/ 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?


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Beware! your exactly what their looking for.

Some people answer all phone calls and then listen carefully to all that is said. ! They will not cut the caller off because they think it is rude to do so,,but is not the caller being rude by calling in the first place…So don’t worry just put the phone down on them or just rest it down somewhere and go and do something else for a short time and let them talk to nobody

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peter smith says:
25 August 2016

Peter your are correct because they to who are, but asking who they are and are they is that Mr Smith the replayed that is a recorrtal quison in a altheoal voice Imy wissal and plooo it down the phone they where are I finish please for give my spelling but did run a village post office for 28 years and some the cons that have across where very claver

Edward says:
25 August 2016


Joe Blogs says:
25 August 2016

Well zed and even butter spelt Peter.

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Pretty sure this is simply the most recent in a series of topics covering scammers. The topic here seems to ask about sophisticated scams.

The answer is no. I’ve not encountered any sophisticated scams. But let me define what I would call ‘sophisticated’.

To me, that means a scam that doesn’t conform to any of the well established techniques: clicking on links in emails heads the list, asking for money upfront comes second and promising me a windfall from a lottery I never entered comes joint third.

Some of the scam emails I get are approaching the ‘could do better but shows promise’ grading, and the scammers are clearly taking English lessons to help boost their turnover. Even, dare I say, the HTML design of some emails is actually quite good, faking Paypal and Bank backgrounds almost perfectly. But their flaw is always where they include a hyperlink. At that point the email goes the way of all flesh.

The personal scam is probably the nearest to sophisticated, but being of somewhat cagey nature I doubt I would fall prey to someone asking me for money they’d ‘accidentally’ transferred into my account. I’d simply regard it as a bonus and leave it them to fight the bank about it.

So, no; scamming (or conning as I believe it ought to be called) has always been around, will always be around and is unlikely to go away. Let’s face it: the conman is as old as the human race, when Ug nicked Eg’s freshly slaughtered Mastodon burger while he wasn’t paying attention. We all just have to keep an eye on the food. A careful eye.

Robert O'Neill says:
25 August 2016

Here’s a more sophisticated one for you, that happened someone I know.
She got a text, from what looked like a normal mobile number. I can’t remember the precise wording and narrative but it was something like ‘ John, dad’s getting worse, they’re moving him to intensive care’.
My friend, being a caring and thoughtful person, assumed that someone had mistyped a number in an emergency , and thinking of the possible results, (maybe John wouldn’t be at his fathers bedside if he passed), texted back to say sorry ‘think you’ve got the wrong number’. I think most of us would do that.
She shortly got a grateful and friendly text back thanking her, but also giving more info(he’s off the danger list now), drawing her into a text conversation…anyway, a few texts were exchanged and that was it, until the phone bill arrived….close to £700 – turned out the mobile number was a premium rate thing, a pretty nasty scam on the kind of decent people who would think of others, and the mobile company, Vodafone, I think, weren’t at all interested in helping her

How recently was this event.?

I think premium rate lines were a misbegotten concept designed for dodgy dealing … or profit for the telcos. I wonder if, accepting people might yelp if they were removed, if a large retention figure was kept by the telco for 3 months after the individual calls before paying it to the business partner. This would provide a sizeable chunk for repaying frauds and prevent fly-by-night operations.

There is an proverb that “a fool and his money are soon parted”.

As Duncan and Ian have already posted “healthy unease” and “questioning attitudes” are good behaviours for avoiding scams.

On the other hand, anyone who believes that wonderful bargains are out there, just waiting to be found, or announced by cold callers or unsolicited emails, web popups, etc. is likely to get scammed big time.

A chap I know now runs an investment brokers. He recently posted an account of how – in spite of the complacency of Action Fraud and his local police – he instigated a sting operation against scammers who sent emails, impersonating one of his clients and requesting a very large withdrawal of funds – but not for transfer to one of her other accounts. Eventually, a courier acting on behalf of the scammers was arrested (by then local CID had got involved). Unfortunately, no prosecution resulted, because of a potential legal defence on basis that the courier was “only a dupe” of the brains behind the scheme.

So catching and prosecuting scammers is not easy – even when “the banks” and other authorities attempt to do this. It follows that the best defences involve not getting scammed in the first place.

Something not mentioned here yet, but on other similar Convos, is greed. We have a feeling when an offer is too good to be true – why should I have been selected, why is this such a good return etc – but some still persist in being taken in because they are greedy.

I am being emailed by tony @offer-house with 500 GBP vouchers for Tesco, Morrisons, Argos……..new boiler, cheap car finance. Best ignored.

