Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fakes, Frauds & Pretenders in the Animal Kingdom

Over at Aeon, they tell us about how about fakes, frauds and pretenders in the animal kingdom might inform us about fraudsters in the world of humans:
It’s the friend who betrays you, the lover living a secret life, the job applicant with the fabricated résumé, or the sham sales pitch too good to resist. From the time humans learnt to co‑operate, we also learnt to deceive each other. For deception to be effective, individuals must hide their true intentions. But deception is hardly limited to humans. There is a never-ending arms race between the deceiver and the deceived among most living things.

In the world of parasitic fakes, it seems there are different methods of operation:
In humans, short-term deception might involve simple lies or a slick-looking website. When financial fraudsters perpetrate superficial or short-term deception, they usually extract everything they can at once: in most online or phone swindles, once an account number is obtained, the money is quickly gone. Whether a virus or a boiler-room stock scammer, most short-term predators are scattershot, moving from location to location and reaching hundreds or thousands of potential victims in a day.

This approach is so crude that many of us have become more cautious with time, in essence developing immunity to short-term deceptions because we can detect them on the fly. Previous exposure to a certain type of predator often leaves communities better prepared to fight off the attack. This type of defence can be seen among lizards previously exposed to predatory snakes. Although a few will fall prey, a substantial number are likely to avoid the hunt, fight off the infection, or resist the fraudulent scam.

Long-term deceptions, on the other hand, are integrated, complex and behaviourally based. Often perpetrated by collaborative networks or co-conspirators, they are far more difficult to resist. For instance, there are species of beetles that deceive termites into believing they are one of them. Although the cost is minor to the termites, they unknowingly share resources with lazy beetles: an example of sustained and complex long-term deception.
So, what can society do to make itself more resilient to fakes, frauds and pretenders?
What I suggest is literally a deception vaccine. Just as we receive inoculations against physical infections, so too we should try to inoculate ourselves against deception and fraud. By constantly exposing individuals to harmless and weakened versions of deception, we might be able to build up the social antibodies necessary for individuals to recognise predatory deception when they encounter it.

In short, bad scams found out and foiled tend to train society to look for better scams, a bit like a bumbling lion who blows his cover helps to train gazelle and warthogs to look for the techniques of stealthier and smarter lions.

 Once Bitten Twice Shy by Great White. And the name of the lead singer? Jack Russell!

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