How Redflags® approached holiday season scams in 2023



Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the holiday season are some of the busiest periods for online shoppers. However, it's also a time when bad actors try to take advantage of the hasty shopping habits of consumers.

Our brains are wired to look for shortcuts and use heuristics to simplify decisions. This makes us more susceptible to scams, especially when we're looking for the best offers, expecting a parcel or a refund.

So, how can we support people to make secure decisions?


The problem

We're constantly bombarded with amazing "offers" and endless deals promising savings and bargains. This can lead us to expect such deals everywhere, making us "primed" to be scammed.

The mere-exposure effect is a cognitive psychology concept that states that the more we're exposed to something, the more we like and believe it, regardless of its veracity. Unfortunately, scammers can take advantage of this effect to make their offers more appealing and make us more likely to click.

Scarcity is another technique that marketers use to catch our attention during the holiday season. Phrases like "Don't miss out on this offer," "Offer ends today," or "Only a few items left in stock" are more likely to catch our attention. However, bad actors use these same techniques to send fake offers with compelling calls to action.


The solution

So, how can we help people when these psychological effects come into play?

  1. One way is to try to "re-prime" them about scams and expose them to examples so they're aware that deals can be too good to be true. This means making the thought of a scam more available to the brain.
  2. Another approach is to nudge people closer to the point of risk and bring the idea of being scammed front of mind, especially as they interact with emails or online offers.
  3. While heuristics can lead us to fall for scams, understanding how they work can help us guide people towards secure behaviours; we can knock people out of System 1 and into System 2 more deliberative thinking by highlighting a new sender or the need to be vigilant.
  4. Finally, to combat scarcity, we can show people real examples of phishing emails that use this technique, make sure they feel safe asking/reporting if they're uncertain, and even deliver real-time nudges as they interact with potentially risky emails. The key is to increase familiarity and awareness so that people are empowered to make secure decisions.

How Redflags® does it

In the last few months, ThinkCyber has worked closely with national and international organisations to support them in achieving their security awareness and behaviour change goals. On the theme of holiday season scams, we supported our clients in tackling this problem by delivering focused campaign on the topic. 

ThinkCyber's team created content about delivery scams, refund scams and more, that Redflags® then delivered directly to people's desktops; short and engaging stories that break the barrier to engagement and saw 80-90% engagement rates without chasing or incentivising.

By understanding how heuristics work and how persuasive techniques like scarcity can influence our decision-making, we supported these stories by delivering a few sporadic interventions in context:

  • we primed people when browsing certain websites or using social media.
  • we showed people real examples of email scams in and around their day to-day use of email
  • we delivered short reminder nudges whilst they interacted with their inboxes.

As the holiday season hasn't ended yet, some of these campaigns are still running so we are still measuring behavioural impact. Nevertheless, the feedback we're collecting from the companies and their users is really positive, and we're looking forward to sharing more data soon!



In conclusion, the holiday season is a time when people are more vulnerable to scams and cyber attacks. By understanding

  • how heuristics and biases works,
  • how the mere-exposure effect can influence our decision-making,
  • and how scarcity can make us act in a hurry, we can support people to make secure decisions.

Whether it's through priming, nudging, or highlighting risks, the goal is to increase familiarity and awareness so that people are empowered to protect themselves online.


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