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The psychology of being scammed


lepre-con jobSecurity consultant Bruce Schneier lists psychological principles that con artists use to scam people. They are from a paper titled Understanding scam victims: seven principles for systems security, by Frank Stajano and Paul Wilson. These remind me of the principles described in two of my favorite books: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert B. Cialdini, and The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man by David Maurer, both of them classics on how bad people take advantage of human weaknesses.

The paper describes a dozen different con scenarios — entertaining in itself — and then lists and explains six general psychological principles that con artists use:

  1. The distraction principle. While you are distracted by what retains your interest, hustlers can do anything to you and you won’t notice.
  2. The social compliance principle. Society trains people not to question authority. Hustlers exploit this “suspension of suspiciousness” to make you do what they want.
  3. The herd principle. Even suspicious marks will let their guard down when everyone next to them appears to share the same risks. Safety in numbers? Not if they’re all conspiring against you.
  4. The dishonesty principle. Anything illegal you do will be used against you by the fraudster, making it harder for you to seek help once you realize you’ve been had.
  5. The deception principle. Thing and people are not what they seem. Hustlers know how to manipulate you to make you believe that they are.
  6. The need and greed principle. Your needs and desires make you vulnerable. Once hustlers know what you really want, they can easily manipulate you.


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One Response to “The psychology of being scammed”

  1. Soo Prout says:

    Hey. I couldn’t get through to this page the other day. Anyone else had the problem?

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