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Five psychological reasons why people fall for scams – and how to avoid them

Posted by Marketing Director on August 03, 2020 - 3:44pm

Five psychological reasons why people fall for scams – and how to avoid them

Con artists, fraudsters and their hapless victims are a staple of the news cycle and hardly a week seems to pass without a story about an e-mail lottery scam or a telephone fraud. Many reading these stories perhaps just raise their eyebrows and shake their heads, wondering how people can be so gullible.

There is often an assumption that the victims have specific traits – perhaps they are elderly or less well educated? Or maybe the victims are particularly vulnerable – recently bereaved or socially isolated perhaps?

Figures do suggest that one in five over-65s say that they have been targeted by email scammers. But it is also likely that that nobody is immune to fraud and sometimes people simply fall for scams due to the psychological techniques employed by fraudsters.

Using some of the ideas outlined by psychology professor, Robert Cialdini, here are five psychological reasons why people fall for scams.

You scratch my back…

Beware the principle of reciprocity. If someone does something for us, we feel more obliged to do something for them. Scammers use this type of “enforced indebtedness” to elicit an unwise action from their target. For example, someone offering you an exclusive opportunity to invest your money can be seen to be doing you a favour. That in turn makes people want to return the favour – which could be as simple as continuing to listen to their sales pitch, or as destructive as signing up for a bogus scheme.

Like lemmings off a cliff

Research shows that if a person believes other people are doing something, then they feel it must be okay for them to do it too. This is especially true when individuals find themselves in a pressured and ambiguous situation – such as a sales pitch. If a person on the other end of the phone tells us that 75% of people like us have signed up to this financial scheme, then we are much more likely to do so – even though we might secretly doubt the veracity of such claims.

Little steps

People like to think of themselves as being consistent and committed individuals. If we say we are going to do something, then generally we will, as failure to do so may dent our sometimes fragile self-esteem.

Fraudsters take advantage of this by getting us to commit to little steps that then escalate in nature. For example, by simply getting people to answer their “trivial” questions (how are you today?), the fraudster is getting their prey to fool themselves into believing that they are happy to talk to this unknown person. And, of course, trivial questions lead to more personal ones, like who do you bank with? Having answered one question, it would be inconsistent not to answer another one. And, after all, we like to perceive of ourselves as helpful and polite individuals.

FOMO (the fear of missing out)

People are generally worried about missing out on an opportunity, perhaps for “the next big thing”. And if such an “offer” is for a limited time only, then the principle of scarcity suggests that people are more likely to be drawn to it.

When our freedom to be able to do something is threatened, we tend to react quickly to ensure that we don’t miss out. When pitching financial offers, scammers will claim that this offer is only valid now and as soon as they put the phone down, the offer will be gone. Many people will feel that they simply can’t miss out on such an opportunity.

They seemed so nice

The principle of similarity suggests that we tend to like people who seem to be the same as us, and, in turn, we are much more likely to agree to a request from someone we like. Similarity can be as broad as an interest in financial investments or as fleeting as sharing some personal characteristics.

Scammers take advantage of this and try to find out things about us in order to appear to be like us. For example, asking your date of birth, and then mentioning that it is their date of birth also, can have the unconscious effect of making you like them more – and hence more likely to agree to their requests.

While it is unlikely that any one of these psychological ploys on their own would be sufficient to persuade someone to do something that is against their best interests, in combination they can be powerful tools for a con artist. But by being aware of, and understanding, these five simple psychological principles, people are far more likely to be able to resist them and avoid being scammed.

