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The Tricks Behind the Clicks: Cyber Scams and Psychology

What is it that makes people fall for scams? Cybercrime is as hot as ever, with new and more creative scams popping up all the time. There is plenty of focus on spotting scams, but less so on what makes people miss the signs.

The Tricks Behind the Clicks: Cyber Scams and PsychologyMartina Dove, Ph.D., is a senior UX researcher at Tripwire and an expert in fraud psychology. Her research into the brain’s reaction to cyber scams and how the human mind operates when presented with a scam makes for an interesting read. On top of this, it also takes a look at fraud, and how susceptible we are to it, and it does this by using Dove’s own model.

Cybercrime from a Psychological Standpoint 

Discussions around cyber security often center on the technical aspects of security and data protection for businesses and people’s personal lives. New gadgets, devices, controls, and defenses are constantly circulating- which helps the fight to fortify our information and secure the confusing and tricky online environment.

Trust is a fundamental human trait. Humans trust by default. Scammers capitalize on this knowing that people look at life and scams and trust first, and scrutinize later. The hard part is how we can best keep ourselves, and our minds, safe against scams and where the holes might lie. The fundamental psychology behind the cybercrime mentality is underexplored, and so far, discussions often go no further than scratching the surface.

This is surprising, considering that it has such huge impact on what motivates people on either side of a scam. According to the latest Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)social engineering is the most common type of attack in regard to cybercrimes.

The psychological elements of how phishing emails are presented, the power of persuasion, and what makes people fall for scams are all important to really understand how things work and ultimately how to avoid becoming a victim.

Martina Dove’s Research into Fraud Psychology and Scams 

Few people have provided quite as much insight into this topic as Dove. Having specialized in fraud psychology, Dove became particularly interested in the concept of gullibility when pursuing her master’s degree and ultimately decided to carry it through into her Ph.D.

In an interview with Tim Erlin of Tripwire, Dove said that she had always been interested in the idea of gullibility, which is what makes a person gullible- and what it really means to be a gullible person. After reading an article published by two psychology researchers who were exploring the tricks and techniques used by scammers (particularly in phishing emails), Dove decided to drive her own studies down a similar route, diving deeper into the human psyche and scam vulnerability.

The main point of this research is a fraud susceptibility model that looks at the ins and outs of what puts a person at risk on a psychological level of falling victim to spam, scams, and phishing.

According to Dove, it was not her intention to create a model when she first started- the research naturally took her in that direction as she uncovered more fascinating theories about persuasive techniques, thought processing, and personalities that may influence how people react to these attacks.

Martina Dove’s Ph.D. research has also been turned into a book called The Psychology of Fraud, Persuasion, and Scam Techniques, which is available on Amazon.

The Fraud Susceptibility Model 

The research that ultimately led to the model in Dove’s book started as a questionnaire designed to build a “measurable scale of fraud vulnerability.” It was scorable, with the answers determining what areas of a person’s personality put them at risk.

After a series of tests and experimental studies, along with expert analysis and validation, the model just created itself. Dove explained that some factors that influence susceptibility could actually be mapped and used to predict a person’s natural reaction when faced with a fraudulent situation. The fraud psychology expert also went on to describe how the model is used to determine compliance and the reasons behind it, as well as how people strategize after they realize they have been victimized.

It looks into the characteristics that leave a person most susceptible at each stage of a scam.

1.   Precursors

How do personal circumstances- emotional, social, financial, etc. – influence how we react to fraud? Does our demographic play a role? Our family situations? Essentially, how great an impact do our social surroundings and everything that comes with them have on our ability to identify and avoid scams?

2.   Engagement with scammers

Once a person is on the hook, what techniques does the scammer use, and how do personal character traits change how we respond? What types of persuasion works best on different personalities, and how do scammers identify and exploit these vulnerabilities?

