Why people fall victim to scams

May 20, 2009
Why people fall victim to scams
Email is an increasingly common method of sending scams.

(PhysOrg.com) -- The psychological reasons consumers may fall victim to mass marketed scams are revealed today in groundbreaking research.

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% 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,

• 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.

Professor Stephen Lea of the University of Exeter's School of Psychology, who led the research team, said: ‘Modern economic life is complicated and we have to use all sorts of short cuts and rules of thumb to navigate our way through it. Scammers take advantage of those necessary, everyday processes. This means that no-one is immune to being scammed. We need to be on our guard both for ourselves and for our friends and family. If you have any worries that something might be a , you need to talk to someone else about it: It very likely is.’

The research findings will help to inform the joint OFT and Serious Organised Crime Agency’s National Strategy for tackling mass marketed fraud, in particular in developing more effective consumer awareness campaigns to help consumers recognise and resist scams.

Mike Haley OFT Director of Consumer Protection said: ‘This research provides valuable insight into the sophisticated, heartless and calculating psychological techniques used by scammers to exploit consumers. Scams often have a devastating emotional as well as financial impact on victims. This research will help us to develop more effective methods to counter the scammers.’

Gareth Thomas, Consumer Minister, said:‘These findings show it is not just the vulnerable but the financially savvy too who are at real risk of falling victim to . Trading Standards Scambuster teams are working hard to highlight the dangers of scams across the country. They have already saved more than £3 million and seized £2 million in criminal assets.’

The report can be downloaded at www.oft.gov.uk

Provided by University of Exeter (news : web)

Explore further: Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

This week's Web Winners: Investment help

Jan 13, 2009

Sophisticated investors were among victims of Bernard L. Madoff's alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme. Avoiding financial scams must be even trickier than we thought. These sites might make it easier.

Beware of eBay deadbeats, author warns

Mar 01, 2006

Imagine buying vintage Spiderman comics for $16,000 and receiving instead, a box of printer paper or losing a whopping $27,000 in purchasing a big rig that didn't exist in the first place. These are just many ...

Recommended for you

Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

Apr 18, 2014

Almost seven years have passed since Ontario's street-racing legislation hit the books and, according to one Western researcher, it has succeeded in putting the brakes on the number of convictions and, more importantly, injuries ...

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

Apr 17, 2014

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

Apr 17, 2014

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Creative activities outside work can improve job performance

Apr 16, 2014

Employees who pursue creative activities outside of work may find that these activities boost their performance on the job, according to a new study by San Francisco State University organizational psychologist Kevin Eschleman ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet May 21, 2009
I am convinced the old adage "You can't con (scam) an honest man" applies. It might very well be that an added factor in "scamability" is the amount of larceny one has in their own heart.

More news stories

Clippers and coiners in 16th-century England

In 2017 a new £1 coin will appear in our pockets with a design extremely difficult to forge. In the mid-16th century, Elizabeth I's government came up with a series of measures to deter "divers evil persons" ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...