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American psychology professor Nicholas DiFonzo described what might be called the phenomenon of the sucker in his 2008 book The Watercooler Effect.

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In the mid-1800s, he related, an American cigar manufacturer named George Hull carved the figure of a giant man from a block of gypsum and buried it in Cardiff, New York. He dug it up, made a hullabaloo about “discovering” it, and charged admission to the gullible.

The hoax was so successful a banker named David Hannum bought Hull’s giant and charged the crowds even more to see it.

The sensation caught the eye of America’s great showman, P.T. Barnum, peddler of hoaxes and founder of Barnum and Bailey’s Circus.

Barnum tried unsuccessfully to persuade Hannum to sell him the giant. Undeterred, he had a replica carved and spruiked that it was “the one true giant”.

When multitudes flocked to Barnum’s exhibit, Hannum is supposed to have snorted “There’s a sucker born every minute”.

History, according to this version, twisted it around until Barnum, not the forgotten Hannum, was credited with the deathless “one born every minute” quote.

Whoever said it, it’s never been truer than in our cyber age.

At its most benign, the Bora Bora holiday hoax is a farming operation, gathering names and “likes” which identify potential “marks”.

Stepped up a notch or two, those who have fallen for the bait might be contacted with the happy news they have won the holiday, and directed to a third-party site where they can “register”. Name, email address and phone number are requested (to be sold to the dark web, naturally). The would-be winners are then prompted to pay a small “processing fee” or similar. All that’s required to ensure your dreamy South Pacific holiday are your credit card details to cover the “processing”.

Presto! Your identity and your financial details are suddenly no longer your own.

It feels alarming, but you’d be foolish to get too self-righteous about those who fall for it. You or I could be the next sucker to some other scam, many of which are much slicker than the Bora Bora swindle.

Older Australians using social media turn out to be particularly vulnerable.

The federal government’s Scamwatch reported this week that Australians lost $477 million to scams last year.

The embarrassment factor means this is probably heavily underestimated.

The biggest increase in those being hoodwinked on social media? Those aged 65 and over.

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Faceless rip-off merchants took $95 million through social media, according to Scamwatch. About half disappeared via the messaging platform WhatsApp and about 20 per cent through Facebook, with dating apps and Instagram rounding out most of the rest.

WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram, it happens, are all owned by Meta, the vast social media group founded as Facebook by Mark Zuckerberg, who is also chairman and CEO.

Zuckerberg regularly tells flummoxed regulators and government agencies that his organisation is doing everything it can to weed out the fraudsters.

Why, only this week, Meta submitted to the Australian government that any regulatory obligation “to prevent further losses to a consumer who has been affected by a scam may be impossible for digital platforms to achieve” because of the way in which scammers “rapidly evolve their tactics in attempts to evade detection and enable persistence”.

Pull the other one.

Zuckerberg’s outfit has – or should have – vastly more sophisticated technologists than any scam factory.

Are we to believe they have missed noticing something as primitive as the Bora Bora swindle and the like that just about anybody can find all over Facebook?

Truth is, Meta’s bloody mindedness adds to a growing lack of societal trust in just about anything, especially at a time when artificial intelligence is messing with our understanding of what is real.

That’s not even including the maddening tide of text and phone messages informing of fake unpaid ATO remittances, deliveries that haven’t been picked up, tolls outstanding and spoofed (copied) bank addresses requiring immediate action.

Meanwhile, those looking for companionship are targeted by the utterly vile masquerading as dream lovers, only to be fleeced and left lonelier.

It’s enough to make us fantasise about buying an internet-free desert island and tossing our smartphones in the sea. A fellow named Barnum would undoubtedly have just such an island for sale. Roll up, suckers.

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#Roll #roll #suckers #free #trip #paradise

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