Why Do People Fall for Online Scams?

Beware of online scams!

Online scams have been around ever since people started using the Internet. After numerous advisories, alerts, and awareness-raising campaigns, you’d think that most people would have learned not to trust everything they see on the Web. However, many individuals still fall for scams, often handing over small fortunes to the fraudsters.

Initiatives that involve workshops and spreading flyers are probably more efficient. However, they only reach a limited number of people. Online campaigns are still the most effective if you want to reach a wider audience.

However, a certain percentage of the targeted audience doesn’t really take the time to read online advisories. On the contrary, some online advisories appear to be totally misunderstood.

Let’s take a few examples. In 2011, a Facebook scam promised users a video of the rapper Soulja Boy beating up his girlfriend. The short advisory, which clearly mentioned that it was just a scam designed to trick users into filling out surveys, was read by over 85,000 Internet users.

Many of them read it not because they wanted to learn about the scam, but because they thought Soulja Boy had actually beat up his girl.

Let’s take a look at some of the comments posted at the time:

“Soulja boy is complete garbage. Who are the ignorant people that keep this Guy afloat. Complete abomination of rap. Tupac would be furious about the current state of hip-hop/rap.”

“soulija boy is cool but he shoulded of did that to his girlfriend he is my favorite rapper what did he do that for.”

While at the time many understood what the advisory was really about, many thought it was a tabloid article about Soulja Boy beating up his girlfriend – most likely they only read the first part of the title, which read “Soulja Boy beats up his girlfriend in Facebook scam.”

Another perfect example is a Facebook scam alert published in August 2012. The scammers tried to trick users by saying the famous wrestler John Cena had died.

Of course, Cena was fine, but some of the 180 commenters posted messages like this:

“that is so sad my mom just showed me on facebook my freinds are gonna be sad.”

“I can’t believe that John is gone”

“we will miss u cena”

In October 2013, I published an alert about a BMW M5 giveaway scam that was making the rounds on Facebook. The scammers told people to like their fan page, share a photo, and leave a comment to say what color they want the car they win to be.

Some of the 100,000 people who read it posted comments like “white” and “silver.” They actually thought they could win a BMW. I highlight the fact that the comments were posted to the article about the scam, not on Facebook.

And let’s take a look at a fraud advisory. Scammers are contacting people telling them that they can make good money if they accept to wrap their cars in a Monster Energy Drink advertisement. In this case, the advisory actually helped a lot of people who almost took the bait.

Unfortunately, many of them had already completed the first steps as instructed by the scammers.

In the case of Facebook scams, the scammers need to convince a lot of people to click on their links and complete their surveys so that they can make some money. They often achieve their goals because many people read the scam advisories only after they’ve taken the bait.

As far as 419 scams are concerned, the cybercrooks don’t need to convince many people. In some cases they’ve managed to trick a single individual into sending hundreds of thousands of dollars, so even a small number of victims enables them to make a small fortune.


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