Many people believe they are too smart to be taken in by a scam. But they miss the key point: Scammers mostly bypass your intellect and rely on sophisticated psychological and emotional manipulations to get you to say yes. “You don’t have to be a fool to be fooled,” says Robert Cialdini, author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. “These people are using tactics and strategies that all of us are susceptible to.” Specifically, he explains, they weaponize universal human instincts such as fear of loss, love and trust in others. Here are some of their techniques.
1. Scammers establish camaraderie
“So sorry to hear about the loss of your husband. You know, my own wife passed away last year as well. It’s been hard.”
The Trick: Scammers will parrot back the target’s religion, political affiliation, military background or life situation to get the target to feel “he’s just like me,” Cialdini notes. “Then we tend to lower our defenses and are much more likely to follow their lead.”
2. Scammers play on your aversion to loss
“You’ve won the sweepstakes! You are now rich! But if you don’t act fast ...”
The Trick: Many people have a deep-seated fear of missing out (FOMO, in internet jargon) on good opportunities, given how infrequently they appear. The criminal encourages that FOMO, Cialdini says. “They do it in terms of the uniqueness of the idea, or the dwindling of availability of the product or service. This spooks people into choices.”
3. Scammers flatter you
“I can tell you know a lot about finance, so you know how much money you can make in cryptocurrency if you manage the risks.”
The Trick: “Usually, at the beginning, it’s a lot of love bombing,” says Anthony Pratkanis, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. They’ll frequently praise the victim, Cialdini says. “That lends itself to a sense of connection and trust. ‘If this person likes me, well, then I can trust this person.’ ”
4. Scammers make you feel anxious
“This malware means your bank account has been compromised. Someone could steal from it very easily now.”
The Trick: “We live in this age of anxiety, where there are so many actual existential fears,” AARP fraud expert Doug Shadel says. “It’s pretty easy to get people to say, ‘All right, what do I have to do to make this one go away?’ ”
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