There are certain scams you hear about and instinctively think of the victim, “What were they thinking? How could they fall for that?” On the flipside, scam victims are often so embarrassed they hate to even tell anyone what happened.
If you think you’re too smart to get scammed, or feel dumb because you did get scammed, it’s not a matter of intelligence. Con artists are very good at exploiting human nature to manipulate us into giving them what they want. We’re all vulnerable.
There is an interesting article from the BBC about the human impulses that con artists use to get past our defenses: How Con Artists Trick Your Mind. Make yourself aware of these impulses and you’ll be less likely to get scammed.
The article includes the following tricks con artists use:
Time pressure: The con artist pressures you to act quickly, before you can think and use self-control. (For example: “You will be [arrested/have your utilities shut off/lose a promised lottery payout] if you don’t wire us a payment immediately.”
Impersonate someone in authority: Deference to authority figures is something con artists frequently exploit. They might pose as policemen, attorneys or government officials to pressure you into following their instructions.
Use people’s ‘herd’ instinct: You’re more likely to do something if you think your friends–or just people you allign with in some way–are doing it or approve of it. A con artist might pose as a friend on social media to trick you into thinking a scam is legitimate.
Distract the victim. Con artists often distract you to keep you from seeing a scam in progress. For example, an attractive accomplice might divert your attention or an accomplice or accomplices might pretend to start an argument while the crook does his deed.
Use people’s deepest desires against them. Desperate for love or money? A scam artist can to use that desire to blind your reasoning. Dating scammers, advance fee lenders and lottery scammers know this.
Appeal to the victim’s innate dishonesty. Nobody is a complete angel. If a con artist can “find your price” and tempt you into doing something you shouldn’t, especially something illegal, you’re less likely to tell on them when you get burned.
Use people’s empathy and kindness against them. The desire to help people is a noble one, but unfortunately, scam artists can use that against us. For example, con artists often pretend to be a friend or relative in trouble–and you can always count on scams following any natural disaster. (Best defense against this is to take some time and check things out before you send money.)