I’ve had loads of these emails for every supermarket and store you can think off, I always work on the principle of “if it sounds too good to be true then is probably is” I don’t even open them they go straight in the junk box.

It’s a question of being able to differentiate between wants and needs.

Scammers are expert at trying to persuade you that you need something you don’t want, or worry and intimidate you into believing something is amiss with your computer. Problems arise when through clever, manipulative and persuasive sales talk, you begin to convince yourself that you need something you don’t want. The desire to have can also be a heightened longing emanating from needs which scammers can play on. This is why some genuine needy people are more vulnerable and open to deception from them.

People who earn a living by scamming are usually very astute and clever, without a conscience or soul, and have often been brained-washed by covetous organisations who view money as their idol. They are the miscreants of society who target and prey on the most vulnerable and will go to great lengths to get it.

It’s encouraging to know consumers have a means of reporting any scams they may encounter through Action Fraud and I hope they will be able to muster up sufficient resolve to report them, as and when they occur in order to bring about an end to this immoral and iniquitous practice.

Most basic scammers (not all) can be spotted, especially if they’re the usual type, i.e. phishing scams claiming to be a member of a royal family who is loaded but can’t get hold of cash, etc., or the phone calls claiming that your PC/tablet thingy is playing up and they’re from Microsoft and could you please switch your tablet on, or the emails with a link that ask you to click on the link for some bonkers reason, blah blah. These are common. It’s the most sophisticated ones creeping in that are the problem. The ones with really good logos on their web sites; if in doubt, ring up the company concerned and ask them questions. Get yourself a good anti-virus firewall protection – that should narrow down the issue of dodgy emails a bit. I used to have Norton who I found very wanting, and not very good (but very greedy). I now use another which is excellent. Never had a problem with phishing emails since, apart from the occasional one many years ago (I told the fraudster that I was perfectly aware it was a scam and was going to report it to the authorities, after which I never heard from them again), although I do get targeted by phone calls re my tablet. However, this happened before and luckily they weren’t that bright; I got down their phone number (it was based abroad – how very unusual) and reported them to the fraud team which worked beautifully, for a time. Interestingly, we have just moved and after receiving a new phone number via BT, within 3 weeks of the number taking effect, suddenly I’m getting the calls again! Be aware that organisations that are quite legal and above board will often sell off your information without knowing exactly who they’re selling to (or won’t care), and that organisation/person in turn will sell it on, ad infinitum. Sometimes, although they won’t sell your information on, they will put it in areas of their business where criminals can often dig it out. I don’t give out my phone number unless it’s a site I trust not to sell it on (see their small print; if that little piece of info is not there, don’t give your phone number). I have stopped signing petitions as they often ask for information which isn’t necessary. I rarely shop online (I prefer to see what I’m buying in person and only shop for things I will never be able to get locally) and am very choosy when I do. Some rules of trying to avoid falling victim to online/phone/postal scammers, are
1. If in doubt, ring up the organisation and check with them if they have notified you. If they have, ask them questions to verify their authenticity, ie how did they get your email address or phone number, or ask them if the person on the email/letter you have received, is employed by them. If they’re legitimate, they will answer. I tend to find they usually hang up when asked questions of this sort which to me means they are dodgy;
2. Never take anything at face value. The slightest suspicion, block/ignore/destroy the email/phone call/letters;
3. If you have doubts and have never heard of the organisation or can’t find a phone number on the information they have sent you, save the email or take a screen shot, and ask trusted friends if they have ever heard of them. Google the organisation if necessary. If you can’t find them or anything like them again, if in doubt, get rid/ignore/report;
4. Postal Scams: Never, EVER respond to postal scams…keep an eye on the vulnerable and elderly if possible, should they be targeted this way….and if they give permission for you to do so, BIN THE OFFENDING MAIL, or keep it as evidence to report if necessary. If the scams are emails, BLOCK THEM and/or report them. If they ring up, there will usually be a pause between you picking up the phone and them replying; if you ever speak to them, they will be ever so nice and ask you how you are and so on, then tell you they’re from your bank (banks never phone – if this happens, put the phone down and if possible ring your bank using another phone as the phone they ring you on might be part of the scam and if you ring your bank on that number it’s a fair bet the crooks will be able to hear what you’re telling your bank or you will end up being charged hundreds of pounds for a phone call), or from your IT company telling you you must turn your tablet on at once because there is something wrong (again, this wouldn’t happen and if it does, get their phone number by 1471 and report it so that the fraud team can shut the number down). REMEMBER – IF THEY INCLUDE A LINK TO CLICK ON, THEY ARE FRAUDULENT;
5. I will occasionally put money into a charity tin but don’t feel bad about asking the charity worker for their ID first; they should have a phone number on to call if in doubt. If they offer you their badge it helps; if they’re unkeen to show their ID or refuse, or say they don’t have it/have lost it, don’t touch them with a bargepole;
6. Finally, never EVER, EVER feel bad about ignoring scammers! You’d be surprised at the people who feel terribly guilty that they’re not replying to the “nice” people who keep writing, or the so-called charities begging for money for animal care/starving people, or the crooks wanting you to send them cash so that they can give you cash (I honestly never understood this – why would you send them money if you are supposed to have won money?). They are criminals. They do not care about you only the money they want you to give them. They are not nice people if they want your money to put into their own pockets. They may be wealthier than the people they target. Again, if you know of anyone vulnerable who has started sending money to these individuals, try to explain to them what is going on. Ask them if the number of letters they have been receiving has increased since they starting sending cash (it will have, trust me). Ask them if it’s OK to report this and then do so.

