Why We Click

 
 
By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2007-06-27 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

With sophisticated psychological tricks, spammers are ensuring that none of us is immune to their overtures.

Money is the motivation for scam-spam. The motivation for clicking on it is far less straightforward, and none of us is immune.

"Its not like certain people are going to be nailed by spam all the time. Or that there are certain motivations that will just [always] trigger people [who respond] to spam scams. Its really the interplay between personality and motivation, emotion—all sorts of things," said Dr. James Blascovich, professor of psychology at UC Santa Barbara and co-director of the universitys Research Center for Virtual Environments and Behavior.
"Its a little more complex, but not much different from the complex interplay of psychological factors that get people to succumb to any sort of scam."
The idea that none of us are immune is the main takeaway from a report titled "Mind Games: A psychological analysis of common e-mail scams," that Blascovich and McAfee published on June 25. While the motivations to click on spam arent much different than those that motivate people to play Three-card Monte, the pool of potential marks—targets of a scam—is far larger on the Internet.
McAfee, of Santa Clara, Calif., throws around figures like these: If half of the population in the United States (about 150 million people) use e-mail on a daily basis, and if only half of them (75 million) are gullible, and only 1 percent (750,000) buy into scam-spam on a given day, and if those victims were to cough up a mere $20 per scam, the potential market amounts to $15 million a day, or $105 million per week, or nearly $5.5 billion per year in just the United States. According to the report, many—or even most—e-mail users think that in addition to installing spam-filtering software tools and tagging suspect e-mail, they can mentally filter spam via subject line. McAfee notes two problems with this assumption: First, users are less likely to tag spam so as to take advantage of filtering tools. "In the short run, it is simply easier to delete a message than to take the time to remember what to do to tag and add it to a spam filter list, even though in the long run, it would save deleting never-ending repetitions of messages from the same source," the report notes. The second problem is that subject lines have simply become more sophisticated, making successful mental filtering tricky even for sophisticated users, according to the report. Hundreds click on click here to get infected ad. Click here to read more. These problems with mental filtering make it more important than ever to recognize the mental games spammers play, said McAfee and Blascovich. One of the most obvious psychological characteristics necessary for scam-spam to succeed is naiveté. Among computer-savvy, young e-mail users, naiveté tends to surround legitimate business practices—i.e., the methods with which legitimate companies and organizations conduct business. Business-savvy older people, on the other hand, tend to be less computer savvy and more trustful of apparent, virtual e-businesses than younger people, according to the report. Next Page: Manipulating motivation.



 
 
 
 
Lisa Vaas is News Editor/Operations for eWEEK.com and also serves as editor of the Database topic center. Since 1995, she has also been a Webcast news show anchorperson and a reporter covering the IT industry. She has focused on customer relationship management technology, IT salaries and careers, effects of the H1-B visa on the technology workforce, wireless technology, security, and, most recently, databases and the technologies that touch upon them. Her articles have appeared in eWEEK's print edition, on eWEEK.com, and in the startup IT magazine PC Connection. Prior to becoming a journalist, Vaas experienced an array of eye-opening careers, including driving a cab in Boston, photographing cranky babies in shopping malls, selling cameras, typography and computer training. She stopped a hair short of finishing an M.A. in English at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. She earned a B.S. in Communications from Emerson College. She runs two open-mic reading series in Boston and currently keeps bees in her home in Mashpee, Mass.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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