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Monday, Oct 20, 2014
Commentary

The psychology of a scam


Published:

Good scammers are also remarkable manipulators. They understand enough about how the human mind works to exploit its weaknesses. Con artists will often use psychological triggers to get an instinctive response from targeted victims.

Avoiding a scam can be quite difficult, when faced with highly influential tactics — especially when you don’t see it coming.

Even informed, savvy consumers can be victims of a scam. There are numerous distraction techniques that scammers use to trick their victims, including “charm.” Many perpetrators will exploit similar interests, background, humor and other appealing characteristics.

When making an important financial decision, separate the person from the action and never agree to anything simply because you enjoy the individual who is offering you the financial product. When scammers use high-pressure tactics, people often respond quickly and emotionally. They already know how their victims will react — it is all a part of the plan. This is commonly done by telling a potential victim that there is a scarce amount of a product left or a limited amount of time to act on a financial decision.

Never agree to anything hastily because you’re afraid of missing out. If it is a legitimate deal, it will be there tomorrow.

When dealing with authority figures, it is more natural for most consumers to be socially compliant. Often, scammers will make an offer look legitimate by using a name that is similar to an established company or pretend to be someone or something they’re not. A common example of this type of tactic is a “phishing scam” where unknowing consumers give out personal information to scammers impersonating a bank or other reputable institutions.

Your needs and desires can make you more vulnerable. Once a scammer knows what you want, even if it doesn’t exist, they are in a position to manipulate you.

Con artists take advantage of visceral triggers, such as fear and greed, to reduce a potential victim’s motivation to fully assess the scam. In many cases, perpetrators will offer “guaranteed loans” with “no credit check” to consumers who cannot receive a loan elsewhere because of bad credit. They then ask the consumer to pay an advance fee for the promise of the loan.

Don’t be clouded by psychological triggers. Keep your head clear when making important financial decisions and you’ll have the best chance at recognizing these techniques for what they are: a scam.

Drew J. Breakspear is commissioner of Florida’s Office of Financial Regulation.

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