Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Greed and Fear - What Drives SPAM

SPAM e-mails are based on greed and fear.

I regularly clean out my SPAM mailbox because I have ADD or something.  Seriously, though, Mr. See is content to let messages automatically delete after 30 days, while I have to delete them several times a day, so my e-mail boxes are "clean."  And don't get me started on his TRASH bin - he never empties that out.  It is more of an e-mail dumpster at this point.

I regularly check and empty the SPAM box for other reasons as well.  Sometimes "legit' messages end up in SPAM and it pays to check.  Also, it is interesting to see what kind of pitches they are using. What strikes me as odd is that, lately, SPAM messages, in the titles, all use odd fonts and colors, lots of exclamation points!!!! or tildas ~ ~ ~ or other odd things, which I guess they think gets attention, while for me, just confirms they are SPAM.

But the other interesting pattern to notice is how they use greed and fear to get you to open the e-mail and to sink the hook on the con.

In the greed department, I am exhorted to claim my cash deposit from an online casino, or my "settlement" from a class-action suit I was never part of.  The pitch is simple:  They want me to think some company made a mistake in my favor, and all I need to do is click on a link and enter my bank account information and they will send me these funds.

Or, they claim they have been "trying to contact" me and this is the "final notice" about a new iPhone being shipped to me.  If only I click on a link and enter credit card information to pay the delivery fee, I could have a new [desirable consumer good]!!!  Once again, greed at work, along with the something-for-nothing mentality - and a little FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) tossed in as well.

But speaking of fear, that is another way crooks get people hooked. "Someone has been doing a background check on you! Click here to find out!" - they play upon the fear that somehow our chequered past is coming back to haunt us.  Of course, if you have no chequered past, it doesn't work very well.  Or maybe you simply don't care what other people think of you.

And of course, the classic fake "IRS" or "Police" SPAM (which is usually via phone call) tries to use fear of authority to get people to send money (via prepaid debit cards) under threat of arrest for back taxes due or failure to appear for jury duty or some other fictitious event.

Any good salesmen knows that in order to sell, you have to instill a sense of urgency in the "prospect."  If a buyer says he wants to go home and think about the new car you are selling, you tell him that they didn't make many in that color or that another fellow was here the other day and was keen to buy it.   You can't let the prospect "think about it" as they may rightfully think it is a raw deal.

And so it is with SPAM - both the greed or fear variety.  The "shipment" scams that claim they have a new iPhone for you, claim this is the "final notice" before they ship it back to the manufacturer!  Final notice!  You'd better act fast if you want to score a free smart phone!

By the way, they are getting better and better at this.  I recently received one such message, that bypassed my SPAM filter, claiming to be from the USPS, saying they could not find my address and I needed to click a link or call a 1-800 number to confirm.  It had all the correct logos, no misspellings or weird British English.  The only tipoff was the return e-mail address (the real one, not the spoofed one) and the fact it was addressed to "Mr. Sam Smith" or some such name that was not mine.

Given that our postal delivery person was walking up the sidewalk as I read it, I felt confident that it was fake and that the post office somehow could actually find my address, after 15 years.

It struck me, though, that you can sort of filter SPAM this way.  Are they appealing to your greed or fear?  Are they trying to instill a sense of urgency?  If so, it is likely a scam of one sort or another, and you need not even try to decipher what the scam is all about.  Just step back a bit, mentally, and think about it.  Chances are, if you do, suddenly the scam becomes quite apparent.

It is sad, but every year, billions of dollars are lost to scammers.  People panic at the thought of being arrested by the IRS and put their brain in neutral.  Or they get greedy and have "target fixation" on that free iPhone and shout down, mentally, all the red flags.

It is, in a way, like the loud and annoying ads you see - they are not proclaiming great bargains.  You should view them as Police Tape marking off a crime scene.  And that is what I think of when I see those "going out of business!' sales or loud billboards, or annoying ads on television - "Warning!  Bad Deal Ahead!"