Monday, July 10, 2006

All the vulnerable people: eFraud, aging and special needs

Eight years ago I wrote a web page on Fighting Spam. That was a year after I'd first suggested to an ISP (Mindspring then) that they provide spam filtering services.

Alas, the spam deluge continues. My Gmail spam filter was stable at 5500 spams/month for about a year, but now it's up to 6500 spams/month. The zombie bots are getting worse.

Spam is bad, and it's sad that we still haven't adopted relatively inexpensive fixes like reputation management of authenticated sending services. I've come to realize, however, that the problems of spam are only the leading edge, the snout in the door, of something much worse. The most dangerous spam is increasingly about fraudulent schemes; desperate corporations like Vonage, Cingular, Yahoo and Delta are only marginal contributors. The spam is spawning phishing, splogs, and VOIP supported phone fraud, combining age old scams like the Publisher's Clearinghouse parasite, state lotteries, or "low interest credit card" scams with new technologies.

These fraud strategies are merging, morphing, and evolving with extraordinary speed, fueled by the worldnet. Charles Stross writes about sentient financial instruments, but one could as easily see how fraud strategies might be an even better candidate for emergent sentience [1]. Even as this happens, the prey population is growing with the aging of the wealthy western nations and the predator population is growing as the young and the desperate come online.

It takes a fair bit of intelligence, discipline and experience to see through these schemes and to to monitor one's human frailties. My handful of readers are likely immune. Not so our aging parents, not so the 50% of our population with IQs under 100. One day, all too soon, my IQ too will drop below some magic threshhold and I will join the population of the vulnerable. Most of us will, unless we die first. An increasingly complex world will offer endless opportunities for highly refined schemes to separate the vulnerable from their assets.

We're going to have to evolve new systems of defense, trust relationships, identity management and reputation management. Developing these systems will be a major social challenge over the next few decades. In the meantime, encourage your parents, and your vulnerable family members, to consult about their financial decisions.

[1] One of the leading theories for a driving force behind the evolution of the human mind is fraud detection and fraud invention.

Update 2/1/2010: See also - Phishing with the post-Turing avatar

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