/ 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?


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

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.

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.

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!

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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 screwing 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.

Winston Maskell says:
26 August 2016

I definitely agree with this – plus ALL police and court costs.

Martina Howley says:
26 August 2016

Banks should ensure their staff are giving correct info to customers. They should also investigate more thoroughly instead of leaving it up to customer when fraud is reported and I had to investigate myself . I eventually got company taking money from account to admit it had not been instigated from my account but was fraudulent. Bank ended up having to repay as the amount of time that had passed had gone past their 40 day period. How much money are banks willing to lose through fraud and negligence of care with our money?

Yes Stu, I agree with you over this point. I believe that all thieves should repay their victims for the victims financial loss plus a no limit 20% fine as well. Would you please contact the centre for social justice website and ask them to pursue this matter. If enough people do this then I am sure that all the current penalties for theft can be altered. The thieves in this country are driving us all into bankruptcy!!

Can’t agree with that, £1,000 fraud should attract a £10,000 fine and a spell at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.

What is the Child Obesity Program?
Why ask a question if it not explained.

Hello John, sorry it seems you’ve come through to the wrong post. Here’s our piece on the childhood obesity strategy: https://conversation.which.co.uk/food-drink/childhood-obesity-strategy-public-health-government/

If I might put in a plea of mitigation for John’s error – there is a prominent box alongside this Conversation containing a poll with a bold heading that says: “Do you think the Government should rethink the childhood obesity strategy?“. No wonder people get confused. John’s comment was both apposite and pertinent, and thankfully brief.

Most scams are coming from India, they phone you and try to get you to go along with them. The latest one is they say they are from your Internet provider and would like you to update your settings as they are having trouble and may not be able to keep you connected. These and other scams have details from somewhere, which are correct and this needs stopping. Most of these scams will fail from this country if they did not have any details. This scam failed as they said, ” We can see the problem on my computer”……which is rubbish, but they had the correct data…WHY is this. I can see that the older generation could and are duped by this trick, I’m lucky as I work with computers and know that you have to give permission for these people to come on your system for them to see anything. Do we need to educate the elderly and provide a list of what these people are unable to see or do. My idea would be to block all calls from these countries, my phone does now and will not let these people through, Ive just had enough of these people cold calling.

It should be much easier to block unwanted calls. I am now getting daily “International” calls which are annoying as well as time wasting. I let them go to voicemail at which time they hang up.
The only way that I can see to avoid this is to get a “Call Blocker” but that is going to cost me about £100. Why should I have to pay that much to get rid of these idiots?

I expect there are cheaper call-blockers but I think they all rely on the caller-identification service from your telecom service provider. This could typically cost £3 a month on a landline. Call-blocker phones are selling fast and furiously with two consequences: (1) the scammers and cold-callers are increasing their activity in their desperation to out-pace subscribers, and (2) the authorities have taken their foot off the pedal while they wait for the problem to sort itself out with everyone possessing a call-blocker.

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Robert Woolley quite agree more Robert I’m old and not at all savvy with computers about a month ago all my email addresses got sent an email supposedly from me – but wasn’t – saying I was in Thailand – Ukrain – Africa and elsewhere asking for money for me to get home – now my computer is playing up – in coming emails are going straight into trash so I have to read them in there – my screen freezes all the time now find my emails I write and send do not get to who I sent it to – I now cannot forward any emails cause the forward has disappeared – scanned it for viruses – nothing found – still waiting for bt to help me said after 6 to ring – but no they ring in the afternoon when I’m out – it is just getting so bad now – £40-00 odd pounds for an hour for someone to look at my computer – but I’m old and these days everything is so expensive – so who has 40 pounds to spare in this day and age

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A M Thomson says:
27 August 2016

the BT 8500 ‘phone has a very effective call-blocker facility and cost me around £40 from John Lewis at the beginning of the year.

Angela hulley says:
28 August 2016

I’ve bit the bullet and bought one of these phones, a £100 well spent. It’s brilliant, can’t praise it enough. The phone keeps a record of who’s phoned and although we’ve had the phone now for about 4 months, they still keep ringing but they never get through. Absolutely worth every penny as they were driving me nuts.