This artical was currated from

Naomi Schalit

Senior Politics + Society Editor
Mike Thompson Very good information and I believe that the fear of missing out is one of the biggest reasons people fall for scams.
August 3, 2020 at 3:53pm
Saidu Sesay You are correct
August 3, 2020 at 4:42pm
Cy Nibbs Thanks, for this very informative article. I do believe that author could have covered a lot more, but the five points were eye openings. Thanks, Tom for sharing.
August 3, 2020 at 4:53pm
Kevin Jacobson Great article. Especially the Science Of Persuasion video. Thank you for sharing.
August 3, 2020 at 6:06pm
Waqas 786 Great article thank's for sharing your great information
August 4, 2020 at 2:31am
Don Kepple These tactics are quite common on social media. Especially Facebook. The most common question I'm asked on Facebook is, "Where are you from?" Short answer: "Everything I'm willing to share is on my profile page. If you haven't taken the time to look at it, I won't work with you." Simple, but effective. Their MO is shot to hell from the very beginning. Just one example. Thanks for sharing Tom.
August 4, 2020 at 4:09am
Simon Keighley Thanks for sharing these 5 excellent ways to avoid scams, Tom. There is a science to how we are persuaded and I have fallen for my fair share in the past.
August 4, 2020 at 10:04am
Joseph Stasaitis It is always important to be reminded of these psychological principles no matter the level of our experience. The video provided key insights on how to effectively use persuasion techniques ethically to serve our audience better.
August 4, 2020 at 1:51pm
Oscar Garza Jr Good article,thanks for posting it sir!
August 4, 2020 at 5:34pm
Jan Smith I like your answer Don. Very appropriate.
August 4, 2020 at 10:14pm
Waqas 786 Great Information thanks for sharing
August 5, 2020 at 2:52am
Andron ZVO Blessed Markethive! Be Happy!
August 5, 2020 at 12:54pm
Craig Reaser E mail is the #1 way used by fraudsters.
August 5, 2020 at 10:40pm
john harrell Thanks for sharing
August 6, 2020 at 4:47am
Yvonne Magodi It happened to me just 2 weeks ago. I received a text message, telling me am a winner for being an active member of online platforms, they left me with an email address to respond to. And since it was a text message, I thought I was obliged to respond and I did. To cut through long story short, eventually, they requested for Airtime to unblock my reward. From there, I new who I was dealing with. They come in all soughts of packages. I don't understand. Very tempting and really work on the Sense of urgency.
August 6, 2020 at 4:56am
Yvonne Magodi Thanks for this.
August 6, 2020 at 4:57am
andrei68 Yarushin good afternoon. Thank you all have a nice day
August 6, 2020 at 4:41pm
Ronald Tate Great Information thanks for sharing
August 6, 2020 at 6:46pm
Ben Lehman Great info
August 7, 2020 at 5:31am
Corneliu Boghian Great Information , thanks for sharing !!!
August 7, 2020 at 3:50pm
Mohammad Faisul Alam very good information. thank you
August 7, 2020 at 8:05pm
Anthuwin Cupido Good information, thanks for sharing this article.
August 9, 2020 at 7:15am
August 9, 2020 at 7:30am
Shani Rajpoot Gud artical
August 9, 2020 at 10:06am
Ulf Astrom Thanks for this article. The science of persuasion video is really good. Much to learn from that one although some of it we already know (but probably don't utilize properly).
August 9, 2020 at 6:40pm
Moses Onojoserio This is powerful, I love it. Thanks
August 9, 2020 at 7:37pm
📈 Louis Esselen 📈 Very good Info to know. Thanks for sharing
August 10, 2020 at 5:57am
Ayikoe G. Alain AYIVISSAKA-MESSANH Very good information. We can resist counterfeiters and con artists now. Thank you.
August 10, 2020 at 2:59pm
Health and Safety STEFY Thanks for sharing this valuable information with us, it is really helpful article!
August 16, 2020 at 8:25am
Ray Barmore Great article. You might add, It seems so safe. Twice, I have been sent Cashiers checks, one for $1000 and one for $1500. Both times I called the issuing bank and they said the check wasn't theirs.
August 18, 2020 at 12:16am
Health and Safety STEFY Thanks for the great information to know!
August 18, 2020 at 4:10am
Opeoluwa Akinwumi Thanks for the article
August 20, 2020 at 3:29pm
August 26, 2020 at 7:58am
Mack Shead Jr Spot on information thank you for sharing
August 27, 2020 at 5:39am
Baluku Gerald Its such a good reminder. Well, everyone is prone to this. Toooooo bad.!!!
September 4, 2020 at 2:54am
Jonathan Norris great scam
September 5, 2020 at 9:24pm
tatana Tatiana Yarushina Thanks for sharing
September 6, 2020 at 3:02pm
AndersHasselroth Thanks. This is important for people to learn and also some basic due dilligence when it comes to business opportunities.
October 1, 2020 at 8:17am
Ray Barmore I believe people want to believe and trust others, and that makes us gullible.
October 22, 2020 at 10:26pm
Corneliu Boghian good info , thanks
May 18, 2021 at 6:18am