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Are You a Scam Victim Waiting to Happen?

Outsmart clever con artists who prey on the vulnerable

Excerpted with permission of the publisher John Wiley & Sons, Inc., (, Outsmarting the Scam Artists: How to Protect Yourself From the Most Clever Cons by Doug Shadel, copyright 2012 by AARP

Numerous studies have been conducted that compare the behavior and demographic characteristics of known fraud victims with the behavior and demographic characteristics of the general public to see how victims differ. While this research continues, there are several general conclusions that can be asserted about all victims.

See also: How the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will protect you.

In looking at all victims of consumer fraud, there are essentially six primary risk factors that make one vulnerable to fraud:

Outsmarting the Scam Artists: how to protect yourself

Are you at risk of getting scammed? — Photo by Getty Images

Exposure to Sales Situations: Multiple studies have shown that, compared to the general public, more victims of fraud tend to put themselves in sales situations. AARP’s National Victim Profiling study included interviews with 723 fraud victims and 1,509 individuals from the general public. The data from this study showed that compared to the general public, more victims sent away for free promotional materials, entered drawings, attended free lunch seminars, and read all mail, including advertisements.

During the course of numerous in-depth interviews with victims of various frauds, this pattern of exposing themselves to the marketplace was evident. Whether the motivation to do so was financial gain, getting a good deal, boredom, or just an enjoyable hobby, victims were more engaged in the marketplace than others were. This finding was true even when controlling for age and income.

Interest in Persuasion: Several years ago, researchers analyzed hundreds of undercover fraud tapes made by law enforcement and found that across all scams, a series of identifiable persuasion tactics were common to most fraud schemes. The most common tactics were phantom riches (you’ll make a lot of money), source credibility (you can trust me), social consensus (everyone is doing it), scarcity (hurry, time is running out), comparison (you’re getting a really good deal), and friendship (do this for me as your friend).

More recent studies have taken these same persuasion statements and asked victims and the general public to describe their interest in them. Consistently, the victims of fraud showed more interest in persuasion statements used by con artists than the general public, even after having been victimized. Researchers believe this interest makes investors and consumers highly vulnerable to fraud.

Next: Which age group is disproportionately victimized? »

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