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Why you're never too smart to get scammed

Scams have become more advanced in the way they target their victims, meaning its easier than ever to fall into their trap.

People walk down a busy street and Australian currency fanned out to represent money lost to scams.
Intelligent scams sidestep the usual red flags, which means you're not as safe as you think. (Source: Getty)

Australians lost more than $3.1 billion to scams in 2022, and scammers are continuing to find new ways to fool even the most vigilant people. Because despite the severity of scams in the modern world, many of us still think we’re too smart to fall victim to one.

“People feel that they are too intelligent and aware to fall for a scam,” Annie McCubbins, author of Why Smart Women Buy the Lies: And how critical thinking reveals the truth, said.

Also by Emma Edwards:

It’s estimated that only 13 per cent of scams are reported. But why? One word: shame. “It’s because we’re embarrassed,” Annie said. “How often do you hear someone say ‘I can’t believe I fell for it’”?

Scams are getting smarter

Some scam attempts hit your inbox cluttered with spelling errors, fake logos and dodgy-looking email addresses. Or perhaps you’ve received an alert from a bank you don’t even use. These clumsy scams are easy to spot, but it can lead to complacency. Now scams are getting more advanced, and often include intelligent tactics to circumvent email, text and phone servers to appear legitimate.

Sure, you might have the smarts to question whether an email from iamascammer@gmail.com is really your mortgage lender asking for payment. But what about receiving an email from your boss’ actual email address asking you to purchase some gift cards for clients. Or an update from Australia Post about a missing parcel you’ve been waiting on. Or even a phone call from your bank from a number that appears to be listed on their website?

Scams are getting so smart that anyone can fall victim to one. And it’s important that we remove the shame and stigma around trusting a scammer.

We’re programmed to trust other humans

Annie warns that intelligence offers little protection when we’re in the thrall of a professional scam artist. “We think our rational brain is in charge when, in fact, it is our unconscious emotional drivers that are calling the shots,” she said. Our brains are wired to trust others, because we need each other to survive. “We shouldn’t judge ourselves for trusting too easily.”

“Cognitive flaws” leave us vulnerable to scams

Annie also said that scammers find clever ways to circumvent our rational vigilance around scams. “We are predisposed to obey authority, so using words and images that evoke a trusted organisation (like a bank) make us more vulnerable.”

We also have an inherent consistency bias that scammers take advantage of. “Once the scammer has asked for something small, (like a piece of information) which the victim has volunteered, when the scammer asks for something bigger, the victim is more likely to agree.”

Scammers are sidestepping the usual red flags

If you’re guilty of thinking you’re too savvy to be scammed, take a look at some of the more sophisticated scams that have caught even the most vigilant of Aussies:

  • SMS scams that appear within the same message thread as legitimate communications from a bank or trusted organisation.

  • Emails sent from correct email addresses from businesses, coworkers or family members, through exploitation servers or systems.

  • Scam retail sites advertised through Google advertising, which forges legitimacy.

  • Investment scams that have manufactured engagement (likes, comments, shares) on social media in order to appear legitimate.

Staying safe from scams

Dissolving any sense of complacency when it comes to scams is critical to staying safe. It’s best to approach any digital communication that involves money or your personal data with caution, even if it’s from a friend, family member or someone you trust.

If you receive a text or email from a loved one asking for money or private information, call them to be sure. Likewise, if you receive communications from an organisation like the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) or your bank, don’t act until you’ve contacted them directly (via a number advertised on their legitimate website) to verify the request.

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