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UC Santa Barbara Prof Studies Psychology of Phishing

Most e-mail scams work by luring victims with a sense of familiarity or legitimacy, according to a new study by a University of California, Santa Barbara psychologist.

Prof. James Blascovitch, the author of "Mind Games," a study of why seemingly obvious phishing ploys seem to work, said "scam spam works best ... by creating the illusion that the e-mail is from a friend or colleague or providing plausible warnings from a respected institution."

In his study, commissioned by computer security firm MacAfee & Associates, Blascovich said scammers work for small victories using a wide net. "By scamming $20 from just half of 1 percent of the [United States] population, cyber criminals can earn $15 million each day and nearly $5.5 billion in a year, a powerful attraction for skillful scam artists," Blasovich said.

Fear, of course, is another tried and true tactic, according to Blasovich.

The scammer often tells the victim the security of their account has been breached. Victims are led to believe that failure to click on the links will result in extra charges or cancellation of important accounts. While the threats are not new, Blasovich said they have become more sophisticated, with a professional veneer of quality graphics and plausible messaging.

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About the Author

Paul McCloskey is contributing editor of Syllabus.

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