We have all seen posts going viral on social media that people believe to be true but aren’t. We might have even been fooled once or twice ourselves. Oftentimes the false information is meant to be a joke, but being misled can make you vulnerable to scams.
Scammers seek out people who are likely to fall for their con, especially ones who are in good financial standing. To reach their target audience, they cross-reference two types of data stores.
One type of data store indicates the target’s financial viability. In the United States, there is a mortgage trigger list that can be legally purchased from Brokers Data, Titan List, or another company. The list names individuals who recently qualified to buy a home. There is nothing inherently wrong with acquiring these lists. Anyone who has worked in the sales industry is familiar with them.
However, an illegal data store can be generated that does not have the safeguards of a legal mortgage trigger list. An extensive financial viability data store could be generated combining the Equifax data-breach information and an iterative querying of Fico scores. The Federal Trade Commission states 143 million U.S. citizens were exposed, with additional victims in Canada and the United Kingdom.
The second data store, a sucker list, has the names and contact information of people who either have fallen for scams before or are likely to now because they have responded in some way to fake articles or email. The list might include those who liked or shared a Facebook post that was making the rounds in support of underappreciated Vietnam veterans—which turned out to be a joke.The photo in the post was of actors in the movie Tropic Thunder, including Ben Stiller and Jack Black. Yet many people believed the men in the photo to be real veterans. This particular post seems to be harmless. It was not asking for money. But, it could have been a machine-learning classifier to help predict the gullibility of potential marks.
The information of people fooled like that can be collected and added to a sucker list. Scamming operations and organized crime rings develop these lists to increase their profits. The lists are guarded and refined.
Although such lists are not openly for sale, they are out there. A BBC article describes one such database with 160,000 names of repeat scam victims, some of whom receive 60 pieces of mail each day.
When scammers get their hands on both a financial viability data store and a sucker list, they create the way to find their ideal marks—a group of people with money who are gullible enough to be scammed. Just to be sure, the scammers will call, knock on the door, or mail those on the list to see how they respond. Not only can these discriminator tests qualify how many people on a list are likely to fall for the scam, but they also can suggest what type of scheme would work best on them. For example, are they more likely to donate to a made-up religious charity or an animal-protection organization?
I do not mean to imply that every piece of spam you receive or fake item on social media is for nefarious purposes. Since the beginning of time, people have been sharing misinformation and trying to pass it off as truth. After all, there were satire publications as soon as moveable type was invented. That is just a reality. But my concern now is the people who are making themselves targets.
People paint a bull’s-eye on their back when they share, respond to, or like certain social media posts. My advice is to check your facts before you show scammers you’re susceptible to fraud. Encourage others to check their facts too. Sometimes what follows fake facts is identity theft and stolen financial information.
IEEE Senior Member Donald Bryson started inventing in a ninth-grade physical science class and has not stopped, with various degrees of success, for the past 47 years. He currently is a contract software engineer with Johnson Service Group.