Click-bait Digital Fraud – What Consumers Must Know

How often have you come across an advertisement or a link to an article that has not only piqued curiosity within you but has also defied logic and yet seems intriguing? Content headlines that start with the likes of “you won’t believe…” and “ how XYZ found the solution to a massive calamity” are everywhere. Clickbait is all about teasing that dilemma- putting forth false, exaggerated, mind-boggling claims or pieces of information that are far from reality, but peculiar enough for grabbing your attention. But that’s not all, click-bait, apart from being one of the lowest forms of journalism, authoring, and marketing, has also become a pathway to digital fraud. These means are also severely impacting the brands, and digital marketers as site stats and traffic numbers become untrustworthy, and algorithms get conned too by the numbers blowing up the perceived value of content pieces, pages, and sites.

Let’s learn more about this lurking enemy in disguise.

History of click-bait

For years, even before the rise of online marketing, digital content, and social media, click-bait existed under the name of bait-and-switch, which primarily played the same game with the minds of the consumers. It was initially created to serve as a means to attract customers into opting for a product or service or spreading propaganda. The history of click-bait goes way back into the 19th century, where newspapers competing to make more sales in the number of copies used personal journalism, scandal, criminal news, garbled news, and boasting lies, which were then tagged as the ‘evils of the modern-day press’.

Fast-forward to the age of social media and digital news platforms, the competition remains the same, if not more. As the internet world tries to capture more eyeballs, especially in the world of short attention-spans and unhealthy interest in controversies, click-bait is the route frequented not just by newbie blogs and websites, but even by the so-called ‘reputed’ and ‘notable’ media houses.

But click-bait is not as straightforward as gaining more traffic or luring customers into buying your product or service with the help of an eye-catching phrase. It plays on the emotional quotient of the reader, creates confusion or insecurity that urges the end-user to click. It’s a form of fraud that leads the readers to undesired results, often robbing real sites of their identity, messing up digital results, and throwing targeting algorithms off their track.

 And if you think you are safe clicking on a click-bait, here’s what you need to know!

How does click-bait work?

Malinformation & fake news

As mentioned earlier, click-bait feeds on the human nature of falling for the believable, albeit fake information. Click-baits are carefully curated to pick up the lowest common denominator of emotions floating around in society- based on geography, gender, and socio-political beliefs. Making the most of the chaos that’s already around, click-baits spread fake news, rumors, and misinformation, practically eroding the truth to an extent where it is difficult to differentiate the reality from the fiction. And every time a vulnerable user finds a click-bait that stirs the emotions of curiosity, rage, or misery, he/she falls for it. Of course, this also draws traffic away from genuine sites, reduces the trust people have in online content, and impacts the way people choose their news and content pieces.

Click-jacking & like farming

More often than not, click-bait is not just a straightforward piece of content (with real or false information) but is a bomb waiting to explode. Clickjacking is when a seemingly ordinary webpage element- be it textual content, a photo, or a video leads to a disguised web page element. The users are under the impression that they are clicking a harmless piece of content, but in reality, it leads them to a malicious or illegitimate page. What clickjacking can lead to is the unwanted purchase of a product, auto-download of malware, leak of sensitive information, or even transfer of funds/banking frauds. Like-farming is a form of click-jacking where users end up ‘liking’ a page of Facebook that they did not intend to. Like-farms are typically placed in online quizzes, and contests and users are lured into participation by the fake but promising prizes and giveaways. These methods unjustly boost the audience numbers for these sites and social media pages and throw off ad algorithms and digital marketing calculations.

Open invitation to attackers & cybercriminals

When users click on a click-bait, they unintentionally follow a path that’s designed by the attackers or cybercriminals. It’s like getting on a bus-ride thinking you’re traveling to a specific destination but where the driver actually decides the destination. Click-baits serve as an open invitation to attackers and cybercriminals, especially when the users are led from social media, email, or banking accounts. These accounts contain sensitive information which, if breached, can cause serious repercussions. This hurts the wider community out there as they have to spend time, money, and effort in looking for and fixing such problems, especially if they link to or reflect on the sites communicating their own brand’s messages. If their audience gets hurt, it impacts their future actions, makes them more suspicious of online content, and makes it harder for the brand’s communications, content, and ads to get takers. 

In the public interest – click-bait digital fraud: Things consumers can do

Configure your settings

Most click-bait frauds work on the information fed by the users themselves. According to a study, 50% of the users fall for clickbait despite knowing there are risks. To ensure that you don’t cause a breach to your personal information with click-bait fraud- limit access. Control access and permission settings to a third-party app. For example, a gaming app doesn’t need access to your camera and microphone, a ride-hailing app doesn’t need permission to your gallery, and a social-media app doesn’t need access to your phonebook. Be mindful of downloading applications and ensure permissions of third-party apps and websites are limited to their functionalities. This will ensure that even if you fall for a click-bait and end up clicking on a fraud link, your personal data is untouched.

Evaluate your digital connections & networks

Click-baits are widely spread on another human trait of ‘FOMO- fear of missing out’. More often than not, click-baits reach you via your online circles- social media and other digital connections. Always stay on top of your ‘friend lists’ and ‘followers’ and be careful while adding anyone new to your digital network. And even if you only add people you know and trust on your social accounts, don’t blindly click through anything they share or invite you to, their accounts might be compromised if they’ve fallen for a click-bait fraud!

Be aware and break the chain

Click-bait thrives on the users’ knowledge gap. Being aware and accepting that you don’t need to know everything there is, especially on the internet and being mindful of your time online, is one of the easiest ways to stay away from any potential click-bait frauds. Subscribe to a few, authentic, and reliable sources to seek information, refrain from sharing dubious links from untrusted websites, and break the chain of click-bait virality by making responsible online decisions.

Closing lines…

The digital world is loaded with click-baits, and the consumer is in the crosshairs. But the brands are in there with them. They know that click-bait fraud impacts them as soon as it affects their audience. It makes it harder for them to build and grow a relationship and to propagate their message. Brands and digital marketers need to keep an eye out for themselves as well as for their consumers to stay on top of this menace.