As a matter of safety I personally don’t “do” street charity workers unless it’s for an organisation I know about and even then I would never in a million years set up a monthly donation via standing order unless I had researched the organisation first. How do you know who these people are? As someone who has been pestered to give to a person selling publications for the homeless, not just to buy their publication but also to give cash to them, the seller (which is begging and which charities like this do not allow their workers to do), I have then had to contend with aggression because I refused to give cash on top of the donation. Well, tough. When this has happened to me, I have reported it to the organisation concerned who have in turn contacted the police as this is illegal. It’s best you try to walk past and ignore these people as they are not acting in the best interests of the charity because the money is going into their pockets, not the charity’s.

dieseltaylor says:
Today 17:49
How do you get to scam the likely punter in a sophisticated way?
Perhaps it is time to mention again the NHS recommended on-line pharmacy that sold a scammer company a mailing list based on gender, and age. You may wonder how it got of so lightly and no one prosecuted. And so little mention in a consumer magazine where you think they would be all over the case like a rash given the number on Conversations on the subject.

It is interesting to see what the company claimed, originally in the Daily Mail in March 2015, had been sold and what the ICO revealed 6 months later.


Taking into account all the addresses/contact details provided it went far far further.
“18. The Pharmacy2U database lists were advertised for rental on the Alchemy website. The data card for Pharmacy2U states that the data includes 77,621 …….. It lists typical ailments that are treated including asthma, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, erectile dysfunction, hair loss, weight loss, travel health, skin conditions, pain, migraine, cold and flu and nicotine replacement for smoking cessation. It also includes an age breakdown which shows that 82% of the buyers are over the age of 40. The cost is listed as £130 per 1000 records.

19. In November and December 2014, Alchemy supplied a total of 21,500 Pharmacy2U customers’ names and addresses to three organisations: Griffin Media Solutions, an Australian lottery company (“the lottery ompany”)and Camphill Village Trust Ltd”

Believe it or not the people signing up to use this pharmacy after this scandal broke increased by 8% according to the source above. Mention of a name heavily in the press without enough comment?

Come on Which? you could do a cracking article on this and point out why , medically speaking, elderly chaps are a good target.

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“Mylan bought EpiPen from the Merck Group in 2007, and has since raised the price by more than 450 percent, adjusted for inflation, reported the Boston Globe’s health publication STAT. Selling for around $100 in 2008, the injector now retails for around $600. Given that US doctors have issued some 3.6 million prescriptions for the injector last year, the hike is not sitting well with some US senators.”
Cost from a proper UK pharmacy less than £50.

Will the biggest and most costly scam for us all be the privatisation of the NHS.?

To round out the story and seemingly illustrating the LARGE scams that can happen when politicians and the pharma industry work together:

” As the price of EpiPens rose, so did the company’s stock price, going from $13.29 a share in 2007 to a high of $47.59 this year. Bresch also saw her compensation go up 671 percent in the same time period, from $2.4 million to $18.9 million, NBC News reported.

Increased scrutiny of the company over the past few days has revealed that Bresch is the daughter of Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) and that Mylan has been a donor to the Clinton Foundation. The company’s political outreach led to a 2013 law encouraging the use of EpiPens in schools around the US, leaving the taxpayers to foot the bill.

