The next time you have an urge to open an email that reads 'Urgent Security Notification' or 'Your billing account records are out of date,' be on your guard.
Cyber criminals are increasingly using psychological games and other tactics scams that are spread through junk email, reveals a study by security solutions provider McAfee.
In the study, titled 'Mind Games', the primary author James Blascovich, professor of Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, says: "Scam spam works best by providing recipients with a sense of familiarity and legitimacy. Once the victim opens the email, criminals use two basic motivational processes, approach and avoidance, or a combination of the two, to persuade victims to click on dangerous links."
Blascovich reports on a category of scam emails that targets consumers who are promotion-focused (want to "get ahead") and/or capitalise on consumers' greed.
These messages have such subject lines as "You Won" to entice consumers into thinking they may have won a lottery or sweepstakes, "90 per cent discounts" to trick consumers into thinking they are getting great promotional pricing, or "You are approved" to target consumers who need a loan or have money woes.
An important key to the crooks' success is familiarity. One example is phishing scams which fraudulently acquire sensitive information, such as usernames, passwords, and financial data, by masquerading as a familiar or nationally recognised bank, credit card company or even an online auction site.
Blascovich points out that by scamming $20 from just .5 to 1 per cent of the US population, cyber criminals can earn $15 million each day and nearly $5.5 billion in a year.