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Exploiting Your Good Nature

What makes you a nice person also makes you a target for con artists

scam alert: Exploiting your good nature

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No one is saying not to be nice to people — but when it comes to unsolicited calls or e-mails, it's best to be wary of intentions.

In every minute of every day, 244 new cyber threats are launched on average. These threats include malware that steals passwords and allows your smartphone or computer to be hacked, ransomware that forces you to pay to have a device unlocked, and phishing attempts to steal your identity. Today’s online scams are effective because they’ve got a new focus: leveraging some of our most admirable human traits to make us fall for fraud.

“Cybercriminals have shifted their focus from exploiting vulnerable technology to targeting humans,” says Ryan Kalember of cybersecurity company Proofpoint. “Scams play on human nature to advance a criminal goal,” adds Mark Nunnikhoven of Trend Micro, another cybersecurity firm. Here’s how scammers exploit admirable aspects of human nature.


Knowing you’re a diligent worker, scammers send out most malware-containing emails and mobile scams early in the business day, when you’re busiest or most distracted. The flow spikes right around lunchtime.

Advice: Slow down. “Think before clicking on a link — especially during high activity times such as the upcoming holidays,” suggests Gary Davis of the digital security company McAfee. Don’t trust subject lines such as “Immediate action required.” They are commonly used by scammers. Be especially vigilant on Thursdays, peak day for malicious emails.


Your thirst for knowledge could end up filling the pockets of fraudsters. They use your interest in celebrity deaths, news events and freebies to get your attention.

Advice: Be wary of incoming solicitations. The more sensational a claim — the promise of a new iPhone for taking a short survey, for example — the more likely it’s a scam.


It’s great to share things about yourself, but not online. Scammers routinely monitor social media accounts. In newer schemes, they use what you write on Facebook and Twitter to create personalized “spear-phishing” emails or to deliver malware. Example: You post about your plans to visit Disney World. The scammer responds: “I went last month and here’s what I saw.” The idea is to lower your guard before you receive a link that is laden with malware.

Advice: Be discreet with what you reveal on social media. Don’t give your birth date and hometown, which scammers can use to guess your Social Security number. Don’t accept invitations from strangers to be online friends.