Mylan’s decision to offer a 50 percent discount follows the playbook of Martin Shkreli’s Turing Pharmaceuticals, which discounted the anti-parasitic drug Daraprim to $375 per pill after last year’s outrage over price hikes. Doctors have pointed out that the new price is still 2,500 percent more than Daraprim, which is prescribed to AIDS and cancer patients, used to cost before its acquisition by Shkreli.”

Facebook is a scammers paradise, I can usually find evidence of one scam or other in under 30 secs, they’re that common.

When I do find them I report them to the company whose name is being used, very often their response fails way short of what I would expect. I wouldn’t mind but when reporting the scam I’ve pointed out simple steps the company could take to help people help themselves, yet they never bother.

So whilst the end user could do more, by simply checking the information they’ve been given, companies and facebook could do alot more too.

Anyone who gets scam phone calls on heir landline could quite easily avoid them just by spending £40 on the right phone, they should have too, but that’s the world we have and you cant assume companies are there to help.

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Lots of scammers = lots of people who feel they can operate without being caught. This is due to a lack of ways and means of apprehending them or maybe not enough resources directed to the job. There’s not enough publicity when any get caught. The internet and associated media = a free for all system that generates cash for the unscrupulous and creates victims who lose out. Many are working in the far corners of the world almost immune from any law. This is big business and easy money, but who seems to care? Only those who have been robbed. For the rest of us, it’s like walking on ice with smooth shoes. So, who should be doing more and why aren’t they doing it?

Don’t even bother wasting your time reporting anything. I had my whole pension scammed and reporting it has done ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. I spent a long time going over all the evidence along with the other victims of the scam, all reporting it has achieved is more time consuming and frustrating unnecessary work for me. I received an email in response which proved that even the information I had painstakingly given them they had mixed up. IT IS A JOKE. More than two years on and still NOTHING has been done.

A good friend was scammed out of £18000 when an email he was expecting was intercepted and the bank details changed. He paid the amount into the account and clearly showed the payee as being a limited company, it materialised once it had been through the financial ombudsman that the account was a personal account, not a business one, yet the bank have no obligation to check that the payee name you write down (when doing an internet transfer) matches the payee name of the account being paid into. When cheques were used this used to be a basic check! so a very basic and simple check which could be introduced almost immediately, which would have saved my friend a lot of money, still isn’t in place?

This was raised some time ago. When I queried this I was told the banks apparently use the account number and sort code for on-line transfers but not names, because of the different ways in which a payee might be written. On a cheque there is no requirement to enter the above, so only the name of the payee directly identifies who the cheque is to be paid to; so less secure as far as I can see.

emails giving payment details are dodgy, for the reason you give. It is always best to double check the details given are correct – a phone call will do. Many then transfer just £1 as a precaution to ensure all is well – and to ensure the numbers have been written correctly. I did this when preparing to transfer a substantial amount to a family member; peace of mind.

Col M says:
25 August 2016

Not too sure that Gloria was any part of the scam as you report it: quote “It’s a disturbing example of how even savvy people like Gloria can be caught out by fraudsters” unquote. It is the fault of the bank and its supposed caring staff as Gloria was not even there: quote “Her bank account was drained £120,000 after a woman walked into a bank pretending to be her” The real reason we have to be sure the banks are stepping up to todays needs. Jeez they ripped us of eight years ago when we getting that bit of brass back or it just a larger scam to not make profits in case they have to – pay it back!

I am positively rude to unsolicited callers, once I have established who they are. The big problem I have is with internet transactions. I have been advised that the antivirus software that most of us have running is no protection from modern fraudsters gaining access to important personal data which might cause serious problems in the future.

The fundamental problems lie with major businesses, including operating system providers ( read Microsoft ! ) , internet service providers, and financial institutions, and our Government for failing to demand personal “coal-face” security, financed from the huge profits that these companies make.

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Banks should avoid security questions ; the answers to which can be found from the victim’s family tree.

I hunt and chase down scammers on dating site’s these people play on your emotions in the hope you will fall in love then trick you into sending money i detest these people I came very close to sending money myself that’s when i realised if this nearly happened to me how many people fall for this i I have reported in excess of 200 hundred as soon as i see pic of the woman i know straight away if i have one that’s how good i have become Recently ( 3 wks ) i came across a site which i am convinced is run by scammer’s for scammers it is absolutely riddled with them

In Spain, they will not hand over any money unless you can identify yourself with your ID or passport. Large cash payments are also illegal. The banks would do good to require proof of identity before handing large amounts of cash.

Barclays Bank as part of their security checks ask for date of birth and I told them this was not safe and they could have month and year just like Companies House does. I was not allowed to continue!