/ 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?


I phoned Santander & Co-Op banks to warn them a scammer had just opened an account at their bank (as that’s where he wanted the money sent). They weren’t interested as I wasn’t a customer of theirs, and told me they wouldn’t even consider looking into it despite the fact I had proof it was a scam.

Barclays told me that the name of the beneficiary is stripped off once the payment leaves the bank – SO THERE’S NO CHECK that the names are even close! So long as the account & sort code are there, that’s that.

And they say they take fraud seriously? Ha.

Like others, I feel instinctively that I’m doing the public a service (ok, only a *very* small service) if I keep a scammer on the phone by stringing them along, thus preventing them from trying to scam others. I’ve heard arguments, though, that this can cause me problems. The suggestion is that the automated dialling programs time all calls, and tend to re-dial those who stay longer on the line. I wonder if anybody knows if this is true. Maybe shouting down the line would be just as cathartic!

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Jacqi Fisher says:
25 August 2016

Has no one got an answerphone that you listen too before picking up the phone!!! My message is polite but says we may be listening so please leave a message and 9 times out of 10 if it is a cold call or scam they instantly click off. E.mails are also handled with great care and will be dumped if there is the slightest chance of a scam. I know I may still be targeted as its a nasty world out there. Take care as much as humanly possible.

Had money removed from a business account by someone faking my signature in a remote branch which I had never used. Bank refunded without question as it was obvious that the signature was not mine. Tried to put a stop to cash withdrawals altogether as we never need cash but the bank put too many obstacles in the way; a year later they had to give me a second refund. Bank will not even limit cash withdrawals to the home branch.
In the ten years of the account’s existence we have never withdrawn cash and never will, but the bank will not stop cash withdrawals without a new mandate signed by all the directors on a single document. This is difficult as the directors are scattered to the four winds and as long as we get refunds we will not bother.

As to unsolicited calls I NEVER give any information to anyone on an incoming call, I will not even confirm my name. Get some very angry responses at times especially from the banks (various) who say they are the bank so its okay for me to answer the security questions‽ Even the police have tried to get me to part with information on an incoming call.

Yahoo, and no doubt others, have a very good disposable address facility which I use for all internet based communications, including this one.

My husband and I have Caller Identification on our phone so we always leave our answerphone on and never answer if the number is one we don’t know and if it’s withheld or International or anything slightly odd – in other words, we only answer when we know the caller. We have the longest number of rings so we have time to answer when we want to. We have never had a message left that might possibly be a scam because the fraudsters always want to talk to someone and obviously are not going to mess about leaving messages. If it’s a genuine call from an organisation or anyone else, they will leave a message. It just takes a bit of discipline to not think you have to answer the phone everytime it rings!

Phone scams can be more easily spotted if you have a caller identification on your phone. I asked BT for this when the same number called 6 times in one day! This means I have entered my regular callers’ names, and any number that is not local, or on my list, I do not reply to. It also gives “Number withheld” and “International number” messages. This weeds out most problem calls – you just don’t pick up the phone! If the call is genuine, people can leave a message. You also get all the numbers that call you listed in reverse order, not just the last caller.

Peter Lewis says:
25 August 2016

My wife had a similar problem with Santander, they paid out a postal ISA over the counter in Belfast and closed the account. They then refused to talk to her saying the account is closed. Eventually they repaid the money after a lot of hassle.

I was recently the victim of online crime when ordering goods over the internet from Amazon. Like Gloria Honeyford, I felt totally violated, even though the bank totally reimbursed us. In fact it was their fraud division who rang me up one Sunday afternoon to inform me. At first I thought that was a scam and so only rang back the number that was on the back of my bank card.
At least 3 organizations were claiming various amounts, some for £300 or more, which alerted the bank. Had they been less greedy the smaller sums claimed would have gone through. The domain names were ridiculous and not anything I’d ever heard of. I was without a bank card for a week which was very much an inconvenience as we were about to go on holiday and needed to buy foreign exchange etc.
Although the bank said they had notified the police, when I rang them back they would not discuss how the police investigation was proceeding and I got the distinct impression that the criminals would not be caught and would get off scot-free. The bank would suffer the loss and therefore you, me and other bank customers would end up paying for their scam. Whether technically correct or not it feels like the offence has been perpetrated against you and your family. Why can’t you be given a crime number by the police and kept informed as to whether these criminals are caught? The bank said virtually that if the scam originated abroad there is nothing the police can do. Do other readers find this a lamentable state of affairs?

You are absolutely right in suggesting that a crime number should be given to those who have been affected. I suspect in this case the misuse of the card may technically not have happened.

Having worked for Banks I am very keen that these matters are put in paper form as I know that people’s memories may be fuzzed deliberately or by accident so what has occurred is glossed over. I also believe that Banks have a vested interest in downplaying the incidence of fraud or fraud attempts.

I dislike fraud. I also dislike people hiding problems and there is a lot of that going on with talks of improved security/safety etc etc. Perhaps we need to realise that walking into a physical shop and paying a real person actually has a lot of benefits- not least to the local economy.

In the US banking system last year, 13% of fraud was committed or aided by ‘malicious individuals’ inside the banks.


The thing about discussions is that when you have facts to bolster a point it helps if you provide other people with the opportunity to read the underlying documents. We all know how the media leaps onto a particular point and ignores the detail.

There are companies who make a business from supplying the media with sensationalist surveys that they use as a filler or to back-up a point they are keen to press but which has limited real support.

