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Scam Protection: Awareness Isn’t Enough

Jorij Abraham talks about how scam protection can be improved.

Scammers are clever. They know what makes us tick, what makes us scared, and what makes us open our wallets. And they are always coming up with new tricks to steal our money and information. To make matters worse, less than 0.1% of scammers are ever prosecuted. Awareness and education isn’t enough for true scam protection. Can we do more to make an impact?


See Global Scammer Impact with Jorij Abraham for a complete transcript of the Easy Prey podcast episode.

Jorij Abraham is the managing director of the Global Anti Scam Alliance. They are a nonprofit organization whose goal is to prevent consumers worldwide from getting scammed. He is also the general manager at ScamAdviser.com. ScamAdviser maintains a global blacklist for malicious websites. The goal, again, is to provide some little bit of scam protection and help consumers not get scammed.

Joining the Scam Protection Industry

ScamAdviser started with a developer named Mark. Mark was scammed in 2012 – he brought a product that turned out to be fake. There are few things as dangerous as an angry developer. Mark started ScamAdviser to keep a database of fake and scam websites.

Jorij ended up in the anti-scam business by accident. He took over ScamAdviser from Mark in 2018. His goal was to launch a global trust seal. With some way to verify a site was legitimate, web shops in developing countries could sell to the Western world. But in order to make a verification system like that, he needed an algorithm to quickly determine if a site is legitimate and stays legitimate. That’s what he hoped ScamAdviser could do.

The global trust seal program, called Trustmark, was a failure. It just didn’t work. But ScamAdviser just kept growing. In 2020, Jorij finally decided to keep ScamAdviser running on its own. Providing scam protection by identifying scam websites was a valuable service by itself.

Recent Scams Using Current Events

Scammers, as always, are clever and creative. They are always coming up with new ways to steal your money. In the past few years, many of the biggest and most devastating scams have been based around current events and economic changes.

What always surprises me is … how entrepreneurial and how much marketing smartness the scammers have.

Jorij Abraham

Scammers Using the European Energy Crisis

Europe is currently having an energy crisis. Prices for gas and electricity have been astoundingly high. Scammers are seizing the opportunity to run utility scams around electricity, gas, and other energy needs.

Jorij has seen an incredible number of online stores selling energy-related goods for low prices and then never delivering. It works because consumers know that it will take a while to, for example, ship a pallet of wood from Russia, Sweden, or Finland to your house. They only start complaining to law enforcement after waiting for weeks. By then, the scammers are long gone with their money.

Jorij has also seen offers for subscription-based electricity for very cheap. They claim they can lower your energy cost by 50%, or even fix your energy expenditures at a very low rate. These subscription scams can get a lot of money from victims.

These are, for many people, desperate times. People who are desperate are unfortunately easy to victimize.

Jorij Abraham

Scammers Using the Texas Abortion Legislation

Another scam Jorij has seen recently had scammers taking advantage of new legislation in Texas. Last year, Texas changed some legislation around abortion pills. Months before the legislation took affect, Jorij saw scam websites with online stores that offered abortion pills. They targeted young women in Texas.

Not only did they never deliver the pills, these scammers extorted the victims. They said that if the victims didn’t pay the scammers even more money, they will tell the victims’ family that they tried to order abortion pills online. Vulnerable people make the best scam targets, and these scammers took advantage of vulnerability to make a lot of money.

Scammers Are Expanding

Scam protection isn’t just a Western need anymore. When online scams started, most of the victims were in the United States and Europe. Most people can speak English, and in the USA and UK especially, people tend to be easy victims. It just made sense for scammers to target those people.

It may have started there, but it didn’t stay there. Since the coronavirus pandemic especially, there have been more scams in the developing world. Scams in India, Nigeria, and other developing countries are through the roof. Scammers have stopped limiting their scams to English-speaking countries. Now they also target the people in their own country.

This is especially hard on developing nations. If you or I in the United States or Europe loses $50 to a scam, it sucks, but we will most likely manage. For someone in India, $50 is a lot of money and it will hurt them a lot. Scam protection is becoming a need across the world.