3.   Dealing with victimization

Dove’s model explores the conscious versus unconscious decision-making processes that occur when people deal with phishing emails and other fraudulent communications- and after they realize they have been fooled. How do people accept what happened, and how does it impact their behaviors?

Throughout her research, Dove shares examples of circumstances and characteristics that can make people more or less susceptible.

  • Group mentality: Someone who is highly concerned with being part of a group and uncomfortable going against the status quo may ignore signals of uncertainty and doubt if others disagree.
  • Compliance: Naturally compliant individuals are hardwired to follow instructions. Scams prey on this, hoping that the ‘no questions asked’ mentality is enough to make a person adhere to requests.
  • Impulse: Impulsive people are less likely to take time to assess a situation and take the necessary steps to confirm a source or authenticity. Those who tend to favor fast decision-making over meticulous processes are more likely to become fraud victims.
  • Belief in justice: It may sound strange, but people who believe criminals will get caught and that bad things don’t happen to good people are vulnerable. Because they don’t see these things as pressing threats, they may overlook obvious signs. The naivety that says, “this won’t happen to me- I am a good person,” is potentially dangerous.
  • Background knowledge and self-evaluation: How much a person knows- or thinks they know- about cyber security can be a hindrance. People assume that their understanding of how scams work and what to look out for will protect them from becoming victims. This is, to a point, true, but it can also make people complacent. Being an expert in a field doesn’t disqualify a person from falling victim to targeted fraudulent communication.
  • Reliance on authority and social confirmation: If someone is particularly concerned with what others think, they may be at more risk. Authority-driven individuals may make decisions based on the belief it is a request from a superior, and socially-driven people may go along with something because of influence from friends or family.
  • A general predisposition to scams: According to a study published via ScienceDirect, some people are just prone to fraud because of their engagement levels. Everything about them may suggest otherwise, but they have something in them that makes them more likely to go along with a scam.

Examples of Scams and Victim Profiles 

Here are two examples of scams and the types of psychological profiles they are likely to target. 

  • Business Email Compromise Scam: The basis of this type of scam is a boss or member of management emailing an employee asking for urgent funds. It preys on qualities such as compliance, obedience, respect for authority, and hierarchical values. People who have a strong belief in the pecking order are less likely to question a demand made by a superior and are therefore more likely to comply without hesitation.
  • Sexploitation Scams: These scams use fear as the driving force to get people to comply with demands. A scammer working in this field uses language to evoke a person’s most primal drives- hoping their influence takes over the more practical aspects of human thinking. Anyone can struggle to make intelligent decisions when they are especially scared or excited, but someone prone to fast emotions is more likely to be a prime target.

It is interesting to see how different these two examples are, which shows how much a person’s emotional makeup and core values can impact their likelihood to become a victim of fraud.

The Challenges Facing Scam Awareness 

As Tim Erlin rightfully pointed out during his interview with Martina Dove– a significant challenge that stalls the progress of beating cyber criminals is the underlying sense of shame and embarrassment many scam victims feel. He stated that people don’t want to admit they fell for it and may not even report that it ever happened. This, sadly, is true and only adds to the stigma of fraud victimization- making it harder to build a substantial defense against these crimes.

Furthermore, there is a dangerous habit out there of immediately labeling scam victims as stupid, making them feel guilty for being the target of what is, at the end of the day, a crime. Fraud is as real as robbery, yet the victims are treated very differently.

Increasing the awareness and understanding of why these things happen and changing the narrative of how victims are perceived could help bring a more accepting mainstream view.

How Can Martina Dove’s Research Help with Fraud Awareness Training? 

Modern businesses are acutely aware of the very real risk of cyber scams and take steps to protect and educate their staff, but is there enough focus on vulnerability rather than vigilance? The idea that anyone can fall for a scam needs to be more publicized, and people made aware of what exactly is it about a person’s personality and psychology that makes them vulnerable.

