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: This week's Web Winners: Investment help

Related Stories

This week's Web Winners: Investment help

January 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

March 1, 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 of the online ...

Recommended for you

How to cut your lawn for grasshoppers

November 22, 2017

Picture a grasshopper landing randomly on a lawn of fixed area. If it then jumps a certain distance in a random direction, what shape should the lawn be to maximise the chance that the grasshopper stays on the lawn after ...

Plague likely a Stone Age arrival to central Europe

November 22, 2017

A team of researchers led by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History has sequenced the first six European genomes of the plague-causing bacterium Yersinia pestis dating from the Late Neolithic ...

Ancient barley took high road to China

November 21, 2017

First domesticated 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, wheat and barley took vastly different routes to China, with barley switching from a winter to both a winter and summer crop during a thousand-year ...

1 comment

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.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.