main article image
scyther5/Getty Images

This Online Test Shows How Likely You Are to Fall For an Illegal Internet Scam

How gullible are you?

STAFF, SCIENCE AF
10 APR 2018

At times, we can all be a bit gullible, and the internet is a persuasive place. But why exactly do some of us get suckered into thinking that we've won the lottery after spotting one dubious, flashing link?

 

Now, researchers at the University of Cambridge and Helsinki have created a free online tool to put this question to the test.

The survey is called Susceptibility to Persuasion II, and it reveals why some people are more likely to fall for illegal internet scams than others.

"Just like in advertising, elements of consumer psychology and behavioural economics all come into the design of an online scam, which is why it's useful to know which personality traits make people susceptible to them," said lead author of the study Dr David Modic.

The test asks a series of questions to measure personality traits that might make people more susceptible to fraud. These include the ability to premeditate, consistency, sensation seeking, self-control, social influence, need for similarity, attitude towards risk, attitude towards advertising, cognition and uniqueness.

At the end of the test, participants are awarded a score out of seven in each of the ten areas.

The findings have so far revealed that individuals who fail to premeditate on their actions are more likely to engage with internet scams.

 

This makes sense, as a person who is more impulsive is more likely to participate in a scam without thinking through all the consequences.

"Scams have been around for hundreds of years, and over the centuries, they haven't really changed that much – the only difference now is with the internet, it requires a lot less effort to do it," said Modic.

Surprisingly, however, the study found that the demographic of those who fall for cybercrimes is quite different to those who are affected by more historical forms of crime.

"This year, about a million UK households will be the victim of typical household crime, such as burglary, where the average victim is an elderly working-class woman," said co-author Professor Ross Anderson.

"However, now 2.5 million households will be the victims of an online or electronic scam, where the victims are younger and more educated. Crime is moving upmarket."

Even still, the researchers say there isn't a 'typical victim' of cybercime.

"Older generations might be seen as less internet-savvy, but younger generations are both more exposed to scams and might be seen as more impulsive," said co-author Jussi Palomӓki, from the University of Helsinki's Cognitive Science Unit.

 

"There isn't a specific age range – there are many different risk factors."

The researchers hope that the results of the test will help people figure out where their weaknesses for cybercrime lie. That way, they won't fall for cheap tricks in the future.

"I'm not saying it's a sure-fire way that they will not be scammed, but there are things they should be aware of," said Modic.

"StP-II doesn't just measure how likely you are to fall for scams, it's how likely you are to change your behaviour."

You can participate in the study and take the test here.

The study was reported in the journal PLOS One.

Science AF is ScienceAlert's new editorial section where we explore society's most complex problems using science, sanity and humor.