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Who Can You Trust? Assessing Vulnerability to Digital Imposter Scams

C. A. Robb () and S. Wendel
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C. A. Robb: University of Wisconsin-Madison
S. Wendel: Behavioral Technology, LLC

Journal of Consumer Policy, 2023, vol. 46, issue 1, No 2, 27-51

Abstract: Abstract Social Security scams have become one of the most common forms of government imposter fraud. These scams cost innocent people in the USA millions of dollars each year and undercut the ability of the Social Security Administration to contact and interact with citizens about their benefits. This raises questions as to how individuals might improve their ability to discriminate between scams and real appeals from the Social Security Administration. The present study applies the techniques of inoculation theory to a nationally representative sample of over 4,000 US adults in a series of experiments. Participants are randomly assigned to one of four training programs: from general tips about scams to a targeted experiential learning program. There is strong evidence that the inoculation process successfully and significantly increases fraud detection without decreasing trust in real communications. It provides protection against both SSA and non-SSA scams, such as Amazon imposter scams. The impact, however, is specific to the mode of communication (email versus letter or SMS) and decays over time; training programs should be targeted accordingly.

Keywords: Scam identification; Behavioral science; Digital fraud; Inoculation theory; Randomized control trial (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: D91 P46 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2023
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DOI: 10.1007/s10603-022-09531-6

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Journal of Consumer Policy is currently edited by Hans Micklitz, John Thøgersen, Lucia A. Reisch, Alan Mathios and Christian Twigg-Flesner

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