Criminals elicit feelings of fear, uncertainty and pressure to access our personal information

Photo by Blake Connally on Unsplash

By Robert DeHollander

I’ve written in the past about identity theft and senior fraud
( The bad guys’ goals are to gain access to our sensitive information and take advantage of us for financial gain.

I’ve spoken at numerous educational events this year and it’s clear that criminals’ techniques are evolving. Increasingly, they’re using social engineering techniques to elicit feelings of fear, uncertainty, and pressure in the hope that we’ll let our guard down. Let’s explore three approaches I’ve seen used this year and tips to avoid becoming a victim.

Impersonate an authority figure

People tend to comply with requests from those in authority, and hackers exploit this to pressure you to take a specific action. For example, he or she may pretend to be a law enforcement agent and send an email that claims illegal content was found on your computer. You’re told to click on a link to obtain additional details. But when you click on the link, malware is installed on your machine.

Send urgent requests

A sense of urgency may cause us to rush into making decisions that we wouldn’t usually make. Those IRS scams are great examples of using urgency to trick people into taking ill- advised action. A con artist poses as an IRS representative and reports that, if the intended victim doesn’t immediately provide payment information for back taxes owed, a warrant  will be issued for the person’s arrest. In haste, victims of this scam often comply with the request.

Pose as someone you trust

Social engineers sometimes try to exploit a sense of trust in others, causing potential victims to feel guilty enough to provide the scammers with what they need. These crimes usually result in bigger, immediate payoffs. For example, a scammer could pose as a friend traveling overseas and email you that he or she has been mugged and needs money to return to the U.S. In a situation like this, you might trust that the sender is your actual friend and feel guilty if you don’t lend a hand. The result? You wire the money without verifying the recipient’s identity.

Tips for spotting an attack

Here are a few tips to help navigate the most common threats I’ve seen this year:

  • Be wary of any email or phone call that comes with a heightened sense of urgency and that claims to require an immediate response.
  • If you get an unsolicited message or call from a familiar organization, hang up and confirm the phone number using Google or another search engine before calling them back. Remember, if it’s a bad guy, they probably gave you a false number to call. Someone else has likely already been a victim and documented this online.
  • If someone calls claiming to be from Microsoft or another tech company requesting access to your computer to fix a supposed problem, it is almost always a scam.

Be vigilant

Because our trusting nature often prevails over our common sense, we all need to stay vigilant. By understanding the human tendencies that scammers try to exploit — and the red flags that signal a potential scam — you’ll be better positioned to protect yourself from this growing threat.

Robert DeHollander is a certified financial planner, managing partner and co-founder of the DeHollander & Janse Financial Group in Greenville. Find out more:


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