News headlines for the past several years have detailed the arrests of email scammers and wire fraud cyber criminals. One of the most well-known and oldest email scams was the “Nigerian prince” email scam. Despite its infamy and longevity, these types of email scams appears no less potent.
So why, after more than ten years, do people still fall for requests for personal information or money from unknown and unverifiable people, often written in prose filled with mistakes and typos?
The Importance of Red Flags
For most people, emails containing any red flags (such as an unknown sender, requests for funds or personally identifiable information, a fantastic emotional appeal, non-idiomatic English) are either an automatic or manual rerouted to the spam folder. These people are well-protected, and safe from most threats.
However, there are some people, or at least enough to make the scheme profitable, for whom these red flags are not identified as such. And most of these people fall victim to social engineering.
What Is Social Engineering?
According to Social Engineer, Inc., a research-oriented security organization, social engineering is “a blend of science, psychology, and art,” paradoxically both simple and complex, and more specifically, “any act that influences a person to take an action that may or may not be in their best interest.”
The Nigerian prince email scam has a very compelling blend of science, psychology, and art that is strikingly both simple and complex. The emails are often variations of the same narrative theme: due to an injustice, a prince has lost his fortune and needs help recovering it. If some just and caring person will give him full bank account information now, he will reward the individual with 20% of the fortune.
The science or technology of email and wire transfer allows the scammer to quickly, easily, and relatively anonymously receive money. The psychological aspect of the operation, the promise of easy money and plea for help, appeals to the victim’s desire for money and willingness to help. The art here is one of manipulation and deception.
Keep An Eye Out For Red Flags
The red flag is waving furiously, so don’t miss it. Don’t open emails from suspicious senders with questionable subjects. Don’t wire money to someone you don’t know. Don’t click on links in emails that appear to come from people you do know if the situation seems unfamiliar. Pick up the phone and talk to the person first.
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