Phishing emails are more than just a spray approach to scams. Most of them use sophisticated clickbait tactics to play on human psychology; leveraging emotions and curiosity to entice clicks and engagement. Understanding the underlying psychology behind these tactics empowers people to recognise and avoid potential scams.  

1. Triggering emotional responses:

Clickbait often targets emotions such as fear, curiosity, excitement, or outrage. Emotional triggers prompt impulsive reactions, compelling individuals to click on enticing headlines or offers. Scammers manipulate these emotions to bypass rational thinking and prompt immediate action, just think of the scarcity mindset. You can see how these tactics work in our SCAM training series.

2. Leveraging curiosity and information gap theory:

The allure of the unknown plays a significant role in clickbait. Messages hinting at mysterious content create an "information gap" – a discrepancy between what is known and what could be known. The human brain naturally seeks closure, driving individuals to click for more information, even if it seems dubious. Countless scams around love and relationships do this very well – ‘What is your SO thinking?’ ‘Get back your ex with these simple words’ are a few that make the rounds often. ‘How to save thousands organising your family Christmas’ would be another one to look out for in the holiday period.

3. Dopamine and reward-seeking behaviour:

Clicking on sensationalised content triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. Scammers exploit this neurological response by promising rewards, exclusive offers or information, enticing individuals to engage further to either confirm their bias or to receive something exclusive.

4. Fear of Missing Out (FOMO):

Messages that create a fear of missing out on a great deal or important information often lead to impulsive actions. Scammers capitalise on FOMO by presenting time-sensitive or exclusive opportunities, pushing individuals to act quickly without thorough consideration. Emails with embedded countdowns to the end of the promotion or sale do this well.

5. Social proof and influence:

Clickbait sometimes employs social proof tactics, using testimonials, fake endorsements, or fabricated statistics to create a sense of credibility or popularity. People tend to follow the crowd, and scammers exploit this tendency to increase click-through rates.

Remember, scepticism and critical thinking are powerful tools against clickbait. Encourage your peers and loved ones to be mindful of their online interactions and to question content that seems too sensational or manipulative.

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