How the Theory of Marginal Gains is creating a fraudsters paradise

I’m a firm believer in the power of marginal gains. The Marginal Gains Theory is concerned with small incremental improvements in any process, which, when added together, make a significant improvement. The challenge is always to break something down into small enough increments that they are easily achievable and measurable.

Another way to look at marginal gains is to measure actions by return on investments – if I invest my time/resources/cash into something, then will the return increase based on the the level of investment. For most of us, we make decisions like this multiple times a day. Should I have that extra sausage for breakfast? Should I go a bit above the speed limit to get home quicker? Should I spend an additional hour in the pub? All of these decisions potentially have marginal gains for us but the question we need to ask ourselves is whether the return, whether that is a reward or a penalty, is worth it.

If you look closely at any attempted fraud or robbery, whether physically or virtually, there is a trade off for the perpetrators of risk versus reward. The risk of getting caught or the risk of investing in a scheme more often than not far outweighs the potential reward, which can be substantial in some cases. However, the greater the risk of detection and punishment does deter the vast majority of people from committing crime. Likewise, most frauds and robberies are easy to spot and whilst the vast majority of attempts are foiled, either by the authorities or by our own knowledge, the return on investment for some is relatively small and that is why fraudsters will still attempt to create outlandish scams, knowing that a small number of people tricked gives them the reward they need.

However, there is a growing trend of people falling victim to scams that start with a legitimate looking request for a small amount of money, that soon escalates into something far more sinister and damaging. Using the surge in home deliveries as their modus operandi, scammers have been sending text messages to people informing them that they need to pay a small fee, usually less than £2, to have an item delivered. The small amount and the impression it comes from the Royal Mail (the URLs used in the message tend to feature the words “Royal Mail”) have the message believable, as too does the page whereby the receiver is asked to enter their details. But, this is a scam that does not just want your £2.

The BBC reported a story last week of a former Police Officer who received such a message and believing it to be genuine, followed the link and paid the small fee. That then opened him up to a whole multi-level scam that eventually resulted in him losing thousands of pounds. His story is not uncommon – just a few weeks ago a respected, experienced current affairs journalist and TV/Radio presenter tweeted an image of a text she had received, asking her followers if it was genuine such is the believability of the scam.

For the fraudsters behind the scams, they are looking at playing on our Marginal Gains – it surely isn’t a scam as they “only” want £1.25/£1.99/£2.50 – the risk of it being a fraud to the receiver of the text is low, or so it seems, whilst the reward is that they get the parcel or item that may have been waiting for.

The Royal Mail do not send text messages asking for payment in this way. If an item needs additional postage they will deliver a card detailing how someone can make the additional payments. Likewise, you can always check the domain name used in the URL to see when it was registered and who to. A recent text I received showed the domain name registered on the same day as the text was sent and registered to an individual in China. If in you are in any doubt on the legitimacy of any message you have received, check with Royal Mail themselves and make sure that you do not become another marginal gain for the fraudsters.

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