What Drives People To Be RomanceScammed?

The Psychology of Scams

A SCARS Insight

Why Do People Accept Scams?

What We Are Really Asking Is Why People Believe In Fantasies?

What is it about us humans that we are so willing to believe a fairytale? Yet, so often that is exactly what we do!

This is not intended to shame victims – far from it, this is intended to help victims examine their own thought processes and behaviors.

Psychological Reasons Why People Fall For Scams

Nobody is immune to fraud and sometimes people simply fall for scams due to the psychological techniques employed by fraudsters. However, the lures generally will not work on people who have learned avoidance behavior or who are not prone to fantastical thinking.

One Of The Most Important Manipulation/Grooming Approaches Is: “You Scratch My Back…” or Reciprocity.

This is a profoundly complex topic and one that we cannot fully explore in an article here. However, there is an aspect of this that is important to help scam victims better understand how they were lured and groomed by their scammers.

You Scratch My Back…


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. In other words, to manipulate the scam victim.

For example, someone offering you an exclusive opportunity to invest your money can be seen to be doing you a favor. That in turn makes people want to return the favor – which could be as simple as continuing to listen to their sales pitch or as destructive as signing up for a bogus scheme.

This also holds true in romance scams where the scammer offers attention and romance, ultimately in exchange for money.

In social psychology, reciprocity is a social norm of responding to a positive action with another positive action, rewarding kind actions with more kind actions. Reciprocity means that in response to friendly actions, people are frequently much nicer and much more cooperative than otherwise would be the case. Reciprocity makes it possible to build continuing relationships and exchanges.

Reciprocal actions differ from altruistic actions in that reciprocal actions only follow from others’ initial actions (such as the scammer’s positive attention given to the victim), while altruism is the unconditional act of social gift-giving without any hope or expectation of future positive responses. Some distinguish between ideal altruism (giving with no expectation of future reward) and reciprocal altruism (giving with the limited expectation or the potential for an expectation of future reward).

Thus this is taught to us at an early age as the “Golden Rule”  This is the principle of treating others as one wants to be treated. It is a maxim that is found in most religions and cultures. It can be considered an ethic of reciprocity in some religions, although different religions treat it differently.

The maxim may appear as a positive or negative injunction governing conduct:

  • Treat others as you would like others to treat you (positive or directive form)
  • Do not treat others in ways that you would not like to be treated (negative or prohibitive form)
  • What you wish upon others, you wish upon yourself (empathetic or responsive form)

When it comes to scams, especially romance scams, this is one of the defining principles in the scammer’s grooming & manipulation techniques.

The Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO)

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. Once the leap has been made, then there will exist a degree of fear of mission out. 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. And when the person says this is a limited time offered – then that fear kicks in.

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.

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. This also applies to our perceptions of our strength and invulnerability. But scammers know that these can all be broken down by just taking things (deceiving) through small steps.

Step by step that fraud progresses, and in most cases the victim is not even aware of the manipulation and how far from their own normal behavior they are.

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.

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 (star signs do the same thing) – and hence more likely to agree to their requests. Scammers can find numerous ways to create this similarity – from places they live or have visited, to mutual interests, to pets.

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 simple psychological principles, people are far more likely to be able to resist them and avoid being scammed.


As you can see, each of these plays a role in reducing a victim’s defenses against scams and makes it more likely that they can be effectively manipulated.

However, by being away from these approaches, victims can adopt behaviors to counter them.

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TAGS: SCARS, Information About Scams, Scams, Scammers, Fraudsters, Cybercrime, Crybercriminals, Romance Scams, Scam Victims, Online Fraud, Online Crime Is Real Crime, Scam Avoidance, Understanding Romance Scams, Manipulation Techniques, Reciprocity, Fear of Missing Out, Small Steps, Self-Defense, Defensive Behavior



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By the SCARS™ Editorial Team
Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc.

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