How Technology Makes Scams Easier and Cheaper: Internet Scambusters #1,004
Technology has changed our lives dramatically -- but not always for the benefit of consumers.
Scammers are also using advanced devices and programming schools to step up their game.
They may still rely mostly on old, long-established con tricks, but advances in technology and their skills have changed the game -- for the worse.
Let's get started…
Scammers Up Their Game Using Advanced Technology
Technology has revolutionized the scam world. The purpose of the tricks themselves may not have changed a great deal but now it's easier for fraudsters to rip off consumers and businesses alike than ever before.
Can we do anything to even up the odds against getting caught in the snare of smart tech? Yes -- by knowing more about the way the scams work and the defense weapons at our disposal.
Let's take a look at how this has changed our everyday world.
Faster, Easier and Cheaper
"Scam technology" in this report refers to the use of computerized devices and communications networks to defraud people.
Most of us carry computers in our pockets and purses, and on our wrists, so we're constantly within reach of the crooks. The equipment and the software that drives the digital world have become so clever, so fast, so easy-to-use and so much cheaper that we're all vulnerable to them being used against us.
Spam is a good example. Junk mail has been around forever, via our physical mailbox. But now crooks can digitally bombard us virtually non-stop with their messages, laden with ads, fake products and services, fake news, malware and dangerous links.
No printing or mailing costs, no two- or three-day snail mail -- and a seemingly unlimited number of compromised computer networks (botnets) to do all the work, while the crooks sleep.
Anti-spam software has never truly kept pace with all the sneaky ways scammers bypass the safeguards. But a new ally is on the way: Artificial intelligence, which we'll talk of more later.
Here are some other ways that technology is giving scams a faster, easier spin.
Impersonating: Most scams are based on deception, posing as someone you're not. Now technology has given crooks the ability to transform images and audio into "deep fakes" - doctored but realistic videos and soundtracks. In one famous case last year, an organization lost $35 million after crooks faked the voice of its CEO.
The Internet and image/voice manipulation technologies are also providing a more convincing polish to impersonators, such as those in romance scams, spoofing of phone-caller ID, pretending to be distressed friends/relatives seeking money, and phony tech support calls.
Identity theft is an impersonation tool that technology has made the world's number one scam. The old technique involved just using someone else's name or a simple disguise to pull off a trick.
Today, data harvesters build up detailed pictures of victims, and phishing or hacking steals passwords and other confidential information. Almost every one of us are targeted every day by these crooks -- for example, by filing false tax or health insurance claims, using stolen credit cards, or making loan applications.
Shopping scams: In days past, you'd most likely encounter this scam in the shape of a trickster selling fake or non-existent items out of the back of a van, maybe even on your doorstep or via a dubious magazine ad.
All of those tactics are still being used but the arrival of online shopping, fake and cloned websites, auctions, and Internet classified advertising not only makes shop scamming easier and more widespread but also cuts the risk of the con artists being caught.
Social gatherings: Perhaps you used to rely on a friend's word of mouth for recommendations and information. Scammers still use this technique -- for example, by worming themselves into groups such as churchgoers to promote fake investments.
But the advent of social media has transformed this scene. Half the world's population uses sites like TikTok and Facebook. They're easily accessible for scam advertising, fake news, data harvesting, and even threats to people's physical safety.
Payment methods: Cash, card or check are no longer the only ways to pay. And even when they are used today, identity theft can turn credit cards into a financial nightmare, while it's a cinch to produce thousands of forged checks on a cheap printer.
Technology has ushered in the advent of money wiring, gift/debit cards and cybercurrency -- three totally untraceable and irrecoverable ways of extracting victims' money. Most recently, the development of online money transfer apps such as Venmo and Zelle have opened up a new theft route for scammers.
Of course, these are merely a handful of examples in which technology is now aiding crooks. Others include hacking of "smart" devices such as TVs, web cameras and home alarm systems (aka the Internet of Things or IoT), the explosive growth of ransomware, abuse of tracking devices, and the use of tiny spy cameras.
Against this background, the arrival of artificial intelligence (AI) -- computer programs and algorithms that think faster and smarter than most humans for specific purposes -- is already playing a role in making scams more convincing and effective.
AI is being used for guessing passwords, user tracking, hacking networks, improving grammar and spelling in scam messages, and a host of other illegal activities.
Fortunately, AI isn't just a tool for scammers. It's also a vital weapon in the fight against them. Specialists are training AI systems to learn about and detect fraud techniques and patterns and language usage to identify malware and hacking attempts on PCs or entire networks, spot suspicious websites and domains, weed out fake reviews, and to patrol the web on the lookout for criminal activities and patterns.
Technology has transformed scams from petty crimes committed by individuals into the preserve of organized crime gangs. It's costing businesses and consumers many billions of dollars through fraud every year and causing untold misery in the process.
It's also at the root of social unrest, allegedly fraudulent voting, even threats to personal safety and other non-monetary crime.
But all of us can also use it as a safeguard, for example, through:
- Keeping AI-driven computer security and anti-virus software regularly up to date.
- Proper use of security and privacy settings on social media, email clients, and IoT devices.
- Managing our passwords.
- Biometrics -- like facial and fingerprint recognition.
Above all, though, being aware of the tactics and techniques we've outlined here, allied with a healthy dose of skepticism, can help you steer clear of many scams. Switching on and using any connected device should always be accompanied by the mantra: Hogwash Detectors On! Shields Up!
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!