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I have heard good reports of the BT 4600 ‘Big Button’ DECT [digital electronic cordless telephone] with advanced call-blocking and answering machine. It appears to have virtually the same functionality as the BT 8600 but because of the big buttons [which might actually be an advantage] the design is not so ‘cool’. The current John Lewis price for a single instrument is £34.00.

I agree with Robert, I have had loads of scam telephone calls from India pertaining to be from my phone provider. I have trie4d reporting these to Action Fraud but because I haven’t been tricked by them I don’t think any notice was taken.

Fraud is NOT taken seriously enough. Look at Sarkozy, ex president of France. He was charged with corruption and he is still seen as a hero. A master of persuassion!
For several months I have been monitoring emails from a ‘get rich quick’ scam. Their messages are exciting and full of promise, preying on the desperate. People are fed the line at all levels of western society that material wealth is the be all and end all therefore will do whatever it takes to increase their wealth or try to keep up with their neighbours.
Fraud is but a small, not surprising, blip on the map.

JamesH says:
26 August 2016

As a retired accountant I despair at the general level of competence of Bank staff in financial matters.Also the Bank,s online security has been proved to be easily bypassed by fraudsters.
Bank customers are expected to be experts in computerised banking systems because there are no practical alternatives.
In my opinion it is only a matter of time before the banking system collapses.

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Good trick: First, put your money in a safe place. Next, create a crisis. Then, come out of it smelling of roses. I just hope we don’t have to watch it happen all over again.

I totally agree with JamesH I gave the correct information to the bank to verify who I was and was cut off because they did not believe I was the person in questioned , after going to the bank to find out why I was denied access they told me they could not understand why I was rejected as the information I gave was correct.
If fraudsters made the same request maybe they would be excepted, maybe that is how Gloria Hunniford had her money taken out of her account.

As I understand it, GH was not even party to the transaction concerned. Someone just walked into a branch miles away from where she loved and claimed to be her. Banks should put personal callers through the same identity checks that they do over the phone.

Jane Giffould says:
27 August 2016

I think it depends on the branch and the staff. Long time ago my local bank, that knew me well, had a new member of staff who wanted to see my ID. Naturally that was the day I had no ID on me. However one of the cashiers saw me, greeted me, and assured the new staff member that I was who I claimed and that I was known.

I recently suggested to my bank that one way to stop fraud would be if the computer providing the correct answer to the password question were set to provide three instead of two characters. The third would be for the banker to tell the customer. This would confirm to the customer that he/she IS speaking to the bank and not a fraudster. Currently it is up to the customer to provide the bank (or the crook) all the information.

Not with all banks. My own supplies 50% of the info and I the other.

I’ve had good, and bad, experiences in banks. I have to say most of my experiences have been good. Except for the following.

In debt, struggling to pay my mortgage. A mortgage advisor told me in a condescending way that I needed specialist help, however she did not signpost me to this specialist help, and said it in a tone that suggested that I was beyond help. When I continued to talk to her, she threatened to have someone (e.g. security) help me to leave. On the way out, I spoke to a manager, saying that I didn’t want to complain, but I was really upset. This manager was very helpful, and gave me a number to phone if I wanted to take this further. Due to this incident, despite my financial difficulties, it was nearly a year later when I returned to the bank. The assistant was helpful and offered to ask the same mortgage assistant help me straight away. I couldn’t keep myself together any longer, and reduced to tears, I declined an appointment with the mortgage assistant. The assistant asked another mortgage assistant to help me. This mortgage assistant worked very hard at helping me, she had helped me before with my mortgage, and was always professional and kind. I did manage to sort my mortgage situation out.
I think that the banks loan money too easily. I was allowed, at a previous bank, and at this bank, to ‘over mortgage’ myself, and to take out an additional loan.
I found when I considered myself to be in debt, the bank had a different view. In my view, I’m in debt if I owe money. I had the impression that the banks view is that I was not in debt because I was not ‘in arrears’. Throughout my time in debt, my credit rating was 100%, this led the bank to say that I was not in debt, in reality, I was really struggling.
On one occasion, in the bank, I went to customer services to ask for a statement for a particular month. I walked away from the desk, checked the statement, and realised I needed a statement for the next month, as the transaction I was looking for was not on the statement. I returned to the desk, and explained what I needed. I asked did the assistant need my card, she replied no, she then gave me my statement. I left, quite upset, realising that the assistant had still been accessing my account even when I’d completed the transaction and walked away.
On another occasion, I went into a different branch of the same bank, and after I had completed the transaction, the cashier continued to look through my account. I walked away from the cashier’s desk, again feeling violated that the cashier had not shown the respect of leaving my account. The cashier looked pleased with herself as she did this.
On another occasion, in the same branch, I was using the self serve. (I prefer to ask staff to serve me, this helps to keep others in employment). A member of staff walked closely behind me, then, another member of staff started kicking violently one of the machines.

