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Technology Fraud: Ethics Challenges abound in 2016

By December 30, 2015 No Comments

The opportunity for the unethical to commit fraud had not changed. While the technology in recent years has undergone the transition from snail-mail and telephone sales to computers and hand-held digital devices, the intent and the opportunity are still there to create technology fraud. As the holidays are quickly upon us, it is good to remind ourselves that little has changed in terms of the “hearts of the unethical.”

Technology FraudTomer Barel of PayPal, in an article for CNBC (December 10, 2015) entitled: “Five fraud predictions for 2016,” said that technology “will continue to change the battlefield for fraud.” It is not surprising that Millennials are particularly vulnerable to digital forms of technology fraud.

According to Barel, “social networks will help fraudsters get more sophisticated. Fraudsters are constantly deploying an array of advanced tactics to obtain personal information.”

He is particularly concerned with the fact that the social networks have become increasingly searchable. In being able to navigate our personal information, those intent on networking into our lives can easily find our “marital status, photos, friends, check-ins and location data – all easily searched anonymously…”

Many of us are led to believe that our information is secure. It isn’t. If we have not been careful, we are not only at risk, but everyone connected with us on social media including our family members, relatives, business associates and friends. The advice from PayPal is that we make our “social profiles visible to only friends and family; use strong passwords, change them often; and report phishing attempts.”

Because those of us who have some level of sophistication may be wise to a fraudster “phishing” our accounts, we should not assume those we are connected with have the same level of awareness.

The article goes on to explain that:

“More fraud will move to mobile. Fraudsters follow the money. As mobile shopping continues to gain popularity with consumers, fraudsters will be sure to up their mobile targets in 2016.”

Let’s face it, we use our mobile devices for almost any imaginable aspect of our daily lives from directions, to purchases to social media linkage. Fraudsters all too well understand this. We need to understand that we leave behind a digital fingerprint wherever we go and unless we embrace technologies that require us to open applications by use of a “real fingerprint” or other security measures, a stolen mobile device can be catastrophic.

Double-edged Technology

There is an ethical question that keeps nagging at me. On one side of the equation we have tens of millions of users who have exposed their lives to the social media. Whether accidentally or just out of ignorance, many people do not realize how vulnerable they are. Even if they are vulnerable, they have no idea how to change that vulnerability.

On the other side of the problem we are told that there are all sorts of security “packages” that can help prevent fraud. While I realize the enormous challenges at hand, I can’t help but wonder why there isn’t more of an ethical bent applied to this problem.

More specifically, why isn’t there some kind of bridge between what is vulnerable and what is available to prevent that vulnerability? In truth, most technology users lack the sophistication to safeguard themselves from fraud.

While we cannot always prevent fraud, why aren’t there more built-in warnings where users can easily understand when their data is vulnerable? It is impossible to not wonder why so little has been done to prevent fraud. It would seem that right now the onus of security is on the user. Given the complexity of technology, I am not so certain that most users are equipped to serve as their own “firewalls.” Most users are left on their own.

What I am calling for, are more meetings and seminars within the industry to discuss the ethical implications of these issues and what can be done to help safeguard less sophisticated consumers. I realize we don’t often discuss “ethics” in the same breath as software or social media, but perhaps it is time to do so.


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