Why Scams Only Happen to Other People

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If anybody is too smart for scammers, it's got to be the generation that literally grew up online. The fact that many of us are online all the time now, including for work and for school, probably means that we're as safe or safer than ever from bad-faith trickery. It feels nice to nod along with sentiments like these, but the truth is that we give ourselves a little too much credit, and that comes at a personal cost.

Psychologists and engineers at New York University have just released a study about our own false sense of security against phishing, identity theft, and other forms of online malfeasance. The super short version is that we're very attuned to mistakes other people might make, but that knowledge doesn't tend to help us in similar situations; we don't pay the same kind of attention to it. It's why old tricks can mutate and still ensnare us, even when we're certain we're wise to the problem.

All of that means that it's always a good time to refamiliarize yourself with consumer awareness basics and basic protections against identity theft. We may be cynical about our personal data, thanks to massive, high-profile breaches at huge companies like Target or the creditor Equifax. That doesn't mean we're helpless against the Dunning-Krueger effect or identity thieves in general. Knowing about your own weakness is the first step to putting better protections and practices in place. (And sometimes the answer is as simple as investing in a good password protector.)