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How researchers say you can avoid an online scam



Keeping up with the latest digital cons is exhausting. Fraudsters always seem to be one step ahead. But our study found there is one simple thing you can do to drastically reduce your chances of losing money to web scams: slow down.

In fact, among the various techniques used by scammers, creating a sense of urgency or the need to act or respond quickly is probably the most damaging. As with many legitimate sales, acting fast reduces your ability to think carefully, evaluate information and make a careful decision.

The COVID lockdowns made us all more reliant on online services such as shopping and banking. Quick to take advantage of this trend, scammers have since increased the rate and spectrum of online fraud. Cybersecurity company F5 found phishing attacks alone increased by over 200% during the height of the global pandemic, compared to the yearly average.

One fraud type many people fall victim to is fake websites (spoof legitimate business or government websites). According to a nonprofit that handles consumer complaints Better Business Bureau, fake websites are one of the leading reported scams. They caused estimated retail losses of approximately US$380 million (£316 million) in the US in 2022. Actually, losses are probably far higher because many cases go unreported.

How to know

We developed a series of experiments to evaluate what factors impact people’s ability to distinguish between real and fake websites. In our studies, participants viewed screenshots of real and fake versions of six websites: Amazon, ASOS, Lloyds Bank, the World Health Organisation COVID-19 donation website, PayPal and HMRC. The number of participants varied, but we had more than 200 in each experiment.

Each study involved asking participants whether they thought the screenshots showed authentic websites or not. Afterwards, they also took tests to evaluate their internet knowledge and analytical reasoning. Earlier research has shown analytical reasoning impacts our ability to tell between real and fake news and phishing emails.

People tend to employ two types of information processing – system one and system two. System one is quick, automatic, intuitive and related to our emotions. We know experts rely on system one to make quick decisions. System two is slow, conscious and laborious. The ability to perform well on analytical reasoning tasks has been associated with system two but not system one thinking. So we used analytical reasoning tasks as a proxy to help us tell whether people are leaning more on system one or two thinking.

An example of one of the questions in our analytical reasoning test is: “A bat and ball together cost $1.10. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?”

The big reveal

Our results showed higher analytical reasoning ability was linked to a better ability to tell fake and real websites apart.

Other researchers have found time pressure reduces people’s ability to detect phishing emails. It also tends to engage system one processing rather than system two. Scammers do not want us to carefully evaluate the information but engage emotionally with it. So our next step was to give people less time (about 10 seconds compared to 20 seconds in the first experiment) to do the task.

This time we used a new set of participants. We found participants who had less time to judge the credibility of a webpage showed poorer ability to discriminate between real and fake websites. They were about 50% less accurate compared to the group who had 20 seconds to decide whether a website was fake or real.

In our final study, we provided a new set of participants with 15 tips on how to spot fake websites (for instance, check the domain name). We also asked half of them to prioritise accuracy and take as much time as they needed while the other half were instructed to work as quickly as possible. Working quickly rather than accurately was linked to worse performance, and to poor recall of the 15 tips we provided earlier.

Is it for real?

With increasing internet use among all age groups, scammers are capitalising on peoples’ tendencies to use more intuitive information processing mechanisms to evaluate whether a website is legitimate. Scammers often design their solicitations in a way that encourages people to act quickly because they know that decisions made under such conditions are in their favour. For example, advertising that a discount is ending soon.

Muck of the advice about how to identify fake websites suggests you carefully examine the domain name, check for the padlock symbol, use website checkers such as Get Safe Online, look for spelling errors, and be wary of deals that sound too good to be true. These suggestions, obviously, require time and deliberate action. Indeed, possibly the best advice you could follow is: slow down.

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Facial recognition has been used a million times by U.S. police



Controversial facial recognition has been used a million times by police to help track criminals

As facial recognition becomes more prominent, the founder of tech firm Clearview says his company has run nearly a million searches for U.S. police.

It’s also been revealed the company has scraped 30 billion images from platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, taken without users’ permissions.

The company has been fined numerous times in Europe and countries like Australia for breaches of privacy laws.

In the U.S., critics say the use of Clearview by authorities puts everyone into a “police line-up”.

The company’s high-tech system allows law enforcement to upload a photo of a face and find matches in a database comprising of billions of images it has collected.

It then provides links to where matching images appear online.

The tool is considered to be one of the world’s most powerful and accurate.

While the company is banned from selling its services to most U.S. companies, there is an exemption for police. #trending #featured

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Baidu shows off A.I.-powered chatbot Ernie



The event was meant to be livestreamed, but there was strong demand from companies to test the bot

Chinese search engine Baidu has shared pre-recorded videos of its A.I.-powered chatbot Ernie.

Revealing the bot performing more advanced tasks than at its launch two weeks ago.

While the videos were shown during a closed-door meeting, images shared by a Baidu spokesperson appeared to show significant developments.

This included summarising financial statements and producing powerpoint presentations, as well as producing travel itineraries.

The videos were shown to the first batch of companies that are testing an industry-focused version of the chatbot.

Ernie is considered China’s closest equivalent to U.S.-developed ChatGPT.

The meeting was originally meant to be a livestreamed product launch open to the media and public.

But the format was changed to prioritise what Baidu said was the “strong demand” from over 120,000 companies that had applied to test the bot.

More companies will be able to sign up to test the industry-focused version of the Ernie bot starting on March 31.

Tests conducted show that the regular version has a good command of the Chinese language.

However, it produces factual errors and avoids answering political questions.

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Another nation bans Huawei from 5G network



Germany has joined Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States to stop the tech company

China has blasted Germany over the nation’s reported plan to ban Huawei from the country’s 5G network.

In Berlin, the Chinese embassy said it is “very puzzled” and “strongly dissatisfied” by the move.

Diplomats believe the decision has been made by Germany’s government without any factual basis.

Adding, the move violates German economic laws and the principles of fair competition.

The reported ban follows similar moves made by Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Hugh Odom from Vertical Consultants gave us the details.

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