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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Women 'most likely to fall for internet scams'

Professional women aged 25-34 are most likely to fall victim of online scams, according to new research published today.

The study was commissioned as part of a drive to help consumers protect themselves online in the face of increasingly sophisticated techniques used by scammers who target both individuals and businesses.

A new online advice site, is seeking to better understand the profile of online scam victims in order to build up a picture of a typical victim. Its security experts conducted an experiment involving more than 2,000 online consumers, which measured their ability to spot and respond appropriately to seven online scam scenarios. The tests ranged from identifying fake Facebook pages to testing how people respond to competition scams or the sale of counterfeit goods online.

In six out of the seven tests, the most likely demographic to fail was women. Of those women who failed, they were most likely to come from the 25-34 age group (the most likely age demographic to fail in three out of seven tests) However, the demographic of the most likely "victim" did depend on the scam type. For example, out of those that fell for confidence trick scams – which often try to persuade people to send money to help someone in distress – the majority were men (53% of those that failed).

Online fraud affects 1.8 million Britons every year, costing the economy £2.7bn according to National Fraud Authority research, January 2010. Significantly women spend more time online, 24.8 hours per month compared to 22.9 hours for men.

The new research was supported by insight from consulting psychologist Anjula Mutanda into the typical behaviour of victims and who said: "When you're in the comfort of your own home or office, surrounded by the familiar, getting an email asking for personal details from a bank or from a friend on Facebook may not seem out of the ordinary or raise suspicion. You may not think you're at risk but it's important to remember scammers are sneaky and carefully target individuals by tapping into their emotional needs, wants, habits, desires and vulnerabilities."

Peter Wood, security expert at, said: "Scammers are becoming more devious in how they target victims and are constantly changing their attacks to reflect what people expect to see online or are interested in. New tricks like pharming work by redirecting your web browser – that means when you type in a legitimate web address, you're redirected to a bogus site that looks genuine site. People then happily type in their personal details and don't know they're being scammed before it's too late. The popularity of social networks like Facebook also means that many people – young and old – give away far too much personal data on the web, which can be a gold mine for scammers."

The site is supported by the non-profit organisation Nominet UK, the agency responsible for the .uk internet domain. Individuals can take Know the Net's threat test on the site which assesses your ability to identify different types of internet scams and gives you an online safety score.

The findings come as new research by Harris Interactive has revealed that one in three illegal file sharers have been exposed to offensive or sexually explicit content by accident, and more than two in five people using illegal filesharing sites have unwittingly downloaded harmful viruses. The research is published this week by the internet safety charity Childnet International, which has launched a new guide to keep parents, teachers and young people informed about how to stay safe and legal when downloading and accessing music, films and TV on the internet.

The guide – Music, Film, TV and the Internet – highlights the many legal digital sources of entertainment and outlines the implications of using illegal file-sharing sites. It also provides information on the safety and security risks of downloading entertainment illegally such as being exposed to viruses, receiving offensive material and theft of personal or financial information.

The guide is available to download for free from today and will be distributed to every secondary school in the UK by the end of November.

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