How to spot the bad actors this awards season

Emma McGowan 5 Feb 2024

From overacting to poorly crafted characters, it’s crucial to recognize red flags in cyber-scripts, weak dialogue, and fake chemistry in online interactions.

Lights, camera, action! Award season is a time to celebrate the shows, the crews, and, of course, the performers. But for these actors, their stage is the world of cybersecurity, where they put on the most thrilling performances of the year.  As we roll out the red carpet, it's time to shine a spotlight on a different kind of actor: the bad actors of the digital realm.

Characterizing a bad actor

On the cybersecurity stage, bad actors are not artists seeking applause; they are digital miscreants aiming to exploit vulnerabilities for their own profit. From phishing scams to ransomware attacks, these cyber villains are relentless in their pursuit of ill-gotten gains.

However, unlike traditional performers, these bad actors aren’t vying for nominations in awards season ; they're driven by financial or political motives or simply a desire to wreak havoc. By drawing parallels between the characteristics of actors and cyber scammers, we gain a deeper understanding of the threats we face, and the cues to watch for.


We’ve all seen the crocodile tears and the explosive monologue of a scorned lover on a soap opera. Everything they do and say is overly dramatic; catastrophizing and magnifying the situation at hand. The same may be said of bad actors during a social engineering attack.

These scammers will build false trust, exploit their target, and use persuasion to gain access to sensitive or confidential information, often by way of threats, emotional manipulation, and urgent requests. Take a smishing scam where you receive a text reading, “URGENT! CREDIT CARD FRAUD ALERT,” or a scareware popup on your laptop that reads, “WARNING, YOUR COMPUTER MAY BE INFECTED,” for instance. Think of these as the over-actors of the cybersecurity realm.

The gut-wrenching panic they cause; the glaring, all-capitalized message; the unnecessary urgency; these scams feed off the drama. With threats like these, it’s best just to exit stage left and leave them alone. Don’t click. Don’t respond. Don’t overreact.

Character portrayal

When it comes to dramatic roles, there’s one that bad actors seem to latch onto more than Hamlet: the Nigerian Prince. This character, whose portrayal is often inconsistent and unconvincing—not to mention a stigmatizing and damaging narrative to the Nigerian people  —takes center stage in a popular phishing scam, also called the 419 scam.

The actor comes off as friendly and hopeful, offering the chance for a once-in-a-lifetime investment opportunity via a long-winded, heavily detailed email. The only catch is he’ll need a small cash advance or a bank account number to complete a wire transfer, but kindly promises how you both will be rich in the end.

The character is as thinly written as a flipbook cartoon, with little backstory and a socially engineered facade that preys on your intrigue and, commonly, emotions. While people are now starting to see through this royal reject, he has already duped millions of dollars from cybersecurity victims throughout the years. Recognizing such poorly crafted characters is crucial to avoiding their schemes, since falling for Prince Charming could lead to a king’s ransom on your accounts.

And by the way...the original Nigerian Prince scam was actually perpetrated by a 14-year-old American. Quite the resounding performance for being awful.

Delivery, dialogue, and script choices

Much like the overused, unoriginal scripts from the 419scam, bad actors may be identified from their poorly written and weak dialogue. Even if their performance delivery is strong, the cyber-scripts they follow may make you yell, “cut.” You’ll commonly see bad grammar in phone scams, especially with unidentified callers or spoofing.  You receive a call from what looks like your bank, telling you there’s been fraudulent activity on your account. They read from their generic narrative, listing nondescript numbers, common purchases, and unremarkable details that anyone could guess—this all in hopes you’re too freaked out to catch on.

However, you need to flip the script on them. Ask for identifiable information, like your account number or your last purchase. Even your full name. Look up the number listed on your bank’s website to see if it matches the number that is calling you. It may even be best to hang up before asking any questions and call your bank directly to confirm suspicions. Some additional red flags include poor diction, convoluted jargon, and a lack of natural flow.

Whatever you do, never give out personal or financial information over the phone if you’re not certain you’re speaking with a credible source. No call back needed for that bad actor.

Chemistry with “co-stars”

In the world of romance scams, bad actors seek to create a believable connection as well. In 2021 alone, victims lost $547 million to romance scams—more than any other type of fraud. It’s critical to call out these cyber-Casanovas so that their lack of chemistry doesn't fool anyone.  

From sugar daddy scams and catfishing to sextortion, cybercriminals are preying on those looking for love online. What may start off with a simple match on a dating app or a private message on social, may quickly snowball into “I love you” and “we were made for each other,” without ever really knowing who the person is on the other side. Once they have you head over heels, they may ask for money, personal details, or even for pictures that they can use as blackmail. The chemistry is counterfeit.

When digitally dating, it’s you have to be cautious. Remember not to rush. Watch for red flags like explaining away weird behavior and avoiding video calls or meeting up in person. Do a reverse image search of the pictures they send you, and don’t trust unknown links or downloads. And definitely don’t send money.  If something feels off, trust your gut and not your heart on this one. Call it a wrap and move on to a real romance.

Upstage the bad actors

In this digital era, where the stakes are high and the drama is real, Avast takes the lead role in ensuring a secure and authentic performance. With an award-winning, all-in-one personal digital guardian like Avast One, you’ll have a cybersecurity solution that delivers comprehensive protection against cybercriminals and the threats they act upon. It’s a solution that works tirelessly behind the scenes to unmask the bad actors and optimize your digital life.

Much like a savvy audience member spotting the flaws in a poorly executed performance, we too can discern the red flags and protect ourselves from the cyber villains seeking to exploit our vulnerabilities. In this ongoing saga, it's crucial to upstage the bad actors and be vigilant in this ever-evolving landscape of cybersecurity.

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