Fraud Report: How fraudsters dupe shoppers using words

With more than a third of online shoppers (35 percent) having been a target of fraud over the past year and more than 100,000 consumers in the UK alone falling victim to fraud since 2020, educating consumers about how to recognise fraud is an important part of fraud defence.

Better-educated consumers keep themselves safe – and act as an effective first line of defence against criminal activity.

Working in partnership with the Aston Institute for Forensic Linguistics, Visa has analysed the language used in 155 “phishing” and “smishing” (phishing via SMS text message) scams to identify the terms criminals most often use – and how they use them.

This analysis, supported by consumer research into how shoppers view fraud, has yielded some conclusions of interest to payments players looking to help their customers avoid being scammed:

The young are more prone to being scammed: While just one in six (16 percent) consumers trusted a fraudulent message as legitimate, this rose to one in four (25 percent) of 18- to 35-year-olds.

This is a surprising finding given the commonly-held view that the elderly are more likely to be the victims of scamming.

E-mail is the most common platform for fraudulent messaging, with almost four in five scams using this method, followed by text messages and phone calls.

Click here to access your account information: words and phrases most commonly used by fraudsters will attempt to harvest consumer personal information and payment details by inviting them to log in to a fraudulent portal.

It’s therefore unsurprising that phrases such as “account information”, “billing information”, and “click here” come near the top of the list of phrases most commonly used in scams; inducements will also be offered, and as a result phrases like “gift card”, “winning prize” and more are also used.

Watch out for urgent action: the analysis from Visa and the Aston Institute shows that scams will most frequently attempt to convince consumers that “urgent action is required”, “act now”, and other phrases designed to induce a sense of urgency or take action. Prizes and the resolution of problems are also popular choices for criminals.

Trust us – we can solve your problem: Fraudulent messages most commonly seek to present consumers with a solution (87 percent) to a problem (72 percent) consumers face, stating that consumers have to click on a link and surrender their personal information to solve the problem.

Linguists from the Aston Institute say the most common approach is to establish credibility and trust, seen in two-thirds (65 percent) of the fraudulent messages analysed, and tell consumers that the situation is urgent (25 percent of all messages analysed.

Spotting fraud: their use of language is criminal

The Visa “Fraudulese” study says that poor grammar, spelling and typography are major signs of attempted fraud, as are any mis-matches between the alleged sender of an email (such as a government institution or bank) and the URL address to which a consumer is redirected.

Messages that do not use specific information pertinent to the consumer are also far more likely.

“As payment systems become ever more secure, fraudsters will adapt their activities to find new ways to defraud unsuspecting consumers. While there are some obvious and not-so-obvious warning signs, it can be increasingly difficult for people to spot the fraudulent scams from legitimate communications,” notes David Capezza, Visa Europe’s head of ecosystem risk.

“The Fraudulese report shows that nearly 3 in 4 consumers are potentially susceptible to scams.

So while Visa is constantly innovating, partnering, investing and harnessing our global network and scale to ensure that each and every transaction is protected by the most advanced security products and services, it is also crucially important that consumers are informed and know what to look out for so that they can help protect themselves too.”

August 30, 2023
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