Commentary: As scams get more sophisticated, young and digitally savvy individuals are more likely to fall prey
Digital natives are comfortable shopping, banking and communicating online, which increases their risk of getting scammed, say Jared Ng and Reuben Ng of the Institute for the Public Understanding of Risk.
SINGAPORE: Whether we know it or not, just about everyone has received some form of scam call, message or email. Some of us are alert enough to ignore these attempts to deceive but unfortunately, an alarming proportion of the population fall prey to such scams.
Despite media coverage of the issue, a total of 14,349 scam cases were reported in the first half of 2022 (about 78 cases daily), nearly double the 7,746 cases reported in the same period last year.
Some of us may read about the plight of scam victims and think, “That was really obvious” or “I would never fall for that”. However, one should be mindful of being too complacent.
Scammers are becoming increasingly sophisticated with their tactics in order to gain trust. Gone are the days where you might receive an email from a man who has won the lottery and needs to keep his winnings somewhere safe.
Recent reports have shown that younger and more educated individuals have fallen for elaborate “pig-butchering” scams, in which scammers build trust with their victims first before cheating them in fraudulent investment schemes.
Such scammers target users on online chat groups or dating apps, and groom them over months, giving them profits from the first few investments to appear genuine. But eventually, victims wind up losing thousands by pouring more and more money into the bogus scheme – and the scammer disappears once victims realise they’ve been duped.
DIGITAL NATIVES ARE MORE SUSCEPTIBLE TO SCAMS
While we may assume older folks are likelier to fall prey to online scams, the converse is true. A 2022 study by the Institute for the Public Understanding of Risk (IPUR) found that those under the age of 25 were 10 per cent more susceptible to scams than those aged 65 years and above.
This is because digital natives depend on Internet platforms and mobile apps to shop, bank and communicate. Being online more often increases exposure to the risk of scams and cyber fraud.
Familiarity with navigating online platforms gives users a sense of false security, making them vulnerable targets to scammers.
Overconfidence may lead to poor judgment and decisions with irreversible consequences. Psychologists have long documented optimism bias in young adults, which makes them more likely to engage in risky behaviour because they believe that they are invulnerable to harm or misfortune.
Fuelled by this assurance, people who are more digitally savvy may partake in shady investment opportunities or divulge personal information to new friends or love interests online. Others are willing to buy a product online because it is listed at half the price of that in physical stores.
It bears repeating that, if it is too good to be true, it often is. But out of financial need, we may not see the red flags in the first place.
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF ONLINE
The ability to spot potential scams has become more challenging due to their increasing complexity. Banks and online platforms have taken additional measures to help users guard against cybercrime but we must also take responsibility for our actions.
If you are unfamiliar with investments or a particular online platform, take time to get acquainted. On social media, do not get tempted by offers to improve follower or like counts in exchange for money or your account details.
Beware of websites that mimic trading and stock investment platforms, especially those that are easy to spend money on, such as binary options – a financial instrument that turns every trade into a simple yes or no question.
Be vigilant when carrying out online transactions. Ensure the site you are purchasing from uses an accredited online merchant service such as PayNow, PayPal, Mastercard or Visa.
Do not feel pressured into making a hasty decision. Ask for time to decide if you need it. Seek advice from friends or relevant authorities who can be objective in situations of need.
Leveraging online platforms for our personal business and convenience is perfectly fine but as our dependence on such domains grows, we need to realise that the threats posed by scammers will likewise evolve in tandem.
Jared Ng is Communications Manager and Reuben Ng is Lead Scientist (Data and Technology) at the Institute for the Public Understanding of Risk, National University of Singapore.