SCARS™ Psychology of Scams: What Drives Us To Be Scammed

(Last Updated On: March 24, 2022)

SCARS™ Psychology of Scams: What Drives Us To Be Scammed

Every Minute, Every Day, Throughout Our Lives We Rush Headlong From One Scam To Another


Why Are We Scammed?

Because we are emotional beings who want for things we do not have. It really is that simple.

Marketers, salespeople, politicians, and scammers – wait, it there any difference between them?

They are all selling us something we long for.

Every Day We Are Scammed – In One Way Or Another

Every advertisement that we watch on TV or print ad we look at – these are all socially engineered to cause you to react. Politicians will lie to your face about what they will do for you. Cosmetics will lie to you about how amazing you will look. Every advertised product pitch contains some level of deception, and we all buy them!

Shared Acceptable Deception

Every aspect of our human condition is, on some level, based upon shared deceptions. We accept these as normal. We embrace them because they give meaning to our existence. From religion to politics they shape who we are, even though we know that some of it is pure propaganda – some more than others.

We need this to give our lives shape and meaning. Marketers, politicians, even our friends, and family know this. So do scammers.

Have you never told a “white-lie” to a family member, child, or friend? Wasn’t that – in the purest sense – a deception? Of course it was. We all live for and from these day by day.

Scammers know this too, and they exploit it.

To Understand Why You Were Scammed

To really understand why you were scammed, you have to look at human activity from the perspective of Madison Avenue – professional marketers. These are the true scammers that spend their entire working lives trying to manipulate you into giving them your money!

Wait, isn’t that was scammers do too?

Except you are supposed to know one is marketing and the other is a scam.

Do you?

Emotional Drivers of Effective Marketing (We Mean Deception)

Marketing and deception go hand in hand. We all know this but many are powerless to resist it. Scammers know this too.

Why do we lump scammers and marketers in the same basket?

One is honest and the other a crime?

Because at the heart of scamming is the marketing of a service! It is the delivery of something that every victim wanted.

Scamming is, in truth, a product, a service, that uses deception to deliver it.

The difference between commercial deception and scamming is not a difference of kind, only of degree.

In the case of marketing or politics, we have a line they cannot cross – we think! Yet they do all the time.

Politicians are almost never held accountable for their deceptions – we expect it, yet we also believe it. Marketers, on the other hand, have laws that restrict the level of deception they can use in their work – truth in advertising (no such thing). We accept some deception in marketing because without it we would never buy anything – we want the illusions that marketing brings.

But scammers also have some truth in what they do or it would not work, they know what you want and pitch to those needs or desires to get you to buy their product. The difference is the level of deception.

Most marketing is painless and harmless. Scamming leaves scars. But so do other kinds of pitches – from religion to politics to unsafe products (like Facebook?).

What Are You Willing To Accept

You have to be the informed consumer and guard yourself by re-examining the level of deception you are willing to accept!

For example, there is a new Quinten Tarantino movie called “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” is it a scam? Yes, because it uses deception to lead you to believe you are buying one thing and delivers something else – if you go to see it, just wait for the final delivery – the ending! Pure bait and switch!

Disney, on the other hand, is very honest about their deception – it is a fairy tale that is created to give you a good feeling and an enjoyable story – nothing more. When you buy a Disney product you know what you are getting. Disney deceives with your consent, and you knew it going in. That is perfectly ok.

Scammers promise true, but it is pure fantasy, they do not deliver, they just take. This is clearly crossing the line.

You have to understand these concepts to be able to understand your own motivations that led you to the scammer’s deception and allowed them to manipulate you against your own self-interests.


1.  Fear

Fear is one of the most primal motivators of human behavior. People will often invest more effort into avoiding something they fear than they will into attempting to attain or achieve something they desire.

As Don Draper states in the pilot of Mad Men TV series, “Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is? It’s freedom from fear.”

To capitalize on fear, a deceiver must first identify a specific threat and then assert that this product/offer/service is the best solution. Acting now is your best chance of preventing this impending threat.

Scammers know this.

They know that in the beginning, you are afraid. You are afraid of being alone or lonely. You are afraid of missing out on a relationship when it appears. They use these to hook you.

