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​7 Tactics Criminals Use to Perpetrate Scams Against You

Scammers have learned how to manipulate people’s emotions and take advantage of their trust in others

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Many people believe they are too smart to become victims of a scam. But they miss the 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 human instincts such as fear, love and trust. Here are some of their techniques.

1. They 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.”

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Why it works: Scammers will parrot back the target’s religion, political affiliation, military background or life situation to get the victim to feel “he’s just like me,” Cialdini says. “Then we tend to lower our defenses and are much more likely to follow their lead.”

2. They play on our aversion to loss

“You’ve won the sweepstakes! You are now rich! But if you don’t act fast ...”

Why it works: Many people have a deep-seated fear of missing out (FOMO, in internet jargon) on good opportunities, given how infrequently they might 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. They 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.”

Why it works: “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. They make you anxious

“This malware means your bank account has been compromised. Someone could steal from it very easily now.” 

Why it works: “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?’ ”

VIDEO: 3 Scams That Target Your Emotions
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5. They scare you

Grandpa, help! I’ve been arrested and need money for bail right away!”

Why it works: “When you’re afraid, the emotional part of your brain takes over the cognitive part of your brain,” Shadel says. “That’s what they want. When your emotions kick in, it swaps out the logic.”

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6. They seduce you

“I love talking to you. I have not felt so close to someone in so long.”

Why it works: “In a romance scam, as in a [real] love relationship, you’ll have reciprocating self-disclosures,” Pratkanis explains. “I’ll tell you a little bit about me. In return, you tell me a little bit about you. And as we go further down the path, we say more intimate things, and that creates a sense of closeness, even love.”

7. They intimidate you

“I’m with the police; you’ve missed jury duty again. Either pay a $900 fine now or go to jail.”

Why it works: Scammers present themselves as an authority (say, a cop, IRS officer or Medicare rep). “Technology makes it so easy now to pretend to be someone you’re not,” Shadel says. “Criminals can program their caller ID so it says ‘San Diego Sheriff’s Office.’ ”

How to stay rational when scammers try to rattle you

Avoid responding to calls, texts and other forms of communication from people you don’t know. If you do engage with a stranger who has initiated contact, monitor your reaction. Do you feel heated? Is your pulse rising? Are you getting angry or anxious?

If the answer is yes, get out of the situation immediately. Simply say, “I won’t do this by phone. Send a letter. Goodbye.” Then hang up. (But don’t give the caller your address.)

Recenter yourself: Leave the room, take 10 deep breaths and ask yourself questions that you know the answers to, such as “What color is grass?”

Look at the situation like a scientist, as though you’re observing someone else in the same position.

Never make an immediate impulse-buying decision. Wait at least 24 hours to allow emotions to subside before making a purchase.

Get advice from a person you trust and respect. Merely discussing the situation out loud can help bring rationality back.

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