Scams, Cons and the Psychology Behind Them

Back in January Jason pointed to Wikipedia’s list of confidence tricks; an educational and amusing read.

Now, the UK’s Office of Fair Trading has commissioned some research into why people fall victim to scams (pdf). According to the (260 page) report, here are the reasons why successful scams fool us:

  • Appeals to trust and authority.
  • Visceral triggers.
  • Scarcity cues.
  • Induction of behavioural commitment.
  • The disproportionate relation between the size of the alleged reward and the cost of trying to obtain it.
  • Lack of emotional control.

For a concise (and readable) overview of the paper’s findings, The Psychology of Being Scammed from Mind Hacks is what you should read. Vaughan sums up with:

It’s becoming clear that those things that we think make us resistant to scams (a keen analytical mind) are not what help us avoid being a victim.