. The consumer, as a holder of an account on social media or with a corporation such as Google, has the responsibility of using the application as intended, no more, no less. This responsibility should not extend further, such as filtering out scammers or dangerous activity (i.e. Facebook and hate speech). Organizations should have the moral and legal responsibility to protect their users from harm, especially at a time where consumers are using applications longer and more frequently.
This does not go unsaid without attention to the consumer's responsibility to self preservation. A consumer must be knowledgeable about the dangerous activity that is not being vetted by the organization at hand. Regardless of the efforts being made to protect oneself or company, cyber criminals will find a way. That is why staying updated on the best cyber practices are crucial to consumers like you and me.
Protect Yourself and Others
Don’t open mail from strangers;
Make sure all your devices are updated with the latest software;
Use strong passwords that contain letters, numbers, and characters;
Enable two-factor authentication as your primary login procedure;
Don’t click on strange looking links via email, text, or direct messages;
Avoid using unsecured Wi-Fi;
Be smart with your financial information;
Do your own research when making online purchases or sales.
About the Author
Heidi Richards | Executive/Marketing Assistant
Heidi has taken the lead on developing our marketing strategy and performing in-depth research on important matters across several industries. She continues to broaden her knowledge regarding quality management, cybersecurity, aerospace, and more. Her past experience working with communications has allowed her to flourish when developing outreach programs and campaigns for MSI.
Consumers International. (2019, May). Social Media Scams - Understanding the Consumer Experience to Create a Safer Digital World. Consumers International - Coming Together for Change . Retrieved October 13, 2021, from https://www.consumersinternational.org/media/293343/social-media-scams-final-245.pdf.
Aaron, G. (Ed.). (2020, November 20). 3rd Quarter - APWG. Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG). Retrieved October 13, 2021, from https://docs.apwg.org/reports/apwg_trends_report_q3_2020.pdf.
Laliberte, M. (2021, June 22). This is the age group most likely to fall for phone scams-and no, it's not baby boomers. Reader's Digest. Retrieved October 13, 2021, from https://www.rd.com/article/millennials-phone-scams/.
Mitchell, T. (1970, January 1). Young people most at risk from phishing scams, says survey. Cifas. Retrieved October 13, 2021, from https://www.cifas.org.uk/insight/fraud-risk-focus-blog/young-people-most-at-risk-phishing-scams-says-survey.