Anatomy of a scam: four basic psychological tricks of scammers

What’s the secret? How does it happen that people transfer their money to scammers? It’s all about certain psychological tricks that scammers use against us. Let’s figure out how to deal with it.

When we talk about manipulation in the context of fraud, the term “social engineering” always pops up. There are hundreds of different manipulation techniques and methods of influence. In this article, we will analyze 4 basic manipulations that can work well for a fairly large percentage of people. This is possible due to the fact that they are based on mechanisms that are inherent in most of us. Often, the 4 manipulations below work together, making up a certain algorithm.

For clarity, we will consider everything in the context of a classic bank fake call.

1. Trigger an emotion

The vast majority of strong manipulations are focused on evoking some kind of emotion in a person (depending on the context). This is their main goal.

A person who is in a state of emotional upsurge or downturn is most susceptible to influence.

When it comes to various fraudulent schemes, the main emphasis is on the so-called “reptilian emotions”. These are the emotions that are responsible for our basic reactions to various external stimuli. Basically, it is fear (the “run” response) or anger (the “fight” response). There is also a basic “stop” reaction, but this is not so important in this article. For the most part, criminals exploit fear, for obvious reasons.

What do we hear on the phone from the alleged “security service” of the bank?

– You have some strange transactions going on in your account, have you performed them?
– No
– Most likely, some attackers are doing this, your money can be stolen.

Fear of loss to which is added paranoia: “What if the attackers could get access to some more of my information? I also have cards in other banks … and the password is the same everywhere …” And so on down the list, a very long list.

This is the first hook, after which the fraudster moves on to the second phase: to consolidate the effect and disable critical thinking in the victim.

2. Don’t think, just do!

So we’ve got the emotion and the paranoia worm is ready. Next, you need to turn off the main defense against any manipulation – critical thinking.

The main shield against any influence is the ability to abstract oneself from one’s emotions for a while and start asking questions (turning on the critical perception of information).

Until the victim is trying to recover, the scammer activates the acceleration immediately. The main task of this step is to completely turn off critical perception and force the person to follow the instructions so that he does not have time to think and evaluate what’s going on.

– Do you understand that attackers can withdraw all your money at the moment? You need to urgently take a number of steps, I’m transferring you to our specialist, who will explain everything to you …
– We will now send you an SMS with a code that you need to tell us in order to block the operation before it’s too late. We need to do this as quickly as possible while we still have time! And so on.

In fact, these are two main steps in the algorithm. The next two tricks are necessary to consolidate the result.

3. Principle of authority

This is one of the most important mechanisms of influence, which has a huge number of variations. In the scheme we are talking about, scammers use the principle of authority in order to give their words significance and make them more believable. This is necessary to build trust.

How is this achieved? Let’s look at a few examples.

Use of specific terminology in the context of a particular schema. If we’re talking about a bank fraud, it’ll be “Client Relations Department”, “finance department”, “bank’s security service” and so on.

  • Flaunting with titles. For example, when not an ordinary bank employee speaks to you, but the “head of department” himself. It always causes more confidence.
  • Such phrases as: “Do as I say and we will solve your problem. We have all the necessary tools to secure your money ”. Especially when something like this is said in a confident voice. This aspect is paid much attention, first of all, by telephone scammers.
  • In the case of bank fraud, in the background you will almost always hear the sounds of an allegedly real working office: phone calls, voices, noise, and so on. Usually, whole underground call centers work, and they also bother with such details, again, to create trust.
  • One of the relatively modern ways to increase trust is changing phone number. There are special services that can change your number to almost any number.

The message is clear. The variation of techniques varies depending on the experience of a particular fraudster.

4. Imaginary empathy

 During the crime, a scammer will always try to empathize with you.  Trite, in the case of “banking schemes”, the emphasis will be on your security. The scammer at every good opportunity will remind you that everything is done only for your safety, since it is their job to help their clients. Some may even play the legend that all your actions can help catch the scammers.

– Help us, and perhaps thanks to your actions, we will be able to improve our security system and save our other customers from similar situations in the future.

The main essence of this technique is confidence-building, which was started at the beginning of the conversation.

Let’s sum up. The scheme described is one of the most popular in terms of manipulative influence. Naturally, this doesn’t work for everyone. Much depends on the fraudster himself, as well as on the level of critical thinking of the victim.

The basic algorithm would look like this:

  1. To evoke emotion in a person in order to turn off the critical perception of information. Most often, it will be fear.
  2. Constantly urge a person to not give him the opportunity to think. Again, so that critical thinking does not turn on.
  3. If the fraudster succeeded in the first two steps, then the principle of authority or “imaginary empathy” can be used to consolidate the result.

In practice, all these methods of influence can be used in a huge range of situations, not only to carry out fraudulent activities. Well, again, there are a lot of methods. We have considered one of the basic algorithms of many scammers, especially when it comes to a phone call.

How to deal with it? Within the framework of this algorithm, everything is quite simple.

A couple of things should confuse you: if they persistently start to push you, not allowing you to think about the situation, and also if you feel direct pressure on your emotions. Both facts should put you on your guard.

Develop the critical sense! This is your best insurance.

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