KAKE NEWS INVESTIGATES: Psychology of scams

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The stories are countless: well meaning people get a phone call, a social media post or an email with an offer they think is trustworthy.

Then, thousands of dollars are taken by a scammer.

And while we often talk about ways not to fall for it – why do some fall for it and some don’t?

“They were following a really reasonable line of thinking up to a point and they start to doubt,” said Dr. Molly Allen. “This person’s so nice and they’re an authority figure and I’m just trying to follow the rules and it seems like a really good deal.”

She, herself, came close to getting scammed but something fell apart in the caller’s story.

“Claimed that I had a warrant out and needed to take care of the fines,” she said. “I asked some pointed questions when they said ‘You need to come to the courthouse.’ I said, ‘The blue building?’ They couldn’t answer that.”

The Better Business Bureau surveyed more than 1,000 scam victims and found that it didn’t matter how much money you make, what your ethnicity is, or your gender – everyone can get scammed.

“You feel like it’s coming from an official source. When in fact, you don’t know if your friend actually got their account hijacked,” said Denise Groene with the Better Business Bureau. “There’s also a lot of sponsored ads because they’re trying to reach a certain demographic.”

The top three reasons people engaged with a scammer unknowingly?

  • They seemed official
  • The victim was in a hurry
  • They though the scammer was nice.

“You never want to hang up,” Groene said.

But former con artists say – don’t let that fool you.

In a video released by AARP, a convicted con artist didn’t hold back in his warning.

“These are dangerous people, make no bones about it,” a man with the alias ‘Jimmy’ said. “If I choose to be fraudulent in my practices, there is nothing that’s going to stop me from taking lots of money from people.”

And psychologists say there’s a component to the scammer’s psychology, too.

“They get a certain amount of pleasure doing it and it turns into an acting job,” said Dr. Allen. “They must be high fiving each other in another room. Pulling one over on someone is a thrill.”

A thrill that can cost thousands.

“I’ve known very professional people that have gotten scammed, as well,” she said. “And I think that they tend to get a little smug about that.”

As scams become more complicated it’s easy just to ignore. Experts say don’t answer phone calls from unknown numbers.

Stores like Wal Mart are training employees to ask you questions before allowing a transaction.

And never rush a money order – take your time, ask questions of a person, a company or others just to make sure everything checks out.

Check out these photos from across KAKEland snapped by our viewers, staff and local officials. Do you have pictures to share with us? Email them to news@kake.com.


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