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Cybercriminals Playing Mind Games With Users

A study shows that spammers and phishers are playing on our biggest fears and our biggest desires.

Think mind games are only for dating and creepy movies?

Think again. According to researchers at McAfee, a new study shows that cybercriminals use psychological games to scam users. In his study, "Mind Games", Dr. James Blascovich, professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, focuses on multiple common spam scams and looks at how cybercriminals use fear, greed, and lust to steal personal and financial information.

"Scam spam works best by providing recipients with a sense of familiarity and legitimacy, either by creating the illusion that the e-mail is from a friend or colleague, or providing plausible warnings from a respected institution," Dr. Blascovich wrote. "Once the victim opens the e-mail, criminals use two basic motivational processes, approach and avoidance, or a combination of the two, to persuade victims to click on dangerous links, provide personal information, or download risky files."

He also added that by scamming $20 from just half of 1% of the U.S. population, cybercriminals can earn $15 million each day and nearly $5.5 billion in a year. That rings up to be a powerful attraction for scam artists.

One key to the scammers' success is familiarity, according to Blascovich's study, which was backed up by a similar report that McAfee commissioned. One example is phishing scams, which fraudulently acquire sensitive information, like usernames, passwords, and financial data, by disguising the phony e-mails as being from a familiar or nationally recognized bank, credit card company, or even an online auction site.

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