Why We Click

By Lisa Vaas Print this article Print

With sophisticated psychological tricks, spammers are ensuring that none of us are 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 are immune.

"It's 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. It's 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 university's Research Center for Virtual Environments and Behavior.

"It's 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 aren't 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.

Read the full story on eWEEK.com: Why We Click

This article was originally published on 2012-05-04
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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