As cyber security professionals can confirm- the human aspect is and always has been the weak link in the defense chain because people can make mistakes, and the brain is open to mind games. If scammers are getting better at playing on the mind, then security experts need to get better at educating people on how this exploitation works.

Using Dove’s research to make anti-fraud training more human-focused and interactive could be the difference between a person falling victim and feeling ashamed and being aware of emotions used against them- and being able to stop an attack in its tracks.  

Practical Advice for People at Risk

As part of Dove’s research, she complied a checklist of actions to take towards proactively identifying potential scams and avoiding being drawn into the deception. Here is a brief summary of the key points for consideration. 

  • Question how it makes you feel: Scams play on emotion and aim to evoke a strong reaction, so how you feel when you read something could be an instant warning sign.
  • Look for further language clues: Is there any wording that seems overly strong or makes you feel bad in a way that seems unnatural?
  • Beware of links: A quick and convenient ‘click here to solve your problems’ may not be what it seems. Only access trusted links and log into any secure accounts via the official portals and never through an email.
  • Make space for rationality amongst emotion: Understand that what you feel in the moment could have been engineered through clever psychological tricks and attacks. Take a step back, wait to make a decision, and ask for opinions from family and friends if you are not sure about how to proceed.
  • Scrutinize the details: Look into correspondence for any sign of falsification or something that just doesn’t feel right. Emotional people may be quick to act, but they can also have strong senses of instinct.
  • Don’t rush to action, no matter the request: Sometimes, a pause is all it takes. Stopping and thinking is never bad practice in any walk of life or decision to be made.  

Final Thoughts 

Everyone was not created equally when it comes to emotions and how they drive our thoughts. Moderating how they impact decisions and how vulnerable they make us to gullibility is not easy, and greater awareness is needed.

The ties drawn between psychology and cybercrime are truly fascinating and open up an interesting and far overdue conversation about the correlations.

Written by Robert Siciliano, CEO of Credit Parent, Head of Training & Security Awareness Expert at Protect Now, #1 Best Selling Amazon author, Media Personality & Architect of CSI Protection Certification.

SMBs Including Real Estate, Watch Out for these Cyber Security Threats!

There used to be a time when hackers only targeted retailers, but these days, they can target almost any business in any industry, especially those that are not aware of the best cyber security practices.

cyberattack

One of these groups is the real estate industry, and according to a recent survey, approximately half of all businesses in real estate are not prepared to handle any type of cyberattack. Though Federal law requires specific industries, like banks and hospitals, to have security in place, the real estate industry is not one of them. If you work in real estate, here are some common cyber security threats to keep an eye out for.

Business Email Compromise – BEC

A BEC, or business email compromise, is a type of cyberattack that tricks a company into wiring cash into the bank account of a criminal. Hackers do this by “spoofing” email addresses, and then then sending messages to recipients that look like they are coming from someone they trust, such as the CEO or the head of accounting.

This happens a lot; the FBI has found that billions of dollars have been lost due to BEC scams. Yes, this is pretty scary, but there is more. The FBI has also said that those in the real estate industry are targeted, and anyone who participates in a real estate transaction is a possible victim.

Wire Scams During Mortgage Closings

There are also scams during closings. Here’s how it works. Before the sale of a home is complete, the buyer gets an email from their Realtor, a title attorney, or another trusted person in the industry with the details of the date, time, and locations where the closing will take place. Scammers know this, so they create a different email that tells the buyer where to wire the money. But it’s right to the bank account of the scammer. Within minutes of the transfer, the money is pulled out of the account, and the scammer is gone.

The Internet Crime Complaint Center, part of the FBI, shared statistics that from 2015 to 2017 there were more than 10,000 victims of these scams, and the losses here totaled more than $56 million…and it’s growing all of the time.

Ransomware

Another thing that those in the real estate industry need to be aware of is ransomware. This is a type of malware that shuts down a network or a device so that you can’t get into it until you pay up. This is a very profitable scam for hackers, and it is becoming very popular year over year. All it takes is one person on your team to click on a link, and the entire network could be compromised.