I think you have provided an interesting account of the relationship we have with our banks these days, S. Professional conduct comes with training and experience. I cannot comment on the training provided, but experience is the product of age and length of service with the bank. It is obvious to most of us who go into banks that this aspect is being compromised and people with little regard for the professional conventions are being employed in front-line positions.

I also have been dissatisfied by the conduct of bank clerks when they have your account open in front of them and their tendency to raise flippant questions distracting you from the business in hand. I once wrote to the manager to complain about it but was dissatisfied with his telephone response and his misjudged attempt at justification. I once had hopes that fewer banks would lead to a quality improvement in professional standards at branch level but that has not occurred; I suspect that salaries are not high enough to attract competent personnel and turnover is higher than it ought to be.

In contrast my local, small, branch of a building society seem well-equipped with helpful, knowledgeable staff who have given good advice when needed. We changed our current accounts, after discussion with them, to on-line to gain interest. Technically this also meant using the cash machine to withdraw cash and pay in for example but they said not to worry, if its raining or busy or just if we prefer, come into the counter as usual. Whilst we do use the machine, true to their word the odd visit indoors we made was no problem.

My local Nationwide branch is like that, thank goodness. I was writing above about service in a city centre branch which had become a bit slapdash. I haven’t been back there lately – it might have changed.

I don’t know why, instead of moaning about their bank, more people don’t simply move to Nationwide. It often gets complimented in Convos. Perhaps it is easier to complain than move?

I have had a connection with Nationwide [in different incarnations] through mortgages, savings, investments and a current account for over fifty years and have always been extremely satisfied overall. Nothing has ever gone wrong on the technical/administrative front and I think it is a rare example of an organisation that does reward loyalty in meaningful ways. I was so pleased they chose not to demutualise and the benefits of that policy keep on coming. Although they have grown through take-overs and mergers with smaller societies, their most impressive growth has been organically by continuing to enrol more members so they can continue to offer superior services and provide good branch coverage. T hey helped me incredibly well when I was winding up a relative’s estate last year. I had better close now before this starts to read like a promotion and incurs the moderator’s wrath.

selwyn Lawrence says:
26 August 2016

Following an Identity fraud back 2009, it is only now that I’m able to open another bank account. However this particular fraud didn’t involve a bank directly, but a credit company, this all boils down to the type of building that I was living at the time. Although I didn’t share the same mailbox as the fraudster, nevertheless this person who happen to be a woman, went to extraordinary lengths in diverting my mail from one part of the buildings letterbox to the other part of the buildings letter box which is the front, to this very day I have no Idea what personal document of mine this fraudster got a hold of which was used to secure a five figure sum loan from a prominent credit company, it was secured six months prior to my knowledge of it, the only time that it came to light, is when the loan company started to send demands for payment, and yes they diverted the demand letters to the location of the building that I live, and by this time the fraudster had been evicted over in relating matters, I went to citizens advice, who advise me to report it to the police to which I did, but nothing was heard from the police or the loan company, to whom I think I was able to convince in the end that I was not responsible for taking out a loan of any description, but nonetheless this incident affected my credit badly, it is only now since this Identity theft that I’m able to open a bank account, so any actions through petitions hosted by Which? has my fullest support.