Scams are now a global epidemic. It’s no longer a Western disease.

Jorij Abraham

Better Scam Protection is Needed

ScamAdviser.com sees four million visitors per month from all over the world. All of these people are seeking some kind of scam protection. ScamAdviser specializes in helping you determine if a website is a scam or legitimate. They get many emails from people who lost money to a scam and want help. They do their best to refer those people to the right source.

There is, unfortunately, not a lot of scam protection or support out there. That’s why Jorij started working with the Global Anti Scam Alliance. Victims generally are not helped. It is a horrible experience to get scammed, but then it’s made worse when you don’t get help from law enforcement or anyone else to get out of the scam or get your money back.

Unfortunately, it’s great to be in this [cybercrime] business because it’s easy to make money and the chances of getting caught are currently very, very low.

Jorij Abraham

The World Economic Forum did a large study, and 0.05% of cybercriminals are currently being caught. Generally, this isn’t the fault of law enforcement. Their hands are tied. Scammers operate across national borders all over the world. If a police officer in country A wants to exchange data with a police officer in country B, it takes six to nine months for the paperwork to be completed. By then, the cybercriminal is long gone. If we ever hope to catch these criminals, we need a way for law enforcement across the world to work together and share data quickly.

Scam Protection Must be More than Education

Education about scams and how to avoid them does help. It’s always good to keep educating consumers. But education can only help to a certain extent. Recent research has shown that when a person reaches a certain level of awareness, it doesn’t help to make them more aware. In fact, the reverse is true. When someone reaches the point where they know a lot about scam protection and prevention, they become more confident online. When they are more confident, they stop watching for warning signs of scams. And when they stop watching for warning signs, they are more likely to get caught in a scam.

Awareness isn't a silver bullet solution for scam protection!

In addition, scammers are becoming more professional. It can take an hour to figure out if something is legitimate or not. You used to be able to look for a valid SSL certificate on a website, check reviews on Trustpilot, or get the person on a video call to make sure you’re not being scammed. But scammers are evolving, and these are no longer foolproof scam protection tools. Along with new technology, AI, and deepfakes, people interested in scam protection will be in for a wild ride. It will be harder and harder to detect scams.

Scammers Know How to Target People

Scammers are skilled at using emotional appeals to hook people. Fear, greed, or needs are emotions scammers love to exploit. During the coronavirus pandemic, they took advantage of people who needed masks or other protective equipment, or who were afraid for their families. Fear, greed, and need are very strong drivers for people. Scammers are good at using them.

Fear, greed or needs … those are three very strong drivers. Scammers are very good at using those.

Jorij Abraham

In addition to your emotions, scammers also exploit urgency and authority. In the Netherlands, Jorij has seen many automated scam phone calls. These robocalls tell people that they’re under investigation by the FBI and to press 1. When they press 1, they are connected to a scam call center where they get scammed. Everyone knows who the FBI is. Not everyone knows that the FBI has no authority in the Netherlands. Even though only 1% of people press 1, the scammers keep doing it because they can make good money.

In the past, scammers would use strategies like poor grammar to weed out people who are aware and paying attention. They wanted people who were scared, in a rush, or vulnerable. They don’t want to debate about whether it’s a scam, they just want easy victims. Now, though, they’re getting better at targeting. Jorij’s son is thirteen and enjoys the game Roblox. He is getting bombarded by Roblox scams. The scammers want to use him to get access to Jorij’s PayPal or credit card information. It is a very clever strategy.

The Future of Scams

In Jorij’s worst-case scenario, some countries have a national crisis. It’s not unprecedented. In the 1990s, a Ponzi scheme in Albania took down the government. But in the future, scammers might not wait for a crisis. They might create one themselves.

Jorij got an email a few days ago from a fan. This fan forwarded an email that talked about food riots in the streets with instructions for how to get emergency food rations. Of course, it was fake, but it looked convincing. On social media, someone can create a crisis and people will buy into a scam before anyone can point out it’s not true. It’s so easy to create a crisis now, we’re going to see more people creating something fake where the reaction benefits the scammers.