Keep in mind that ransomware attacks don’t just target computers. These attacks can target any devices that connects to the internet, including smart thermostats, smart lights, and smart homes. When a digital device gets a ransomware infection, they stop working.

Malware

Though most people have heard about ransomware, there are other forms of malware, too. For example, you have likely heard of spyware or Trojans, which are still out there. Specifically, these are used for cybercriminals to spy on those they are targeting. They can get access to a victim’s bank account, or even steal their email inbox. Hackers also use malware to steal personal info or employee information, and they can get things like personal client information Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, and more. Just knowing this, you can understand why those in the real estate industry are targets.

Cloud Computing Providers

If you work in the real estate industry, your livelihood is at risk thanks to cloud computing. This, you might know, is a more economical way to backup information, so while it is necessary, there are risks. However, hackers can get into these “clouds,” and if they do, they can get access to all of the data in there.

It may seem that by using a cloud computing company that you are actually lowering your risk of becoming a target, but the truth is this: there is still a risk because your devices are likely not as secure as you think, and your passwords are probably not as strong as you think. This means making sure you’re not using the same passcode for any other accounts and enabling two factor authentication for everything.

Don’t Let Your Real Estate Company Become a Victim of a Cyberattack

Now that you know your real estate company can be a target of a scammer, you may wonder how you can lower your risks. Here are some great tips:

  • Write New Policies – One thing you can do is to write new policies to keep things safe. For instance, when you think of BEC scams, if you have a policy in place where you ban wiring money to someone based only on information from an email, you won’t have to worry about BEC scams any longer. Instead, make it a rule that you must talk to the person sending the email, and you must be the one to make the call to confirm. Don’t call the number that is in the email, though. Confirm that it is correct. It could be the number of the scammer.
  • Teach Your Staff – You also want to make sure to have better training for your staff. Most of the attempts at hacking come from email, so when you train your staff to stop blindly opening attachments nor click on links in emails, you can protect yourself from these scams. You also should look into a Cyber, Social & Identity Protection Certification This is where you can learn more about the methods and strategies that you can employ to cut down on any incidents. You can also learn about developing procedures that help keep your clients safer.
  • Teach Your Clients – Speaking of clients, you want to help them, too. All wire scams having to do with closings can be prevented in most cases. Make sure your clients know that in the process of selling or buying a home, there are going to be a lot of emails floating around, including those from Realtors, mortgage companies, insurance companies, home inspectors, real estate attorneys, and more. Make sure they know that before clicking on anything or wiring money that they should first call their Realtor. They should never, ever send money unless they get the go-ahead to do it, and then they still need to make sure to confirm that the transfer is going to the right place.
  • Back Up Your Devices and System – Always make sure that everything is backed up, including your devices and your network. This way, if you do get hacked, you won’t have to pay a ransom, and the information is easy to get back.
  • Check on Cloud Computing Contracts – It is also a good idea to look into what you are getting from your cloud computing provider. They don’t like to take responsibility for a cyberattack, and there might even be something in your contract with them that says they won’t. So, you should start your own negotiations with the company in question about what you can do about something like this.
  • Buy Cyber-Liability Insurance – Finally, you should consider getting cyber-liability insurance. This could definitely help make things less risky for your real estate business. There are all types of different policies out there, so do some research or speak to a professional.

ROBERT SICILIANO CSP, is a #1 Best Selling Amazon author, CEO of CreditParent.com, the architect of the CSI Protection certification; a Cyber Social and Identity and Personal Protection security awareness training program.

This is What a Scary Psycho Cyber Stalker Looks Like

Ryan is a stalker. Ryan was arrested on charges of cyberstalking in October 2017 after it was discovered that he was cyberstalking his former roommate, a 24-year old woman, along with her friends, family, and other acquaintances.

cyberstalkingThe victim claims that Ryan was involved in hacking and cyberstalking since April 2016. She says that he began hacking into her accounts and stole her photographs, personal diary entries, and personal information. Once Ryan had this information, she says that he sent it to her friends, family, and acquaintances.

