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The influence of social media on the insider threat

7 March 2022

At the start of the millennium, if we wanted to buy something or go somewhere on holiday, we would do our own research and perhaps ask our friends and family for their feedback and opinions. Tripadvisor and Amazon were new to the scene, and so may not have been our go-to sites for reviews - yet we managed without, and it never felt like we were missing out.

Fast forward ten years, and influencers began to emerge, with there now being an estimated 37.8 million influencers on Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok . Many of their followers may aspire to the luxury holidays, bodies, gadgets, and fashion, however most of this is only achievable through expensive products or surgery. As we are constantly surrounded by it, our desire for the ideal life can easily spiral out of control.

We also live our lives through our phones and tablets, and we can access the internet at any time and from anywhere. Statista estimates we spent an average of 2 hours 25 minutes a day on social media in 2020, accounting for more than 10% of our day and would amount to around six years and eight months of our life in total. When you compare this to the three years and seven months we are estimated to spend eating and drinking, it is clear to see how much social media consumes us.

Employees living beyond their means

Employees living beyond their means isn't a new phenomenon, but the pressure on individuals, especially Generation Z and Millennials, has never been greater. It's no surprise the Oxford Dictionary added FOMO (fear of missing out) to its dictionary in 2013, as this is exactly how people feel when they see influencers regularly flocking to sunny beaches while wearing the latest must-have apparel.

Many aspire for the lives of those who never seem to have a bad day, and some also want their flawless hair and make-up, so feel compelled to buy the beauty products they promote, regardless of whether the photos have been edited and airbrushed. Thankfully, most of us are aware that while influencers’ lives may appear to be as flawless as their make-up, this is almost certainly not the case.

But what about those who aspire to live their life like their favourite influencers, but lack the following that generates the income and promotional items? That is where trying to recreate a life that is out of reach can lead to a life of crime and costly decisions.

The impact of social media

Social media has the potential to affect an employee's behaviour in two key ways. The first is the pressure on individuals to live beyond their means, which may lead to employees committing fraud or theft to maintain their desired lifestyle.

It might start by ‘borrowing’ money, with the idea of repaying it on payday, or a bank employee increasing their own overdraft to allow them to spend money they do not have, with the mindset that they have not committed a crime because they didn’t steal from the till. This type of behaviour frequently escalates out of control, and I've seen past examples of people ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ to keep their deception hidden. The implementation of a Minimum Mandatory Leave (MML) policy can help to detect such offences.

Another way that social media can influence employee behaviour is when employees are approached on social media with offers of expensive gifts or large sums of money in exchange for abusing their position as an employee. Such abuses of position may include disclosing confidential customer or company information, or even manipulating systems and data.

Employees who may be targeted by criminals to conduct this activity may be these who include their place of employment in their profile, or if they have unlocked profiles where they openly discuss not having the financial means to buy the things they want.

Employees are frequently approached by individuals working for organised crime groups, who offer them incentives and falsely assure them that they will not be detected. Of course, the employee will often be caught and face the consequences on their own. However they may also become trapped in a situation from which they cannot escape because they are being pressured to commit more crimes before being caught, with the individual threatening to tell their employer what they have been up to if the arrangement is not continued.

Commenting on this threat to organisations, Paul Maskall, Manager of Fraud & Cyber Crime Prevention at the DCPCU and UK Finance, said: “Social media, text, emails and our overall relationship with technology is often a complicated one. It acts a subjective and emotional feedback loop; we only get out what we put in but with interest. This means that grooming and manipulation is amplified and so often we are quick to be coerced into actions we would otherwise not want to do.”

Tackling the insider threat

Businesses signed up to Cifas’ Enhanced Internal Fraud Database have taken the stance that their organisation takes the threat of internal fraud seriously. Cifas’ systems enable these organisations to detect possible fraud risks throughout the employee lifecycle and not just the onboarding stage.

This week marks Cifas’ Insider Fraud Week and we are delighted that Paul Maskall will be joining us for a session to share his expertise with Cifas members as part of a busy agenda. Any Cifas member wishing to join the session can find details of how to sign up for this and other events on the Cifas Portal.

If your organisation would be interested in finding out more about how Cifas membership can help you detect and defend against the insider threat, please get in touch with us via our website.

Posted by: Tracey Carpenter

Tracey is Cifas' Insider Threat Manager


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Posted by: Tracey Carpenter

Tracey is Cifas' Insider Threat Manager