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You Are the Target

Today’s swindlers make their pitches personal

shady person in the center of a target


Once, fraudsters blanketed as many people as possible with the same pitch, knowing they’d get a few takers. Today, that has turned around entirely. Scammers now work one person at a time. Consider it personal.

Interviews with convicted swindlers and reviews of undercover tapes of con men in action reveal that successful scammers study you before striking; they use public data and your online behaviors to learn your background and situation. Then they apply these five proven techniques to individualize their pitches.

Find the right moment

Whether it’s the death of a family member, financial troubles, a disease diagnosis or even just moving from one place to another, stressful life events seem to go hand in hand with being scammed. Why? One theory is that these stressful events require cognitive capacity that might otherwise be used to spot and resist con artists.

Win your trust

U.S. military veterans tend to trust fellow vets, so swindlers have learned to pretend to be veterans. Likewise, the best way to scam someone in Iowa is to claim to be from Iowa. Deep in debt? A con artist often will weave a story that he or she, too, was deep in debt, exactly like you, and used this very service to successfully return to financial health.

Locate your hot buttons

Once they have your trust, the best scammers ask questions about your life to find what one con man called your “emotional Achilles’ heel.” That could be fear of running out of money, concern for your spouse’s health or anger at how an organization has treated you. Swindlers are experts at empathy. What they lack is sympathy; once they find your weak spot, they attack.

Trigger your emotions

Con artists agree: The key to a swindle is to get the victim into a heightened emotional state. Once they determine your hot button, they will push it hard, using all kinds of verbal skills.

Hurry you to say yes

Why do that? Because emotions make us act more quickly. That’s why you should always hang up, cool down, do the research and get an outside opinion before deciding on any unsolicited pitch. Chances are that your more rational side will quickly tell you to walk away. Because when it comes to parting with your money, the very last thing this should be is personal.