Seven Psychological Principles Con Artists Exploit

Inher­ent human vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies need to be taken into account when design­ing secur­ity systems/processes, sug­gests a study that looks at a dozen con­fid­ence tricks from the UK TV show The Real Hustle to determ­ine recur­ring beha­vi­our­al pat­terns con artists use to exploit vic­tims.

The study was a col­lab­or­a­tion between Frank Sta­jano of the Uni­ver­sity of Cam­bridge Com­puter Labor­at­ory and Paul Wilson, writer and pro­du­cer of the afore­men­tioned TV show (Wilson was an IT con­sult­ant for twelve years before mov­ing into enter­tain­ment).

The sev­en prin­ciples of human beha­viour that con artists exploit, accord­ing to the art­icle:

  • The dis­trac­tion prin­ciple: While you are dis­trac­ted by what retains your interest, hust­lers can do any­thing to you and you won’t notice.
  • The social com­pli­ance prin­ciple: Soci­ety trains people not to ques­tion author­ity. Hust­lers exploit this “sus­pen­sion of sus­pi­cious­ness” to make you do what they want.
  • The herd prin­ciple: Even sus­pi­cious marks will let their guard down when every­one next to them appears to share the same risks. Safety in num­bers? Not if they’re all con­spir­ing against you.
  • The dis­hon­esty prin­ciple: Any­thing illeg­al you do will be used against you by the fraud­ster, mak­ing it harder for you to seek help once you real­ize you’ve been had.
  • The decep­tion prin­ciple: Thing and people are not what they seem. Hust­lers know how to manip­u­late you to make you believe that they are.
  • The need and greed prin­ciple: Your needs and desires make you vul­ner­able. Once hust­lers know what you really want, they can eas­ily manip­u­late you.
  • The Time prin­ciple: When you are under time pres­sure to make an import­ant choice, you use a dif­fer­ent decision strategy. Hust­lers steer you towards a strategy involving less reas­on­ing.

via Schnei­er on Secur­ity

20 thoughts on “Seven Psychological Principles Con Artists Exploit

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  5. Mike Hunt

    Look to Obama & the US Gov­’t- they are experts of the con and use all 7 tech­niques with impun­ity.

    And have the gall to stand on the same plat­form of Hope & Change!


  6. Lloyd Morgan Post author

    Thanks for your encour­age­ment and com­ments, all. It’s greatly appre­ci­ated.

    Mike, I’m not quite sure this is how Obama and his admin­is­tra­tion use psy­cho­lo­gic­al prin­cipals to influ­ence and ‘nudge’ the elect­or­ate at all.

    Can you provide an example of where they have used a num­ber of these? (The use of one of these prin­ciples barely counts as a ‘con’, in my opin­ion.

    Rather, Obama and his admin­is­tra­tion use meth­ods to influ­ence that would more accur­ately come under the branch of ‘beha­vi­our­al eco­nom­ics’ or ‘beha­vi­our­al psy­cho­logy’. For more on this I sug­gest per­us­ing my pre­vi­ous post, Beha­vi­our­al Eco­nom­ics and Fin­an­cial Policies.

    Thanks for your com­ment.

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  8. andre lee

    I see some of these prin­ciples apply­ing to the Obama cam­paignad­min­is­tra­tion as thus:

    Dis­trac­tion-Ques­tions about the 20 years of his life pre-book, from col­lege to office.…“refer to his books.” Oh, and you prob­ably are racist any­way i.e., Clin­ton is racist, that’s what he really meant by men­tion­ing Jesse Jack­son in S.C. , or Hil­ary men­tion­ing RFK’s death means she wants him dead, or…take your pick. Just don’t ask any logic­al, nor­mal back­ground, exper­i­ence ques­tions. Thank you.

    You can keep your press pass. You’re wel­come.

    Herd- Kool Aid. Fresh. Ice cold. Super sweet. How could you not like it? Are you so racist that you don’t like it?

