Last week an elderly friend called me. He had been scammed out of $13,000 … almost. RIGHT before he finalized sending the money, he had a lucid moment and thought “this is probably a scam”. He ended the call and phoned his bank. All ended well.
So, what can we do to help our elderly friends and family? They are easy pickins for professional scammers. These scams work because they incite a cognitive response in the mind of the potential victim that causes them to jettison all logic. They simply fall prey to an ancient brain-part — the amygdala. Chris Hadnagy (professional white hat social engineer) references the term “amygdala hijacking”. It’s a term coined by Dr. Daniel Goleman. Hadnagy states scammers use techniques that hijack the amygdala which shuts off the logic center of your brain. The tragic result is that in less than 30 minutes your elderly loved one will transfer tens of thousands of dollars to a person they’ve never met.
According to Hadnagy, there are 4 vectors of social engineering attacks: 1. Phishing. 2. Vishing. 3. SMiShing. 4. Impersonation. I’m sure we could add to or subdivide these categories, but this is enough for now.
Phishing is typically an email delivery. That’s how my friend was targeted. He received an email informing him his Norton antivirus subscription had just been renewed for $250. He was kindly informed to “call this number if you’d like to cancel.” Panic set in. The amygdala hijack was on. He completely ignored the fact he NEVER had a Norton antivirus account.
Vishing uses the same content essentially as a phishing email but delivered over a phone call. SMiShing is the same – except over text message. Impersonation is an in-person visit from someone pretending to be someone like phoneline repair or a plumber.
In almost all these cases the scam works because the content of the message causes the victim to immediately panic. The anger, fear, or excitement they feel disables all the logic which they would normally use to make informed decisions. This is where the amygdala takes center stage. Logic takes a lunch break.
It’s here that the scammer handholds the victim all the way through the scam. They promise to fully refund the victim’s money. This makes the amygdala happy. The scammers convince the victim to let them remote connect to their computer. Next, they do some confusingly technical looking things to build false trust. But it’s all a ruse. The scammer is counting on the good heart and trusting character of the victim. Trust and honesty make them the perfect victim.
To protect yourself and your loved ones, here are a few rules:
1. Trust no one.
2. If you get any kind of communication you didn’t expect, pay attention to your feelings. Does it make you anxious in any way? Then it’s a scam.
3. If the message you received claims your bank account or credit card have been charged, close the message and contact your bank using a known-good number.
4. If the message appears to come from a government agency, close the message and contact the agency using a known good number.
5. Every organization that deals with your money has a fraud department. Contact them. They can help you get things straightened out.
6. Contact the Cyber Guys at CyberEye.
Original Article appeared in the Sierra Vista Herald here