There's a Method to Online Scams

Hugo Beniada
by Hugo Beniada 21 Jun, 2014

The Internet can be a strange place sometimes, in more ways than weird content. While it's pretty easy to steer clear of unsavory sites, we're all still susceptible to inexplicable and often zany encounters on the Web. Some of these seemingly ridiculous occurrences are actually arbitrary, and even methodical at times. 

Take those Nigerian scam emails clogging up your spam folder right about now. Interestingly enough, these types of tricks, called '419 scams,' have been around for hundreds of years. Email is just the latest, and easiest, way to proliferate these not-so-subtle attempts to snag your money. In fact, these days, it's pretty much impossible to find a scam email that doesn't scream out 'I'm a fake,' with terrible grammar, obvious misspellings, and in general, total conformity to cliché. Why would these scammers even bother? Well, it is simply because they still work.

As it turns out-you guessed it-there's a method to this madness. By now, 419 scams are so well known that only the most gullible victim would fall for them. That's why scammers have resorted to only sending terrible emails-they weed out the people who respond without sending money to arrive at only the sort of pitiable Good Samaritan who would fall for such a trick. How do we know this works? Well, check your spam box; it's almost guaranteed that you'll find a plea from some displaced royal, which means that somewhere, somehow, people are still falling for it.

Another great example of this sort of double entendre is the Facebook 'poke.' While on the surface it seems like a way for preteens to flirt with each other, the side effect of a poke is the ability to gain access to someone else's information. And with so much personal info on a Facebook page, including date of birth, hometown and, most importantly, a list of friends, this information could prove invaluable for an identity thief. Luckily, in most cases, the feature retains a benign role as an attention-grabber.

Ever noticed that your Google search results have similar themes? Chances are, many of them have some common trends, and this is not a coincidence. Google searches don't just find relevant information on the Web, they conform the results you get to your personal history. When you visit many sites, little data bits called 'cookies' are sent to your browser. Google keeps a store of these cookies and uses them to craft an idea of which sorts of sites you prefer, factoring them into each Web search. While this may suit personal taste, it has the side effect of lessening the amount of novel information you'll come across on the Web.

As with nearly everything these days, there's a host of hidden reasons for everything you come across on the Web. Sometimes they're helpful, sometimes they impinge on privacy and sometimes they're just funny. The best way to navigate this new world is to stay informed and be ready for a wild ride.

Hugo Beniada is a marketer at Fueled, the leading iPhone app builder in New York City, renowned for its award winning mobile design and strategy.