The scammers I fear in the future will become so good at creating that they won’t wait for the crisis, they’re going to create the crisis.

Jorij Abraham

Scams are also going to get even better at marketing. Scammers reinvest profits from their scams into the scam. It’s like a business. They’re willing to spend millions because their return on investment is 100%. If they run an ad for $100 and even one victim falls for it and pays them $150, they’re going to keep going. The government could try using awareness as a scam protection method and tell everyone it’s a scam, but the scammers’ marketing power will overrule it.

In the future, scammers may not wait for a crisis - they may create their own!

Improving Scam Protection

When it comes to scam protection and prevention, we need changes. That much is obvious. Hardly any scammers are ever prosecuted, and our current methods of stopping scams are falling short. Jorij has worked in the scam prevention space for many years, and he has a few ideas for improvements.

Awareness is good, but we have to protect consumers more. We have an army to protect our borders. We should also have more digital protection protecting consumers.

Jorij Abraham

Platforms Taking Responsibility

SSL was originally marketed as a guarantee that a website was safe, but that’s no longer true. Jorij recently spoke to a representative of one of the top three SSL certificate providers in the world. He pointed out that a lot of scammers were using their free offering, and asked what they planned to do about it. The representative said he didn’t care. As long as people were using their services, he didn’t think it was their responsibility.

In this day and age, Jorij thinks that’s no longer an acceptable attitude. Platforms who are supporting fraudulent communications need to take responsibility. It’s always better if platforms can work towards better scam protection voluntarily, but there are always bad actors. If they can’t or won’t take responsibility voluntarily, legislation may be necessary.

Retraining Scammers

Jorij recently attended the Global Anti Scam Summit. Anyone could submit ideas for scam protection and prevention. One idea submitted was retraining. Most scammers are foot soldiers. They aren’t the masterminds, they got involved in the scam economy to earn money to support their family. Jorij understands the impulse. If his family had no food, he would be willing to take any job to support them.

Taking their scamming skills and retraining them into developers or online marketers might help. There are programs for turning hackers into white hat hackers. There should be the same for scammers. If we can retrain core groups of scammers into doing something good, it could go a long way towards better scam protection and less scams.

The Global Anti Scam Alliance

The Global Anti Scam Alliance is a networking organization. Their goal is to improve scam protection by putting people together who can define new ways of combating scams. They could do education, sharing data, and awareness, but it would be reinventing the wheel. Many organizations and even national governments are implementing those solutions. Their goals is to bring people together to share expertise and accelerate the fight.

ScamAdviser

ScamAdviser has always focused on identifying whether a website is legitimate or a scam. But they often get people sending in stories that include other information like email addresses, Telegram groups, and cryptocurrency addresses. In 2023, they plan to launch a program where people can send in this data and they provide it to law enforcement.

People will be able to check not only websites but also cryptocurrency addresses, phone numbers, or anything else. And law enforcement will be able to see if a particular piece of information is being used in a lot of different scams. They also offer an API so people can provide a domain name and get all the information ScamAdviser has about that domain. The API is free for law enforcement and nonprofits.

There Is No Silver Bullet

An important thing to keep in mind with scam protection is that we’re not going to solve scams with a silver bullet. There is no one solution that will fix it. We will need to implement dozens or hundreds of solutions to combat all the factors.

There was a large study that interviewed a lot of scammers to understand them. Most of them don’t run scams because they like it, they do it because they need money. If we can reduce poverty, it will help reduce scams. Retraining scammers could help them find legitimate jobs. It will take lots of smaller solutions. We have to fight the fight in many ways on many fronts. We can’t expect to solve scams tomorrow, but we can make headway towards scam protection and prevention today.

You can find Jorij Abraham on LinkedIn, on ScamAdviser.com, or on the Global Anti Scam Alliance’s website, gasa.org.

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