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The psychology of scams

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  • The psychology of scams

    From the U.K. Office of Fair Trading:

    Why people fall victim to scams OFT research
    54/09 17 May 2009

    The psychological reasons consumers may fall victim to mass marketed scams are revealed today in groundbreaking OFT research.

    Download The psychology of scams: Provoking and committing errors of judgement (pdf 3.3 mb)

    The research, undertaken by The University of Exeter on behalf of the OFT, provides a valuable insight into why consumers fall victim to scams, as well as the psychological techniques used by scammers to con the UK public out of an estimated 3.5 billion every year.

    Some of the key findings about victims of scams are that:
    • up to 20 per cent of the UK population could be particularly vulnerable to scams, with previous victims of a scam consistently more likely to show interest in responding again
    • a good background knowledge of the subject of a scam offer, such as experience of investments, may actually increase the risk of becoming a victim through 'over-confidence'
    • victims are not in general poor-decision makers, for example they may have successful business or professional careers, but tend to be unduly open to persuasion by others and less able to control their emotions, and
    • victims often keep their decision to respond to a scam offer private and avoid speaking about it with family or friends.

    The research also found that many scams use a range of highly persuasive techniques. A common tactic is to seek to exploit basic human emotions such as excitement or fear to provoke a spontaneous 'gut reaction' to the scam offer. Such scams also abuse people's trust of authority by making a scam look like a legitimate offer from a reputable business or official institution.