Human behavior is so interesting and, in many cases, fairly predictable. Want to make someone angry on purpose? It probably isn’t too hard to figure out what you would have to say to push those anger buttons. Pushing those buttons on purpose is a form of social engineering. Many scammers are experts in social engineering. That is, they are expert in manipulating human behavior. They know how to craft an email, instant message, online chat message, or Facebook wall post that will get a large percentage of readers to click a link or download an attachment.
Children and teens are very susceptible to these manipulations because the frontal lobe of their brain is not yet mature. The frontal lobe is that part of the brain responsible for reasoning, evaluation, logical thought, etc. This area of the brain doesn’t fully mature until approximately age 25. [Read “The Teen Brain, It’s Just Not Grown Up Yet” by Richard Knox at NPR.org.] Scammers have targeted teens on Facebook, for example, with wall posts like these because they know that kids cannot resist the urge to click. They aren’t wired for it. Most kids react on impulse without thinking. If they were to follow these links, they end up infecting their Facebook accounts, their personal computers, or both.
“SHOCKING! Teacher beats up student in front of class!”
[Source: Sophos Naked Security]
“Bungee jump gone terribly wrong!”
“98 Percent of people can’t watch this video.”
This scam is described on several websites, including Techie-Buzz.com
Do you think adults are exempt from this type of social engineering? Imagine that you received the emails below. Would you be able to resist the urge to click?
The scammers know what they’re doing! To increase the likelyhood of success, the bogus American Express emails are sent out the day before real American Express bills are emailed. [For those readers with a background in Biology, think of the mimic in Batesian mimicry.] The Fedex email was sent out during the Christmas holidays, a very busy delivery time. Emails such as the one from Buy.com or Verizon Wireless are designed to produce an emotional reaction from the recipient. I OWE WHAT?! …Click!
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF: The best way to counter these types of manipulative or emotionally charged scam emails is to keep a healthy dose of skepticism when it comes to the Internet. Obviously, anyone can fake anything online. Just because you receive something from a friend, does not mean that your friend sent it. Accounts are hacked all the time. [Check out the scams on “friends mugged in London”] Make it a habit to mouse-over links and look to see where they lead BEFORE clicking them. Learn to use some of the outstanding tools on the Internet to check on suspicious links such as a WHOIS Look-up, the Zulu Online Risk Analyzer, and MalwareURL.com. [Note: We do not personally value the Symantec Site Advisor because we find it to be very unreliable and containing outdated evaluations.]