Email fraud: The search for psychological predictors of susceptibility

Jones, Helen orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-2716-051X, Towse, John N., Race, Nicholas and Harrison, Timothy (2019) Email fraud: The search for psychological predictors of susceptibility. PLOS ONE, 14 (1). e0209684.

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Decisions that we make about email legitimacy can result in a pernicious threat to security of both individuals and organisations. Yet user response to phishing emails is far from uniform; some respond while others do not. What is the source of this diversity in decision-making? From a psychological perspective, we consider cognitive and situational influences that might explain why certain users are more susceptible than others. Alongside an email judgment task employed as a proxy for fraud susceptibility, 224 participants completed a range of cognitive tasks. In addition, we manipulated time pressure for email legitimacy judgments. We identify cognitive reflection and sensation seeking as significant, albeit modest, predictors of susceptibility. Further to this, participants asked to make quicker responses made more judgment errors. We conclude there are cognitive signatures that partially contribute to email fraud susceptibility, with implications for efforts to limit online security breaches and train secure behaviors.

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