Fraudsters focus on a victim’s hope, greed and fear. The lure of great deals and large discounts or rewards for a small effort are a means to influence victims.  - File picMay 10, 2022 @ 12:10am
LETTERS: Consumers shop online for convenience and savings. However, online shopping poses risks to the consumer.

A Federal Trade Commission of the United States recently reported a steep increase in the number of online scams on social media (e.g Instagram, Facebook and Twitter).

The report highlighted that consumers lost more than US$5.8 million in 2021, a 70 per cent increase from the year before. The most common schemes reported were imposter and online shopping scams.

Malaysia's police reported RM58 million in losses from online shopping scams in 2021.
Most of the losses were through imposter sites duping victims into buying counterfeit goods or making payments to accounts held by syndicates that do not own nor deliver items.

A report by Singapore-based Group-IB, a leading cyber security research firm, highlighted the use of "targeted links" to dupe victims into purchasing goods from imposter sites or as phishing tactics to acquire victim's personally identifiable information (PII), that could be used by crooks to commit identity theft or other fraudulent schemes.

The use of data analytics has been a double-edged sword, which could be used by enforcement personnel and criminals to enhance their modus operandi, which blends elements of digital marketing with typical phishing and spoofing tactics.

Using these methods, criminals could gain instant financial gratification or solicit information which could be monetised through legitimate online platforms or anonymous transactional opportunities on the Dark Web.

It has become common for criminals to pose as representatives of popular brands and use surveys (with promise of rewards at the end) to acquire monies or PII from victims.

Social media has provided a platform for unfiltered and unverified advertising campaigns. Many consumers are duped into believing that the content they see on-screen are by their favourite brands.

The basic modus operandi for such schemes is almost the same as a phishing attack: get the victim to click on a malicious link that will divert them to an attack site.

The concern here is the use of the digital advertising ecosystem to deliver personalised links to lure victims into the perpetrator's net.

This approach has expanded from the use of social media to other platforms, such as email, text messages or even cold calls.

Fraudsters focus on a victim's hope, greed and fear. The lure of great deals and large discounts or rewards for a small effort are a means to influence victims.

"Once in a lifetime opportunity", "get it now or lose your chance forever", "best deal in town that cannot be acquired through any other means" are basic phrases fraudsters use to describe their "goods".

Elements of exclusivity and urgency are common modes for driving a person to make a decision without due consideration.

With targeted advertising tactics, fraudsters can add familiarity and needs satisfaction to the mix by having messages personalised to victims and gain a higher rate of success.

It is crucial that consumers are aware of the red flags in online shopping scams.

Some may include prices being surprisingly low, spelling errors in the website address, being redirected to a new website with very little information on the product or brand, being asked to use unusual payment methods, pressure to act fast, requests for unnecessary information and shopping mainly done through social media without redirection to an official site.

The level of product familiarity and brand loyalty may also blind consumers into neglecting these red flags and giving in to the fraudster's demands.



Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) and Anti-Money Laundering Specialist (CAMS), Petaling Jaya, Selangor

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times