Three tricks scammers use
With a recent uptick in potentially fraudulent texts, emails, and phone calls during the pandemic, the field of psychology has analysed these deceptions to reveal some simple tricks scammers use.
1. Using trusted logos and brands
Fraudsters will often use familiar elements, such as the name or logo of well-known brands, to gain immediate trust from their victims.
This will tend to be paired with a message that aims to elicit a strong emotional response to stop the victim from thinking logically. That could take the form of a promise of a reward or a potential threat that victims need to provide their personal or financial information to receive or avoid.
2. Posing as a professional
In other more devious schemes, scammers pose as lawyers or doctors representing a family member or colleague needing financial help.
“Often negative emotions are most effective,” said Cleotilde Gonzalez, a professor of decision science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
3. Setting a timer
Finally, most scams will present their victims with a “time-limited” situation that requires an immediate response.
This works to increase the chance that you will act before you engage your critical thinking skills to either not miss the opportunity or avoid potential threats and forget the possibility of deceit.
A mix of all three
Most scams rely on a mix of all three tricks to ensure success.
Think of the calls claiming to come from the tax office, warning that you could face a fine if you don’t take action immediately, which usually involves sharing bank account details. With an immediate threat to deal with, it can be incredibly difficult to think clearly.
“Your guard automatically drops in those situations and your emotions will override rational decision making,” said Garth Norris, a psychologist at Aberystwyth University in the UK.
Though there isn’t a single fool-proof way of protecting ourselves from scams, both Norris and Gonzalez suggest not responding immediately to every single message we receive.
“Just give yourself the time and think, is this real?” said Norris.
And if the message includes a link, typing it out manually instead of clicking on it can help us spot any anomalies.