Fo anyone who uses a computer or smartphone theRegister is worth keeping an eye on.

That was the source, DT. BTW – the thumbs down wasn’t me.

I never for a moment thought it was you. I requested a copy of the survey from the company but that was many hours ago and it has not arrived.

“Bank insiders” in itself needs definition given the extent of outsourcing. For instance with the mobile phone scandals is someone indirectly employed but working directly on the data an insider? Definitions can be enlightening.! : )

Me neither DT, but I do recall at least a couple of occasions my late son having to dismiss members of his staff through dishonest banking practices. I does happen, but suffice to say bad apples in the banking fraternity usually get caught sooner or later as it’s the banks that end up having to deliver any remuneration as a consequence.

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We share the same views on thumbs down. A disagreementshould be given a reason. It can be tempting though sometimes! There is no need to regret it; as far as i can see you can cancel a thumbs down with a thumbs up at any time after the event and then sleep soundly.

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I am registered with TPS but still get numerous unwanted calls, most having withheld their number which I understand is now illegal for sales and marketing calls. Hence these calls go unreported
What is a valid reason for anyone withholding their phone number when making a call? I can think of no reason other than dishonesty.
I think that the facility for a caller to withhold their number should not be available, for UK and overseas calls.
This would limit unwanted calls and any unwanted calls could be reported to TPS and action against them taken.

There are many reasons why people withhold their numbers, Ray. Social workers,. Police, Teachers all have very good reason to withhold their numbers.

Brian says:
25 August 2016

There are too many questions etc to answer ?

I think all of these comments should be sent to government, newspapers, BBC, ITV and posibley the police and request that the public at large be educated about fraud in general. Also at the same time request that they all take action on our behalf since it effects them to in so many ways in the long run anyway.

It is a fact that banks, building societies etc will never phone or e-mail you asking for your bank account number, passwords, and pin numbers, but sadly so many people fall for this trick and end up having their money stolen from them. I do strongly feel that one way of stopping telephone scams is for a law to be passed whereby telephone providers ( including mobile companies ) are not allowed to let people use withheld and private numbers, why should people be allowed to hide who they are? I never answer these calls.

I was diddled out of £3,450 – just £50 short of the max allowed on my credit card. The scammers knew! Also my personal details AND they got hold of my replacement credit card in transit. Totally out of my control! I received this money back but it was a very stressful time, and unnecessary if only better precautions from the bank had been in place.

Please give due credit to the Bank concerned and what should they have done over what happened?

Practical examples are so interesting.

John says:
25 August 2016

I am concerned that when the bank has some suspicion the a scammer or fraud is taking place they will not tell you about it. I have Parkinson’s Disease and find it difficult to remember details but i could always remember the numbers on my bank card. The one day i received a new card from my bank without me requesting it.When i asked why they would only say it was for security i asked if there was a threat to my account and they told me that they couldn’t be specific i said i wanted to know if it affected me. they wouldn’t budge & i wondered if they had been hacked, they denied it. Then a few days ago i had a computerized voice asking if i had used my card on five recent withdrawals 3 were for one pound and they said it had no affect on my account. It was lucky that i remembered the other 2 or i might have had another card. This computer could not adapt to my disability and was therefore not a good tool. I have been with this bank for 50 years but i may have to change

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Beware of three companies from Driffield telling you that if you make a purchase you will be entered into a large cash pay out competition,I fell for it some time ago & received a thirty pence postal order.

I was quite pleased with myself, not so long ago, I got a phone call from an Indian sounding woman who sounded very friendly and said she’d rung to help me with my computer problem.
I was on the ball and immediately answered “I’ve not got a computer” – she went on to try to convince me that I had one and at this I got really annoyed and wasn’t polite – she got called some very un-pc-names and told where to go in a very rude fashion – she put the phone down on me! I felt brilliant 🙂

My wife and I averted a scam a few months ago when we received a phone call from someone purporting to represent the bank. I do not remember the exact ruse but when I visited my local branch and told them they informed me that I had done the right thing and it was reported to their security section

Charlotte says:
25 August 2016

How do I know this list a scam?

If Scammers cannot get through on your telephone, they cannot defraud or rob you, because you don’t let them speak to you!! My advice, based on experience, is to buy a BT8500 call blocking phone. If the caller’s number is not either recognised, or specifically permitted, you don’t even know that a call to you has been made, until you check your calls log. You can then command that an unwanted call number is completely blocked. I have enjoyed blissful peace and quiet, and freedom from double glazing salespeople, dud share sellers, charities and spurious marketing surveys. The phone doesn’t cost a lot, and is a real boon. If I had an elderly and vulnerable relative who couldn’t afford their own, I would buy them one.

About 10 years ago I made the daft mistake of responding to a cold call asking about my ‘lifestyle choices’.
A fairly innocuous business one would think, but very soon after that the cold calls started and have not stopped since.
From being fairly well-mannered on the phone, I ended up telling cold-callers to go forth and multiply and blowing a referee’s whistle at them.
I recently bought a cheap BT caller ID phone-a Décor 1200- online for £10, and asked Virgin, as a faithful online customer of them and their predecessors for 30 years, if they would give me free caller ID-it normally costs about £3 p.c.m. They did so without further persuasion.
I can now google unknown numbers in real time and decide whether to answer or not. The vast majority turn out to be scams of one sort or another, and remain unanswered.