Psychological Manipulation and Scams

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History of frauds and scams is as old as the chronology of human civilization. There have always been a bunch of scammers and a lot of victims of their shenanigans. It is quite infuriating yet interesting that even after reaching all the summits of progress, technology and modernity, the present-day human is still very much vulnerable to scams.

According to a recent report of global fraud and risk, nearly 82% corporate entities have reported that they have suffered some kind of frauds in 2016-17. One major reason why frauds and scams are still on the rise is that of the limitations and vulnerabilities of the human brain.

No matter how modern and adaptable humans become, there are certain psychological tools that can trick the brain and exploit its weaknesses. Let’s delve into the details of these different cognitive features that sit on the foundation of every fraud and scam.


We usually don’t hand over our banking cards to strangers except when we are in a restaurant and give it to a stranger whom our brain identifies as a waiter. It is a general behavioral trait where we abide by the requests or orders by the ones whom our brain perceives as the people of command, relevance and authority. This social compliance has both benefits and downsides and scammers certainly utilize the former.

Compliance is intelligently used by scammers to rip people off. One of biggest demonstration of the exploitation of compliance can be witnessed in the cases of online phishing attacks where people provide their confidential banking details to the people posing as relevant banking representatives.


It is said that human attention is one-dimensional. That is why it is very easy for the human brain to get distracted. Distraction is another tool which is effectively used by scammers to carry out their cons. For instance, scammers offering fraudulent investment schemes often distract victims from the loopholes of their plan by keeping their attention to only one thing; lucrative profits.

Herd Mentality

One psychological school of thought believes that people are just like sheep and hence can’t cease to stop following each other. Herd mentality originates from an extreme form of conformity where people even fail to accept and recognize evidence from their own eyes to fit in with others. For instance, in Ponzi schemes, people start to follow in the footsteps of others without necessary deliberations. Likewise, many online scams become viral due to this same mentality trait.

Dishonesty and Secrecy

Many scams demand secrecy and non-disclosure from the involved victims. Usually, it happens when people themselves know that they are a part of some suspicious venture. In exchange of benefits, people assume that slight dishonesty won’t hurt.

There are many instances of frauds where people unable to report them because scammers have already made them sign confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements. Many people also fail to report scams where they consider themselves complicit.


Deception is one of the oldest weapons of fraudsters. An interesting aspect of deception is that people even get deceived when they believe they are being cautious and careful. Deception entails many things including lack of self-references, answering a question with another question, lack of details etc. Elements of deceptions are almost part of every scamming activity.

Greed, Need and Desperation

The human brain often fails to make a distinction between need and greed and this shortcoming is often exploited by scammers. Oftentimes, actual needs also blur the ability to judge rationally. The resultant desperation compels them to become a part of schemes from which they would refrain otherwise.

Scammers use all these human instincts against their victims. We have seen and heard cases where people get ripped off because of their needs. Most of the senior scams are based on the exploitation of the needs of an elderly population.

Time Pressure

It has been an established psychological fact that people tend to make decisions by instinct and emotional response instead of rational thinking when they are short of time. Less or no involvement of the brain in making decisions increases the chances of error. Therefore, time pressure also aids scammers in trapping more people into their vicious plans.

Every fraudulent scheme is played with the exploitation of one or more of the psychological characteristics discussed above. Always give preference to cognitive inferences over instinctive moves to reduce the chances of becoming victim of any scam.

Posted On January 1, 2018