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Psychology of scams

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Abstract: There are some interesting specifics concerning crime. A lot of thought has been put into perpetrating it and into preventing it. There are pedestrian types of crime; those that require no particular skill or intelligence to do. Crime, where potential victims have no say in the matter and are, so to speak, innocent. There are also other types of crime. Crime where there needs to be interaction between the potential victim and the offender. Crimes, where the criminals need to think on their feet or carefully plan. White collar crime or fraud as it is also called, is often in this latter category.

Internet fraud specifically has recently received much attention in the field of social sciences. Some researchers (e.g. Marian Fitzgerald from Oxford) suggest that an overall perception of decline in crime numbers should be attributed to offenders moving online. This is, broadly speaking, an application of classic criminological theory to the phenomena of cybercrime (i.e. the overall crime incidence rate stays roughly the same over the years. So, if specific crime numbers decline, then there is bound to be another type of crime that rises).

If we accept a certain level of victim facilitation in fraud, then the mechanisms that may influence a potential victim become important. This talk shows an impact of several social psychological factors on the level of compliance with Internet scams (i.e. scam compliance). A scale of Susceptibility to Persuasion was developed, validated and then applied to the phenomena of scam compliance in two studies. Four reliable factors contributing to susceptibility to persuasion emerged. The Susceptibility to Persuasion scale was then used to predict overall lifetime (study 1) and time-limited (study 2) scam compliance across the three stages of scams (i.e. finding the scam plausible, responding to it and losing funds to the scam), with lack of self-control emerging as the strongest predictor of compliance across both studies.

Bio: Born in Ljubljana, Slovenia in 1973. Finished high-school for computer sciences in 1991. Enrolled into University of Ljubljana, Department for Social Pedagogy in 1993. Received BSc (distinction) in 1999, with GPA of 9.0/10.00. Enrolled into MSc at the University of Ljubljana, Department for Social Pedagogy in 2001, awarded MSc (distinction) in 2006. Applied for a research position at the University of Exeter in 2007, was accepted in 2008. In 2009 became an Exeter Graduate Fellow. HEA certified in 2010. Certified Transactional Analysis Counsellor (CTAC). PhD in Psychology awarded in 2013 from University of Exeter. Currently a research associate at the Computer Lab, here, at Cambridge.

My research interests broadly include psychology of Internet fraud and topics connected to it. The topics include psychology of will / self-control, social psychology, psychology of persuasion, decision making processes, cyber-criminology, victimology and personality psychology.

The other area I am interested in is psychotherapy from the perspective of the practitioner.

This talk is part of the Computer Laboratory Security Seminar series.

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