RSN™ Guide: The 7 Psychological Principles of ScamsScams A Scam is a confidence trick - a crime -  is an attempt to defraud a person or group after first gaining their trust through deception. Scams or confidence tricks exploit victims using their credulity, naïveté, compassion, vanity, irresponsibility, or greed and exploiting that. Researchers have defined confidence tricks as "a distinctive species of fraudulent conduct ... intending to further voluntary exchanges that are not mutually beneficial", as they "benefit con operators ('con men' - criminals) at the expense of their victims (the 'marks')". A scam is a crime even if no money was lost.

There Are 7 Principal Elements To A Typical ScamScam A Scam is a confidence trick - a crime -  is an attempt to defraud a person or group after first gaining their trust through deception. Scams or confidence tricks exploit victims using their credulity, naïveté, compassion, vanity, irresponsibility, or greed and exploiting that. Researchers have defined confidence tricks as "a distinctive species of fraudulent conduct ... intending to further voluntary exchanges that are not mutually beneficial", as they "benefit con operators ('con men' - criminals) at the expense of their victims (the 'marks')". A scam is a crime even if no money was lost. Regardless Of The Type!

1. Distraction

Attention is like a spotlight, which means when it’s pointing in one direction it pretty much ignores everything else.

Except people don’t realize how little information coming in from the outside world we actually process. Naturally, you don’t notice what you don’t notice, plus the mind is designed to fill in the gaps for us. But hustlers do know and almost every con uses some kind of distraction.

The classic example is ‘Three-card Monte‘ sometimes called ‘Find the Lady’, a rigged card game in which the aim is to find one card out of three after the hustler shuffles them around.

At the heart of this hustle is the orchestration of a crowd of onlookers who the mark (that’s you and me) thinks are all fellow punters, but who are actually in on the game. Marks are distracted by the situation in the street—the banter, laughter, and excitement—and don’t realize the whole thing is a setup: no matter what the mark thinks they know, there is no way to win. The hustler is always one step ahead.

2. Social Compliance

The classic study showing how compliant we are, especially when told to do things by an authority figure, was carried out by Stanley Milgram.

Scammers know all about this and happily exploit our automatic deference to authority figures. People will hand over credit cards to people they think are waiters, car keys to people they think are car park attendants and give access to their house to people they think are from the water board. The best known online example is a ‘phishing attack’ where people give fraudsters their bank details in response to an email that purports to be from their bank.

3. Herd Principle

People are sheep: they can’t help following each other.

The classic study on conformity was conducted by Solomon Asch in the 1950s showing that people will deny evidence from their own eyes to fit in with others. In the Three-card Monte con, the crowd of shills around the game creates the herd for the mark to follow.

Online there are all kinds of tricks people can use to make others think there is a herd when actually there is only one person. The practice of ‘astroturfing’ means creating multiple online identities to fake grass-roots support for a politician. In peer-to-peer networks, the multiple identities created by people trying to influence them are known as Sybils.

Whether online or offline, though, groups exert an enormous influence over us.

4. Dishonesty

Fear is the mind-killer.

Hustlers know that people are fearful and play on this fact. Some cons involve selling goods to marks that are used for illegal purposes. For example, one scam described by Stajano and Wilson involves selling people ‘cancelled banknotes’, actually just pieces of paper which have been spray-painted, then telling marks they have an amazing gadget which will clean off the ink and make the notes usable again.

Marks are discouraged from reporting the scam because they would be implicating themselves and the hustler wins both ways.

5. Deception

People are easily tricked, even when they think they are being careful. Hustlers take advantage of the fact that most people go along with their expectations of what will happen in any given situation. If the hustler’s behaviorBehavior   Behavior / Behavioral Actions Otherwise known as habits, behavior or behavioral actions are strategies to help prevent online exploitation that target behavior, such as social engineering of victims. Changing your behavior is the ONLY effective means to reduce or prevent scams. fits the situation then people will accept what they say.

One classic is ‘van dragging’ where hustlers target a warehouse from which they want to steal the goods being delivered. They hang a sign saying the door is broken and those delivering should call a number. The hustlers, hiding nearby, answer and steal all the goods from the delivery driver, all the while complaining that they’ve called the locksmith and he hasn’t turned up yet. The delivery driver often helps the hustlers load their van.

6. Need And Greed

Once hustlers know what people want, even if it doesn’t exist, they are in a position to manipulate them. They will play on people’s desperation; unfortunately, the more desperate people are, the easier they are to con.

A classic short-con that works people’s greed is the ‘ring reward rip-off’. A female hustler enters a bar and shows-off a new ring to the barman (the mark) claiming it cost thousands (actually it’s a cheap fake). The female hustler leaves to be replaced by a male accomplice. The female hustler then rings the barman to say she lost her ring. The male hustler then claims to have found it but asks if there’s a reward. Over the phone, the female gives a price but the barman realizes he can make a profit so tells the male hustler a much lower price. The barman hands over the money and, of course, neither of the hustlers are seen again.

This con relies on the barman’s greed or it won’t work. In reality, it works surprisingly often.

7. Time Pressure

A classic study of how people make decisions under time pressure demonstrates what hustlers already know: when there’s no time to think people rely on shortcuts and emotional responses to a situation.

So hustlers make sure the mark is under time pressure so they will respond in a predictable fashion, i.e. by being greedy, or giving in to the herd principle, or by bending to the will of an authority figure.

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