This is also why when the red flags appear your fear is what stomps them into the ground. You are afraid to lose the new relationship. Sometimes scammers will threaten to take away what they offer when you become resistant. All of this is exploiting your fear.

2.  Greed

We all want more. More money, more time, more luxury, more savings, more friends… you name it, we want more of it.

Greed is an easy emotion to invoke in a deception.

Scammers identify what they offer that you desire more of, then position their pitch to appeal to this desire. They make sure they include a promise of exactly how they will help their victim attain more of what they want.

Scammers know what you want – you want love! You were greedy for love – they know this. There is nothing wrong with it, but they exploited that, and you know what happened after that!

3.  Guilt

There are two primary strains of guilt:

  • guilt that you’re not doing enough for others
  • guilt that you’re not doing enough for yourself

Scammers use guilt to plant a seed of doubt that you’re falling short or causing harm, then offers a quick-fix action to relieve the guilty feeling. Such as they have an emergency and only you can help. Guilt is what drives your decision.

Scammers are expert in making you feel personally responsible for contributing to their solution.

Guilt can also overlap with fear, inducing worry that we’re not taking enough care of our loved one (such as your scammer), with appeals like “Don’t you love me?”

4.  Anger

Marketers and politicians want people to take action! Get them riled up about something.

This is not so much what scammers do – but it certainly is what amateur anti-scam groups do in abundance.

Whether these groups are reminding them of their daily pain or opening their eyes to their own injustice, anger is a passionate emotion, and passion creates a sense of urgency that can be a powerful motivator of action. It is also a useful tool in pulling someone into a deception.

In the case of pretender anti-scam groups, it is the deception that someone posting endless photos of scammers is going to stop scamming or help other victims. There is a kernel of truth but it is exaggerated beyond reality.

Anger can also hold a victim to their scammer. Scammers know that friends and family will try to expose the scam, so they use Gaslighting » to create an anger response when friends and family try to pull the victim away.

Getting you wound up about something and then giving them an outlet for that emotion is a highly effective way to channel their energy into taking your desired action. It is what politicians do all the time, but scammers can exploit it as well.

One of the ways scammers also exploit anger is after the scam. Anger tends to make victims run around looking for “justice” instead of participating in real actions that can affect the scammer. Examples of this are the anti-scam hate groups, and the practice of scambaiting » – these are all anger-driven vigilantism that diverts the victims away from effective action.

Anger (and fear) after the scam also hold most victims back from reporting these crimes to law enforcement. With only 3-5% of scams reported the problem appears far less than it is – so government does not act appropriately.

5.  Exclusivity

Who doesn’t like to feel special? Included? Part of the club?

Stating that an offer is being extended only to your most valued customers, providing an option to opt in to an “insider’s” newsletter for special deals, or stating that there are only a limited number of something available are all ways marketers add an element of exclusivity to their offer, suggesting that it is high quality and in high demand.  This is what marketers do to hook you into their offers.

When we feel we are being made an offer that not just anyone can redeem, we’re more likely to take advantage of it. Same is true in scams!

Scammers do the same thing at various stages of their romance scams.

In the beginning, it is the exclusivity of their attention. They chose you. They are only involved with you. You feel this and respond to it. The Amygdala Hijack » is a trigger that is related to this aspect of exclusivity.

As the relationship extends, the scammer will use this exclusivity to reinforce your fear and the special nature of what you have – with the goal of keeping you locked into the fake relationship.

6.  Salvation

If it’s true that humans will go to great lengths to avoid the things we fear, it’s also true that we will go to equally great lengths to have someone or something neutralize the fear for us so we don’t have to face dealing with it ourselves.

Salvation appeals offer easy solutions to our worries and fears.

Scammers know how to leverage this in their victims by offering a beautiful future where the scammer and victim live happily ever after!

Scammers also allow their victims to play saviors to their emergencies and moments of need.

Other victims can also harm scam victims by developing a “Savior Syndrome” » where they feel that ONLY they can save other victims. Victims that fall for Saviors are scammed twice. Saviors cause harm by holding victims away from real recovery from their scam, or deceiving victims into following directions that do not help them – it only helps or serves the “Savior.” Saviors keep victims focused on them, and not on their own healing.

