Even tech savvy consumers can get tripped up by the language of fraud

Paul Fabara, Chief Risk Officer at Visa Inc

It’s not just your imagination. Digital scams are everywhere online and in our daily lives. And as the holiday season approaches, fraudsters are counting on you to let your guard down and take the bait. Whether you are in the workplace or on the go, we’re peppered by phone, text and email with offers for “free gifts” and traps to “act now” to supply personal information before a vital service gets cut off. Surprisingly, this barrage of “fraudulese” is in fact working.

A new research report recently from Visa, in partnership with Wakefield Research, “Fraudulese: The Language of Fraud,” brings to light that when it comes to spotting scams, cyber criminals are finding several vulnerabilities. This is among even the most tech-savvy consumers on the internet. While nearly half of the population are sure and confident that they can recognize a scam, 73% are likely to miss the requisite red flags in digital basic communications.

From a spoofed service notification by your electric company, to random emails alerting you that you’ve won products from a favorite store, to job postings that make it seem like you’ve been hired by a top-tier company. Scams hit almost every touch point in our digital lives. In the last year alone, Visa has proactively blocked $7.2 billion in attempted fraudulent payments across 122 million transactions before those transactions impacted the intended clients.

What is the importance of understanding fraudelese?

“Understanding the language of fraud, aka ‘fraudelese’, is increasingly essential in our digital-first world. Scammers have reached new heights of sophistication in both language and variety – so absolutely no one is immune,” said Paul Fabara, Chief Risk Officer, Visa. “Education around the language of scams (fraudelese) is an integral part of our consumer protection, and highlighting the commonalities in the language of fraud helps prevent crime worldwide.”

Earlier this year as part of Visa’s efforts to empower consumers to learn about the language of fraud, the company commissioned a first-of-its-kind linguistic analysis by researchers in the U.K. This reveals how language can be used by fraudsters in short form messages.

The study revealed that solutions inviting consumers to engage with a problem or offer are the most common fraudulent message, occurring in 87% of the scam text messages, while problem statements that provoke action from the recipient were the second most common.

“By highlighting all the communicative strategies, words and phrases used by fraudsters, we hope that people can more easily identify the language of fraud as it stands and is used online today, which ultimately helps to protect them from fraud and cyber crime,” said Dr. Marton Petyko, from the Aston Institute for Forensic Linguistics, which conducted the U.K. research.

What did Visa discover about the nature of cyber fraud?

Falling victim to cyber fraud is very costly for anyone on the internet. In 2021, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center reported a record number of complaints, with potential losses exceeding $6.9 billion, up from $4.1 billion in 2020. According to Visa’s new report, which surveyed 6,000 adults in 18 markets around the world, scammers appear to be thriving in the gap in between consumers’ awareness of the language of fraud and their actual behavior.

What were the top findings?

  • We think others are more susceptible to fraud than we are. While consumers feel confident in their own vigilance, the vast majority (90%) are concerned that friends or family members may fall for potential scams.

These include emails or text messages asking people to verify their account information, asking about overdrawn banking accounts and notifying them about winning a gift card or product from an online shopping site. The most enticing click bait messages capitalize on consumer excitement, and fraudulently tout “winning,” “exclusive deals” or “free gift,”.

  • Is it legitimate? More than 4 in 5 (81%) respondents check the wrong details to determine the authenticity of a communication, focusing on features scammers can easily fake, including the company’s name or logo (46%). Individuals can better protect themselves from fraudsters by checking details that are harder to fake, such as account numbers or details about their interactions with the company.
  • Overlooking telltale signs. Only 60% of people reported looking to ensure a communication is sent from a valid email address. Fewer than half (47%) look to ensure words are spelled properly.
  • Crypto users proceed with caution. Crypto users are more likely to identify the right kind of verifying elements of a potential scam than non-crypto owners. For example, they are more likely to check their account information (49% vs 37%) to confirm the validity of digital communications.

How can consumers decipher fraudulese?

Consumers can better protect themselves by taking a few extra moments before clicking, including taking time to understand the way fraudsters use language. Among simple, but effective best practices: Keep all your personal information to yourself. Don’t click on  any links before verifying that they will take you where they say they will. This is important.

Consumers can also turn on purchase alerts, which provide near real-time notification by text message or email of purchases made with your account. Call the number on corporate websites or the back of your credit and debit cards if you are unsure if a communication is valid – don’t just call the number possibly provided by the scammer in their text or email.

While cyber-crime and fraud persists in an increasingly digital world, Visa is mission-driven to protect consumers and mitigate fraud. Over the past five years, the company has invested more than $10 billion in tech, including experts to reduce fraud and increase network security.

More than a thousand dedicated specialists protect Visa’s network from malware, zero-day attacks and insider threats 24x7x365. In fact, over the last 12 months, Visa’s real-time monitoring has proactively blocked over $7.2 billion in fraudulent payments, preventing many consumers online from ever knowing they were at risk of a potential fraudulent transaction. 


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