Wired to Believe

Being Robbed By A ScamAlthough the Internet as we know it is now approximately 25 years old, with an entire generation born into a plugged-in world, internet fraud continues to grow. Whether it’s mind-numbingly stupid rumors (no, Mark Zuckerberg is not giving away $4.5M to 1,000 users), mildly convincing pleas for help from abroad, (But wait, isn’t Aunt Bess dead?), or well engineered spear phishing attacks, we continue to surf with our collective head in the clouds. It’s estimated that in the U.S. in 2014, almost $1B was lost in online scams.

Educating users, while important, doesn’t always help. Is it because, as PT Barnum famously quipped , there a sucker born every minute?  (oh, wait, he actually didn’t say that) Perhaps. Or maybe we’re just wired that way.

A recent New York Times article, “Born to Be Conned” explored the idea that humans are simply wired to believe a story, and will fail to identify obvious red flags, what researchers call Pinnochio Circling, in order to fulfill a narrative. The more “transportive” the story, the more easily we’re fooled. This makes the Internet, which can easily conjure up fantastical stories, details, and images, a great medium for a con.

Can technology help? Many security researchers and big-data analysis firms think so. The hope is that using algorithms to examine data for patterns, inconsistencies, and unusual behavior may neutralize our biased thinking. However, even these systems are ultimately subject to human manipulation, and I think we all know that there’s a new con artist born every minute too.