/ Money, Technology

Are we too susceptible to scammers’ psychological tricks?

Card trick, scams

Scammers are notoriously good at staying ahead of the curve in their techniques to trick you.

I love magic tricks – I’m always so amazed when someone appears to read my mind and tell me what card I’d pictured. That’s right, it’s the 10 of Clubs – how did you know? It must be magic!

But it’s not – the truth is if I hadn’t been so wrapped up in the trick, I could’ve spotted the many clues dropped into the pattern leading me to pick the 10 of Clubs. I’m just predictable – predictably human and predictably vulnerable to tricks…

Easy to trick

I’m not the only one that loves these tricks, if the popularity of Derren Brown and Dynamo is anything to go by. But these psychological techniques can be used for more sinister ends – scammers are increasingly relying on people to behave predictably.

Did you know, according to the Office of National Statistics, that you’re 20 times more likely to fall victim to fraud than robbery?

According Robert Cialdini, professor of psychology, fraudsters use the ‘six principles of persuasion‘ to lure you to their tricks, these tactics are:

  • Reciprocity – you’ll probably feel indebted to someone who does something for you, or gives you something.
  • Commitment and consistency – once committed you’re more likely to be consistent and respond to their consistent messaging.
  • Liking – you’re more likely to trust someone you like.
  • Authority – you’re more likely to obey an authoritative figure.
  • Scarcity – you’re likely to be persuaded to want something that’s rare.
  • Social proof – this appeals to people’s needs to conform, you may be persuaded to do something by what others are doing too.

When we recently tested a group of people to identify genuine and scam emails we found that people could correctly identify the dodgy emails 67% of the time, and that was despite being confident that the right answer had been picked 84% of the time – it’s that gap that leaves us exposed to fraudsters and their tricks.

We can keep our wits about us, but the scams are increasingly sophisticated and play on our human nature to respond in certain ways to certain cues.

The Head of Fraud Prevention at Barclays says that when he listens back to scam phone calls, he is impressed by the fraudsters’ levels of customer service. When criminals are this artful, it’s no wonder that even the smartest people are caught out. And the results are also impressive: one in 10 of us fell victim to scams and fraud last year, costing the British public around £9bn a year.

Protection from scams

I’m not stupid. But like many I’m polite, trusting and follow the rules. It’s these exact qualities that make me more vulnerable to fraud.

When it comes to protecting yourself from scams knowing what to look out for can be just the half of it.

With scammers getting increasingly advanced in the techniques they’re using it seems unfair to be expected to fend off all fraudsters. And that’s why we’re campaigning to get companies to play their part in making it harder for scammers, we need companies to help by doing all they can to safeguard their customers from these clever scams.

If you suspect you’ve stumbled across a scam then you can report it to Action Fraud.

So, tell me, have you spotted any scammers exercising these persuasive tricks to get you to play along?

Carey Kay says:
26 August 2016

Action Fraud are useless – they have no powers and the police won’t investigate because there is Action Fraud! My disabled son lost over £20K and they did not investigate

Anne says:
26 August 2016

That’s disgusting doing that to ur child . Why dont they get a job like normal people do . I can’t believe they would do that to a child . The police don’t seem to want to do a lot of anything do they . I sometimes wonder what we’re paying their wages for . Is it to do a job or to ignore us ??


In my experience of numerous personal banking, credit card and BT telephone frauds over the last 12-18 months, Action Fraud are pointless – really all they do is log the fraud and give you information about what to do. Utterly pointless. The police themselves are overrun with this type of fraud, so they too don’t or cannot or won’t really do anything substantive to help and finally the financial institutions themselves are culpable too. Whilst they themselves will lose money – in the frauds perpetrated on me and my partner they lost about £50,000, their systems to protect their customers and then to investigate scams are risible. Finally, the fraudsters also know how to get around the credit check system, so although my partner and I are registered for CIFAS now, the fraudsters are inventing ever more clever scams to get around the protection systems that are in place. In the end I have come to the conclusion that the fraudsters wouldn’t bother if they knew they wouldn’t get anywhere or it would be difficult. I fully support this Which campaign and cannot think of another consumer issue that is more important to deal with RIGHT NOW than banking and other financial fraud.

David says:
27 August 2016

I had a scam email from Natwest. They told me to ring Action Fraud and Action Fraud told me to ring Natwest. Waste of time.

graham says:
27 August 2016

I agree. Instead of sending them an email, particularly forwarding a phishing email, you have to complete on online form. This takes time and does not give the police the information they need to stop the fraudsters.
If I can look up an IP address from the header information and find who the criminal’s service provider, why can’t the police and service providers to at least put an immediate stop to the criminal’s service and hopefully pay them a visit!


Graham because this is Britain not America .American citizens =#1– British citizens=#3. And yes they do that in the States.

gwyn jones says:
23 September 2016

I agree …why does the UK Govcernment keep referring victims to it…It never acknowledges your communicatioh & never replies.Operation Archway is the same.
How does recpognizea scammer….I ws having problems with my Hotmail when a draft email crashed. Please phone Hotmail on O800…. for help. Got through to someone in India whosaid that my PC had been hacked . I year protection would cost $199, 2 year……etc…yet he said that there was no protection against hackers….I suspect that I was not talking to Hotpoint support.
What’s there to stop an anti virus company s******g up your PC then suggesting that what you need is its more expensive antivirus software


Banks in particular should be more careful with our money. They should make it as hard as possible for fraudsters. Otherwise there is zero reason for them to exist as they pay round about zero interest now. Also the criminal courts are way too lenient. For instance if someone is caught of defrauding someone of £1,000 then it should be a £1,000 fine, if it is £120,000 then it should be a £120,000 fine. No ifs or buts.