How cruel scammers blow their victims’ minds

Despite a scam being carried out every 37 seconds in Britain*, almost a third (31%) don’t think they will ever fall for one. This attitude has been dubbed ‘optimism bias’, where people expect to experience positive rather than negative events and so dismiss worst case scenarios.

Yet despite always looking on the bright side, over a quarter (27%) of adults have been the target of an online fraudsters. While 53% acknowledged they could be vulnerable to hackers and con artists, only 50% have any form of digital security.

Now Gen, a global leader in protecting against cybercrime and who blocked 14 billion attacks last year, has launched an educational campaign to show the very real emotional effect of such crimes and chip away at complacency. Of those who had been successfully scammed, 47% felt angry, 36% had been left stressed and 32% felt vulnerable. 

Over six-in-ten (61%) of all respondents said now they were aware of optimism bias; they were more likely to take cybersecurity measures to protect themselves and less likely to just hope for the best.

Gen collaborated with award-wining psychologist and wellbeing expert   Lee Chambers to scientifically monitor three victims of online fraud and mapped the changes to their brains.

Sophisticated EEG (Electroencephalography) headsets measured the electrical activity of the brain in three different stages. Lynn Beattie, who had her identity compromised by criminals, was asked to remember how she felt before, during and after the crime, once she was provided with cyber protection.

The resulting data was then translated into artwork, with the first showing her relaxed state, stage two clearly sees the activity of anxiety and stage three shows a return to calm and relaxation. 

Lynn, who is too scared now to reveal where she lives or be pictured, says her life was turned upside down when a random package she had not ordered arrived at her doorstep. 

After some digging, she realized an account had been set up in her name where eight items had been ordered. All the identity thieves needed to steal her identity was her name, address and date of birth.

“It was really scary,” Lynn recalls. “I did not really know how to unpick it all and how to protect my identity in the future.” 

Mr Chambers said: “Experiencing a cyberattack is traumatic and will cause a negative emotional response. When the victims were asked to recall their experiences of cybercrime, the resulting artwork showed an eruption of brain activity that is often associated with stress, anxiety, and uncertainty – feelings that can be long-lasting and have a significant life impact.

“Often, when we think we have control, or perceive an event as unlikely, it can encourage excessive optimism and an inadequate assessment of risk, a trait known as optimism bias. As cybercrime increases, it’s important to recognize these tendencies, assess situations from all angles, and take the necessary steps to alleviate the threat.”

Leena Elias at Gen said: “Cyberthreats today are bigger, more widespread, and more sophisticated than ever before, and they are here to stay.”

“In fact, last year Gen blocked more than 14 billion attacks. We’re focused on helping people to feel confident engaging with the digital world with solutions that help protect against evolving and emerging threats. Our mission is to provide peace of mind. This campaign brings to life the harmful effects of cybercrime but also the positive impact on wellbeing that proper online protection provides.”

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