Social engineering fraud

‘Social engineering fraud’ is a broad term that refers to the scams used by criminals to trick, deceive and manipulate their victims into giving out confidential information and funds.

Criminals exploit a person’s trust in order to find out their banking details, passwords or other personal data.

Scams are carried out online – for example, by email or through social networking sites – by telephone, or even in person.

Types of social engineering fraud

Social engineering fraud can be divided into two main categories:

  • Mass frauds, which use basic techniques and are aimed at a large number of people;
  • Targeted frauds, which have a higher degree of sophistication and are aimed at very specific individuals or companies.

While the scams themselves differ, the methods used by criminals generally follow the same four steps:

  1. Gathering information
  2. Developing a relationship
  3. Exploiting any identified vulnerabilities
  4. Execution

Among the well-known types of scam are:

Telecom fraud

  • Fraudsters obtain the phone number of an individual, often an elderly person, then call them pretending to be a family member or public service and claiming to be in urgent need of cash.
  • They ask for money to be deposited in a designated bank account or delivered by hand in order to settle a traffic accident claim, loan shark debt, or other pressing financial need.

Email scams

  • Pretexting involves creating a scenario to engage a targeted victim; for example, impersonating a bank manager or tax inspector to convince the target to share personal information such as account numbers or passwords. This type of scam requires the criminal to conduct research on the victim, in order for the story to appear plausible.
  • Phishing uses a more generic scenario which is sent to a large number of people in an attempt to draw in as many victims as possible. This is usually done by e-mail and appears as if it comes from a legitimate source which many people frequent, such as popular online shopping websites, e-mail companies or computer tech support companies. The same techniques can also be executed by phone (Vishing) or by text message (SMishing).

CEO fraud / Manager fraud

  • Fraudsters gather publicly available information – usually through the Internet – about the company to be targeted.
  • They find out details of the Head of the company, and those managers and employees who are authorized to handle cash transfers.
  • The criminals use this data in order to impersonate the head of company and coerce employees into making an urgent and high-value cash transfer to a designated bank account.

Hacking of e-mail accounts

  • A cybercriminal hacks into an individual’s e-mail account and sends messages to their friends, relatives or colleagues claiming to be in trouble, for example, and needing money.
  • The recipient is unaware that the e-mail is not actually coming from the person they know, making them more inclined to assist – and thereby assist the criminal in gaining money or accessing their accounts.

Sweepstakes or lotteries

  • A person receives a message along the following lines: ‘Congratulations, you are the grand prize winner! To claim your prize, all you need to do is pay a processing fee so we can release your winnings.’
  • Very often, names of popular companies or organizations are misused to give the lottery a trustworthy impression.
  • Despite making the requested payment, the victims never receive the expected prize winnings.

Other techniques include:

  • Forensic recovery -Analysis of non-securely disposed materials (USB keys, hard drives);
  • Quid pro quo - Exchange of sensitive information under a misunderstanding;
  • Baiting - Leaving an infected storage device to be picked up and plugged into a computer;
  • Tailgating - Following someone to access secured premises;
  • Diversion theft - Redirecting a courier or transport delivery to another location.

If you receive an email from someone claiming to represent INTERPOL, requesting personal information or bank account information, you should ignore it and treat it as spam.

Questions and answers

Our site uses cookies to ensure technical functionality, gather statistics and enable sharing on social media platforms.

Tell me more