How your bad mood defeats online fraudsters

Our collective and personal mood is balanced so delicately today that it seems a slight wind could push it from bad to good to mediocre to anything in between. The US is experiencing more people quitting their jobs than ever before, buildings are collapsing for seemingly no reason at all and shootings are peaking. And the pandemic. Is it over? New strains have been found and Tokyo Olympics are near the precipice of disaster or may have tumbled over already.

All this brings us back to our personal and collective mood. It’s, how does one say this delicately, crap. But even crap can be a good thing. Especially if it has to do with one’s mood. Some researchers have found the worse one’s mood the better at avoiding online scams. In addition, the FBI noted a 70% increase in online scams in 2020.

Web-based scams remain important in 2021 because online sharps are making it their business to extricate as much money as possible from you and me. A TransUnion report found financial services have become major targets of late.

Do disaffected teen-agers make less phishing mistakes than your happy-go-luck adult?

“Identity theft fraud, the leading type of digital fraud we identified in financial services, is when a consumer uses a stolen identity to commit fraud with the victim being a real person. The second and third most reported type of digital fraud by our customers is first-party application fraud and account takeover,” according to the TransUnion report.

Your bad mood can make it all better

“Mood plays a role: people who are feeling happy and not stressed are less likely to detect deception in front of them,”​ according to an article published by MIT Technology Review following the 2019 Black Hat Conference. “Cortisol, a stress hormone, increases vigilance and makes detecting a deception more likely. Serotonin and dopamine, hormones associated with positive feelings, can lead to risky and unpredictable behavior that make people more vulnerable.”​ 

Luckily, teen-agers don’t have to worry about being too happy. Their inevitable bad moods will save them from phishing attacks. Now, more than ever, this group has a reason to be in a bad mood, which can be made worse by their wholesale consumption of the digital world in which they live. In 2017, 17-18 year olds spent 6 hours a day doing something online…gaming, texting or using social media. (This also means this same group spent less time playing sports, talking to each other face to face, reading books, participating in religious activities or generally doing anything that doesn’t have a screen connected to it.) All that online me-time did nothing to improve the collective mood of these high-school seniors.

Instead, it caused–for men and women, alike–a general malaise (left: this is what happens to your happiness when you spend time online). Higher rates of depression. Less happiness. Although the authors of the World Happiness Report are quick to point out the negative effects of an online life on happiness are correlational.

Web-based scams remain important in 2021 because online sharps are making it their business to extricate as much money as possible from you and me.

“​In short, adolescents who spend more time on electronic devices are less happy, and adolescents who spend more time on most other activities are happier,”​ according to the 2019 World Happiness Report. “This creates the possibility that iGen adolescents are less happy because their increased time on digital media has displaced time that previous generations spent on non-screen activities linked to happiness. In other words, digital media may have an indirect effect on happiness as it displaces time that could be otherwise spent on more beneficial activities.”​

Do disaffected teen-agers make less phishing mistakes than your happy-go-luck adult? No one knows. But it would seem teen-agers, Digital Natives and other who grew up on the internet–not those of us who used pagers–will be less likely to fall for online scams.

“That doesn’t mean,”​ the MIT Technology Review explains, “the only defense against phishing is to be a permanently stressed-out and cynical ball of anger.”​

Then again, maybe it does.

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