On top of this, the female victim also says that Ryan created online profiles using her name and photos, and then used those accounts, pretending he was her, to find sexual partners. She claims that because of Ryan’s actions, strange men began showing up at her home, as Ryan would give them her address. Ryan also did things like use the victim’s photos and information to threaten others, and even went as far as claiming that she was going “shoot up” a school.

Many people like Ryan believe that they can use the internet anonymously to terrorize others. They also often believe that they are smarter than law enforcement and will get away with these crimes. The Department of Justice has announced that it is focused on not only identifying and arresting stalkers but prosecuting and punishing them for these actions.

Ryan created a huge cyber stalking campaign where he hacked and harassed his victim. This, of course, was terrible for her to go through, but it also used up law enforcement resources, which was totally unnecessary. Too many people see hacking and cyber stalking as a prank or even as harmless, but it is far from it. It is very scary, and it causes the victims to become very frightened. No one should feel unsafe in their school, home, or workplace, yet Ryan made sure that people did, especially his victim. It is the hope of law enforcement that Ryan’s arrest will stop others from doing similar things. But it won’t.

Protect Yourself:

  • Do background checks on roommates. Although this may not find anything
  • Get references. Just like shopping on eBay or Amazon, check the “reviews”
  • Cover your tracks online by using various privacy and security software
  • Password protect all your devices
  • Install a Home Security system
  • Take self defense
  • Consider firearm training if you face a significant threat
  • Get a protection dog
  • If you can afford it get a body guard
  • Freeze your credit and get identity theft protection. Even though this doesn’t stop a stalker, it makes the victim and less appealing target.

Though Ryan was arrested in the state of Massachusetts, cybercrimes like hacking and cyber stalking fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government. All sentences are giving by a federal district court judge, and the sentences are based on both federal sentencing guidelines and other important factors.

Ryan is in jail. He was sentenced to 210 months, over 17 years in prison and five years of supervised release, after pleading guilty in April 2018 to seven counts of cyberstalking, five counts of distribution of child pornography, nine counts of making hoax bomb threats, three counts of computer fraud and abuse and one count of aggravated identity theft.

ROBERT SICILIANO CSP, is a #1 Best Selling Amazon author, CEO of CreditParent.com, the architect of the CSI Protection certification; a Cyber Social and Identity and Personal Protection security awareness training program.

Survey Shows Most People Back Up…But Not as Often as They Should

According to a new survey, we now have a good idea of the habits of the regular person in regard to backing up their devices. The survey, which covered almost 3,000 people, looked at people around the world. What it shows is that 91 percent of people back up their devices and their data. But, 68 percent of people still lost data because of a different reason. These include accidentally deleting the data, software or hardware failure, or even because they hadn’t backed up their data recently. The truth is, only 41% of companies and people back up each day, which leaves most of us…and most businesses…vulnerable to data loss.

surveyThe data from this survey stress how important it is to implement some type of cyber protection strategy for a business, which includes backing up data several times a day, and using the 3-2-1 backup rule. This is creating three copies of your data (a single primary copy and two backups), storing your copied on two different types of storage option, and then storing one of the copies in the cloud or remotely.

Change the Game with Cyber Protection

With more cyberattacks happening all of the time, the traditional methods of backing up our data is no longer working. We simply cannot rely on only backing up our information. It is way too dangerous.

Cybercriminals will target backup software with their own ransomware, and then try to modify the files, which makes it even more important to protect your information.