    Decep­tion- FISA, NAFTA-‘Clinton did it!!! Oh, there’s a note that says I did it and not her? Well, it does­n’t really say what it really says, just ask the media.’ Iraq war vote and sup­port­ing re-cre­ated ‘anti-Iraq war speech’ that was recor­ded by abso­lutely no one in exist­ence the first time around. Pub­lic cam­paign fin­ance-des­troyed since Mickey Mouse and his friend Don­ald can give money unfettered there’s no need to make sure the money comes from real people. Pub­lic option just like the Fed Health care plan…‘you believed that too did­n’t you?’. Bank bail­out, habeus cor­pus, etc. “Of course I’ll do it because I’m all for it. Believe me, I am. I’ll just be doing things that accom­plish the oppos­ite. Ser­i­ously.”

    Need and Greed- You get the chance to think of your­self as being a great/good/ progressive/not bad per­son because you did­n’t deny your­self the oppor­tun­ity to vote for the half-white guy that you knew less about rather thatn the oth­er full-white people that you could have voted for. You are so cool and with it.

    Time- Iraq War, Afgh­anistan War, the eco­nomy, health­care, social security…‘they’re all broken so hurry up and make your decision to vote for me so I can fix everything. Don’t ask me for details on my plans, just trust me…hurry up and make up your mind to vote for me. Did I already say that?’

    I think there is also one oth­er prin­ciple miss­ing and that is the strong desire and effort by marks to deny and deny and deny that they have been had. This gives the con-ner more space to get away with it with oth­er folks.

  9. Christe

    We have all had these basic prac­tices (7 at least!) applied to us and we have all used them on oth­ers as well. Does not have to be pur­pose­ful so much as avail­able, work­able, use­ful, etc. Not that we should con­done the prac­tices but should instead have mind­ful aware­ness of how all of use them at times.

    Con­cern­ing polit­ics, wow! The vast major­ity of politicos will and have used such prin­ciples as a path to power, albeit, not always know­ingly. It does not mat­ter what party, prin­ciples, or beliefs they sup­posedly espouse. “Power cor­rupts, abso­lute power cor­rupts abso­lutely” (Lord Acton and Wil­li­am Pitt the Eld­er). There is really no way to avoid if his­tory les­sons are to be heeded.

    This begs the fur­ther ques­tion of POWER. IF most of us by adult­hood are engaged know­ingly or unknow­ingly in power rela­tions with each oth­er then the sev­en prin­ciples men­tioned are part of that set of rela­tions. Will not mat­ter what ‘side’ or beliefs you claim to ally with or hate.

    Gaius (Caligula) Caesar from 2,000 years ago had a say­ing “Oder­int dum metu­ant”, roughly trans­lated as “let them hate (me) so long as they also fear (me).” Roman emper­ors had abso­lute power, at least until they ticked off someone too much! He was assas­sin­ated by a Praetor­i­an guard he had insul­ted.

    Today, some rulers such as pres­id­ents past and present, cant use Caligu­la’s prac­tices as much as they would like but the cor­rup­tion of power leads them toward use the prin­ciples men­tioned above…

    In oth­er words you will find the same prac­tices employed by Obama, the Bush or Clin­ton fam­il­ies, etc. There is little dif­fer­ence from a his­tor­ic­al per­spect­ive and argu­ments gen­er­ally turn into a mat­ter of ‘degreee’ con­cern­ing such beha­vi­ors by lead­er­ship. This is espe­cially true when lead­ing a former super­power such as the U.S. with 300 mil­lion people.

  10. Alex

    The per­son who pos­ted as andre lee at about 5:13…is really sad. Kind of pathet­ic really and is the per­fect example of what’s wrong IN this coun­try. I pray for you. Get some help. Please try not to use “as thus” any­more. You look stu­pid.

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  16. Alex's Father

    @ Alex

    You sir, are a tiny little sheep with ruffled fur. Sit down.

    “whats wrong IN this coun­try” – ste­reo­typ­ic­al indig­nantly right­eous response from a wrongly pat­ri­ot­ic Amer­ic­an.

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