Thomasina says:
26 August 2016

I think the banks should more and also we need proper sentencing. There seems to be no deterrent to thieves and scammers today. We need to make and enforce some new laws but then we don’t seem able to enforce the old laws. The legal system and banks seem to have no idea or to even care

Mike Tynen says:
26 August 2016

Undoubtedly banks should and could do more. But I suspect that measures to make it more difficult for fraudsters to get their hands on your money may also make it more difficult for you to get your hands on your own money!

Clearly Gloria is a victim of Identity fraud! She needs to change bangs and sue the fat cat bankers for allowing it to happen.

I was scammed by a phonecall saying my computer was due to crash could I go to switch it on, this was sometime ago they said they were from Microsoft. They charged me £ 200 and odd pounds. Since then I have learnt my lesson and I can categorically say that these people ring me every week with the same tale but now I give them short thrift!

Jane Giffould says:
27 August 2016

I often do not bother to answer my phone unless I recognise the number. However it is fun speaking to such calls in a foreign language and it has my U3A German group in fits of laughter as I tell the caller what I think of them in German. I dread the day when the caller is a German speaker as my German is not that good. I have given some callers the word NO in at least 10 different languages, another bit of fun. One caller got very annoyed when I kept querying his questions and said I was wasting his time. I agreed with him and said that was my aim because his call had wasted my time, there was a phone banged down at the other end!

I have no further comment to make on the issue. Thank you for inviting me to address it further. But I have nothing more to add! I hope that someone comes up with something to stop these despicable people!

I was scammed out of £2,500 on my Visa-Card not so-long ago, but Barclay’s added that bill to my a/c when in actual fact I did-not spend that kind of money on my Credit-Card.

Jane Giffould says:
27 August 2016

Where as some time ago I had a concerned call from Barclays because I had withdrawn £300 which was not normal and they thought my debit card might have been stolen. I had actually done the withdrawing and had a reason for it. It was good that their machinery could alert them to a change in pattern of expenditure.

Where does the scammed money go when its stolen from someones account ?
Surely its traceable !
The process of money transfers designed to deceive the security system however complex must be able to be tracked by the banks who can then take immediate action.

If indeed such transactions even bona fide transactions are not trackable then the fundamental aspects of what appears to be an inefficient security system must be altered and this must be a priority action. Trillions of money flows around the system every minute and I suggest slowing down transactions to a practical level of a few seconds will be unlikely to create financial disaster across the planet.

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ivor, perhaps Which? could ask the banks (BBA).

My Debit card details were used on an online betting website.Luckily my Bank picked this up very quickly and took steps to secure my account. I thought I was very savvy when it came to security, I have no idea how my details became available.The scammers are becoming more and more sophisticated so we all need to be extra security conscious.

Almost certainly it was a rogue employee of a business at which you used your debit card. Most businesses know your name, address, bank card number and security number on the back. And that’s all they need.

Banks are not really bothered about tracing scammers as it costs them time and money. Just change your bank and they sometimes get the message. They no longer show any loyalty to their customers so why show them any loyalty? Changing your bank account is really easy these days.
Email scammers…easy to spot.
As for phone scammers, I just leave the phone line open and eventually they get irritated and ring off. The phone call is costing them money.
If I’m feeling bored (I’m retired), I sometimes engage them in long and pointless conversations which drives them mad. It’s fun.

Eric says:
27 August 2016

When my wife’s bank paid a Visa debit card transaction a second time a year after the first, I couldn’t get them to accept that a cardinal rule of banking is not to pay the same instrument twice. One of the obtuse people I spoke to actually said their agreement with Visa bound them to pay all transactions on sight. So much for looking after your money. I don’t think many people realise the risks involved with using debit cards, especially when on-line “chip and pin” is not available;

Roger says:
27 August 2016

Prisoners can’t commit crimes..