If you want to avoid getting scammed, you might start with a crash course in psychology.
Our Norton Labs team highlights three different online scams showing how cybercriminals take the lessons of Psychology 101 and use them against you. What do the scams have in common? Two things: They mess with your perception, and they deceive you into accepting lies as truth. The goal is to separate you from your money or personal information.
You don’t have to enroll in a psychology course to learn more. You can read the Labs team’s take in three Spotlight stories, and check out the fresh batch of phishing scams — using Facebook, Amazon, and Ukraine aid as lures — that could hit your inbox.
But first, a look at the security numbers for the last quarter.
And now onto the stories of deception.
Spotlight #1 – Deepfakes mess with your eyes
Background: Deepfakes, an artificially created photo or video, have been deployed to create fake profiles on YouTube, LinkedIn, and Twitter. While they are created for a variety of reasons, like a funny video on TikTok or marketing on LinkedIn, they are also being used in more devious ways and are becoming weaponized to spread disinformation. For example, deepfakes have been deployed as propaganda in the ongoing war in Ukraine to sow confusion and doubt.
How it works: Most deepfakes are created by blending existing images to obtain a realistic face computationally. While it used to take an expert with the right tools several hours to create a convincing fake image, nowadays advances in technology and availability of tools have made deepfakes easier for an average person to create. There are still a few telltale signs of a deepfake, as illustrated in the image below.
Bottom line: Deepfakes are yet another element in the evolving battle for information and deception. Now that you know about the existence of deepfakes, and what to look for, you’ll be one step ahead of being tricked.
Learn more: You can read more about our deepfakes report.
Spotlight #2 – Romance scams mess with your heart
Background: Romance fraud is a particularly sinister type of scam that preys on vulnerable people looking for love and connection. Scammers adopt fake online identities to carefully select potential targets, often favoring recently widowed or divorced victims. Once the scammers find a victim, they take the time to cultivate the illusion of a romantic relationship to gain the victim's trust with the goal to manipulate and steal from them. Romance scammers are highly trained con artists, they know exactly what to say to make the victim feel important and loved. As a result, these scammers can be very believable and convincing to the untrained eye.
How it works: A romance scam typically starts with the victim's motivation to find love or companionship. It often takes only a few minutes to receive the first message from their dream person. Scammers know how important this message is, and they do everything they can to make the potential victim feel important and loved. Once the victim has shown an interest, scammers get to work. They manufacture a crisis that warrants the requests for money, hoping the victim complies. The scammers continue the trick, asking for larger sums of money as time goes by. Victims that deny requests for money are often bullied by scammers. Even after the victim has ended the relationship with a scammer, there is a high chance of revictimization. It is very common for scammers to buy, sell, and trade a list of names and contact details of victims that have fallen for a scam, a so-called “suckers list.”
Bottom line: While romance scammers are exploring new ways to attract someone, love is not their motivation. If someone seems to be falling hard quickly, a healthy dose of skepticism may help protect your wallet and your heart.
Learn more: You can read more about how we scammed a romance scammer.
Spotlight #3 – Crypto Scams mess with your reason
Background: Be on the lookout for crypto scams that attempt to steal your digital investments. These scams have risen in popularity in recent years, correlating with the record-breaking rises in the value of bitcoin and ethereum. Norton Labs has tracked more than $29 million of bitcoin stolen by crypto scammers in 2021, and we expect this figure to keep rising well into 2022 as the crypto market continues to grow. Scammers have been known to capitalize on world events. For example, we saw the pandemic used as a lure to scam individuals, and more recently, we tracked scams using the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine to steal donations from philanthropic crypto investors.
How it works: Scammers create bogus giveaway web pages and promote them using social media, email, and SMS messaging to trick cryptocurrency enthusiasts to send money to a wallet controlled by the scammer. They promise unrealistic returns on investments or pledge to give away free coins to participants. Once the victims send cryptocurrency to the scammers, it’s impossible to get it back, unlike a bank account where one can cancel a transfer. The scammers make off with the illicit proceeds and into the sunset with little to no chance of being caught.
Bottom line: If something sounds too good to be true, then it often is. Be wary of promises for high returns on investments or the promise of free money. Often, these types of offers will defraud you out of your hard-earned money. Always do your due diligence when investing, make sure that the website you visit is legitimate, and most importantly, don’t believe the hype.
Recent Phishing and Scam Samples
While the above Spotlights take a lot of effort or sophistication, there are also people casting a wider net with lower effort and simpler scams. Sending emails, SMS, and other forms of spam can hit many potential victims at the same time.
A few lures we’ve seen float by this quarter.
- Facebook takedown notices try to scare you to action.
- Amazon cryptocurrency stirs up your feelings of FOMO (fear of missing out).
- Ukraine donation scams tug at your heart strings.
You need to stay alert when you are online or on your phone. These types of scams can come at any moment, through a variety of sources, and often appear very convincing both visually and with the story that they tell.
Norton Labs continues to track scams and threats targeting the digital lives of consumers. From your identity, to your privacy, to your defense from the latest threats — we are on top of it to be your partner in protection.
Find out more when we publish our next Consumer Cyber Safety Pulse Report in July.
Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you. NortonLifeLock offerings may not cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat we write about. Our goal is to increase awareness about cyber safety. Please review complete Terms during enrollment or setup. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and that LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses.
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