Recommendations for Cyber Protection

There are a number of different ways you can protect your personal or company’s information. Here are just five things you can do to ensure that your data is relatively safe:

  • Create a backup of your most important data…always – Keep a number of different copies of your backup locally and in the cloud. You want to do it locally so you can access it quickly and frequently, and you want to save it in the cloud to make sure that even if there is a fire, flood, or other disaster, your data is safe.
  • Ensure your OS and applications are all the current versions – If you are not updating your OS or apps, it means that they are much more vulnerable to getting hacked. These updates often contain patches and fixes that can keep cybercriminals out.
  • Beware of any suspicious links, emails, or attachments – Most ransomware and virus infections are created by using social engineering, and they trick unsuspecting people into opening these infected attachments or clicking on a link that installs malware to the device or network.
  • Install anti-virus, anti-ransomware, and anti-malware software – While you are doing your automated updates for your apps and OS, you should also be using all of these different software options, too.
  • Consider using an integrated cyber protection solution – You want to choose an option that combines anti-ransomware, anti-virus, backup, patch management, and a vulnerability assessment all in a single solution. This type of solution increases efficiency, ease of use, and the reliability of your protection.

ROBERT SICILIANO CSP, is a #1 Best Selling Amazon author, CEO of CreditParent.com, the architect of the CSI Protection certification; a Cyber Social and Identity and Personal Protection security awareness training program.

 

Working from Home Due to COVID-19? Protect Yourself from Cyberattacks

As we start to get used to living in a world where COVID-19 is changing everything, one of the differences that many have people are doing is working from home. With so many people now working on their home networks, cybercriminals are stepping up, and they are hoping to take advantage of people making security mistakes and doing more searches, specifically on COVID-19. This is a great opportunity for these thieves to target their victims.

COVID-19

Keep in mind that most people who are working from home are not working on a very secure network. Cyber attackers know this, and its important that both individuals and companies take the steps to protect themselves from COVID-19 and their information.

What Can Companies Do?

During this time, managers, owners, and supervisors should be setting clear expectations about how their businesses are going to work in these new environments. When these changes come down, they should come from the top. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • You Must Understand the Threats – Business leaders should understand what threats are likely and prioritize protection methods based on that.
  • You Must Release Clear Guidance – It is also important that your organization’s at-home policies are easy to understand for all employees. This should include informing staff to communicate with security teams in the case of suspicious activity.
  • You Must Offer the Right Security – All business leaders should ensure that any company-owned devices are equipped with the best security capabilities. This includes the following:
    • The ability to connect securely to a business-owned cloud, and access to video teleconferencing apps that are important for remote workers.
    • Endpoint protection for all mobile devices and laptops including VPN tools and encryption.
    • Enforce the use of multi-factor authentication.
    • The ability to put a block on malware, exploits, and other threats using the best types of software and hardware.
    • A plan to filter any malicious domain URLS and stop any phishing attacks.

What Can Individuals Do?

People working from home should also take steps to ensure that they are remaining safe when working remotely.  Here are some things to do:

  • Create Strong Passwords – You should always create strong passwords and consider a password manager to facilitate multiple passwords opposed to the same passwords across multiple accounts.
  • Update Software and Systems – Install any system updates or patches as soon as you see them.
  • Make Sure Your Wi-Fi Access Point is Secure – Look at your Wi-Fi access point and make sure to change the passwords and default settings.
  • Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) – A VPN is a good way to create a safe connection between a home computer and the worker’s organization.
  • Be Smart About COVID – 19 Scams – There are a ton of scams out there, including fake apps, so be smart.
  • Don’t Mix Work and Personal Tasks – Use your work device for your work and your personal device for personal tasks.

By taking these steps into consideration, either as a business leader or an employee, you can help to address some of the most common risks that you might face when working from home. Keep all of these tips in mind, and if something seems a little weird or strange, it’s probably best to report it to your company’s IT professional.

ROBERT SICILIANO CSP, is a #1 Best Selling Amazon author, CEO of CreditParent.com, the architect of the CSI Protection certification; a Cyber Social and Identity and Personal Protection security awareness training program.