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How to fight scammers

Fighting scammers: Go slow!

The increased online shopping has also meant more online fraud with shoppers losing money on fake websites. But research shows there is a simple way to limit the risks of losing money. There is one simple thing you can do to drastically reduce your chances of losing money on web scams: Slow down! Research at University of Southampton shows.

“Creating a sense of urgency or need to act or respond quickly is probably the most damaging technique deployed by online scammers, Yaniv Hanoch, Professor in Decision Science and Nicholas J. Kelley, Assistant Professor in Social Psychology, write in a blog post for the World Economic Forum.

“In fact, among the various techniques used by scammers, creating a sense of urgency or the need to act or respond quickly is probably the most damaging. As with many legitimate sales, acting fast reduces your ability to think carefully, evaluate information and make a careful decision.”

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“The COVID lockdowns made us all more reliant on online services such as shopping and banking. Quick to take advantage of this trend, scammers have since increased the rate and spectrum of online fraud. Cybersecurity company F5 found phishing attacks alone increased by over 200% during the height of the global pandemic, compared to the yearly average.”

One fraud type many people fall victim to is fake websites (spoof legitimate business or government websites). According to a nonprofit that handles consumer complaints Better Business Bureau, fake websites are one of the leading reported scams. 

They caused estimated retail losses of approximately US$380 million in the US in 2022. Actually, losses are probably far higher because many cases go unreported, the researchers write.

“We developed a series of experiments to evaluate what factors impact people’s ability to distinguish between real and fake websites.” 

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The researchers write that people tend to employ two types of information processing – system one and system two. System one is quick, automatic, intuitive and related to our emotions. System two is slow, conscious and laborious. 

Working slower was linked to better ability to tell fake and real websites apart.

“Scammers do not want us to carefully evaluate the information but engage emotionally with it.” 

“With increasing internet use among all age groups, scammers are capitalising on peoples’ tendencies to use more intuitive information processing mechanisms to evaluate whether a website is legitimate. Scammers often design their solicitations in a way that encourages people to act quickly because they know that decisions made under such conditions are in their favour. For example, advertising that a discount is ending soon.”

“Much of the advice about how to identify fake websites suggests you carefully examine the domain name, check for the padlock symbol, use website checkers such as Get Safe Online, look for spelling errors, and be wary of deals that sound too good to be true.” 

“These suggestions, obviously, require time and deliberate action. Indeed, possibly the best advice you could follow is: slow down.”

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