After a scam, we constantly see victims in a state of panic looking for any salvation. Sadly this makes them vulnerable to not only Saviors but also to secondary scams, such as Money Recovery Scams, Scammer Investigation Scams, African Police Scams, and more. After a scam, victims are also more likely to grasp at financial saviors to help them overcome their financial losses and difficulties.

7.  Flattery

Flattery builds up a person’s self-image before making the pitch, catering to the notion that a victim is a person of discriminating tastes, someone who deserves only the best and knows quality, truth, opportunity, a miracle –  when they see it.

In marketing, the key is not to overdo it at risk of seeming insincere and making the consumer distrustful of your offer. Scammers don’t worry very much about that. They know that they can manipulate the victims well enough to overcome any hints of distrust.

Flattery can also work in the reverse, tearing down a victim’s self-image in order to make the case that only the scammer will help them become the person they want to be.

8. Instant Gratification

We live in a world of the quick fix, where instant gratification isn’t just a desire – it’s an expectation. Marketers know that messages that suggest immediacy are well-received by consumers who value convenience and instant gratification.

Scammers use and exploit these same tactics. They know they only have a short window of opportunity, especially after the Amygdala Hijack » to hook a victim.

Using quantifiers like now, today, and within 24 hours will boost the victim’s sense of time or supply urgency and, in turn, increase their desire or need to take action. Scammers use this instant gratification approach to maintain a pace the reduces the time to think and feel and reflect – which could lead a victim to realize the deception – advertisers do exactly the same thing.

9. Curiosity

Rather than just killing the cat, it might get people to break the seal instead.

It’s in our human nature to crave knowledge that fills the curiosity gap, the discrepancy between what we currently know and what we would like to know. We often go to great lengths to get it.

Scammers use this sense of curiosity to pull you in » – because you want to know what is possible, what it will feel like to be loved and wanted, to explore this new and amazing future.

Scammers craft every message as though it was a marketing headline. Each line of text has to deliver, and in turn, pull you forward towards their intended destination.

10. Nostalgia

There’s a reason why nostalgia has crept into our collective consciousness. It is a primary lure. The need for something (we think) we used to have!

The return of love, or wealth, or a relationship that you used to have. The Scammer knows this and exploits it.

Nostalgia transports us back to a simpler or better time where our problems carried less weight and the hustle and bustle of modern life fades away. It returns us to a time when we had what we do not have now.

It also creates a sense of urgency and fear that we might miss it this time.

Instead of waiting for the next great thing, the reassuring thing about the past is that we already know the outcome. Assuming that we can find it again.

Longing for the past makes us feel good – and making people feel good is always a winning strategy for marketers and scammers. It also blocks many of the danger signs we would otherwise see. Our memories work against us by both projecting forward and also by releasing the hormones that can fuel the desire for the deception being offered.

By Understanding

By understanding how you were manipulated and how your own motivations were used against you, you can more easily recognize that you are not at fault. You are just human.

There are consequences to be sure, but at least if you really understand how scammers use motivation, psychology, and manipulation against you, then you can let go of the self-blame or self-hate and forgive yourself. From there you can heal.

But it is also a caution to be much more aware of how we are all deceived every day.


We wish you all the best. Please leave your comment about this article below!


SCARS the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Incorporated


A SCARS Division
Miami Florida U.S.A.



TAGS: SCARS, Important Article, Information About Scams, Anti-Scam, MArketing Deception, Political Deception, How We Are Scammed, Psychology of Scams, What Drives Us, To Be Scammed, Fear, Greed, Guilt, Anger, Exclusivity, Flattery, Salvation, Saviors, Instant Gratification, Curiosity, Nostalgia, Anti-Scam Groups, Savior Syndrome, Amygdala Hijack, Gaslighting

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  1. Samuel W July 12, 2021 at 9:53 pm - Reply

    Whaouh, juste bravo! bon courage et bonne continuation pour ces articles tres sensibilsatteurs

  2. Becky September 17, 2019 at 5:59 am - Reply

    Supreme Excellent prose
    Kudo awe praise to erudite writer
    Thanks for adding me to SCARS

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