The Psychology Behind Scamming

by Jackie Edwards

From winning the lottery and PPI refunds to identity theft and online marriage proposals, we’re all potential targets for fraudsters. Globally, scammers conned unsuspecting victims out of $12.7 billion in 2013 — and that was just with 419 advance fee fraud scams. Scam victims typically lose out financially — often without reimbursement — and suffer significant emotional trauma, making them less likely to come forward due to embarrassment. While scams have become more complex and harder to detect in the modern age, the foundational influence techniques scammers use on their victims remain the same. Become aware of how scams exploit emotions and human nature, and you’re less likely to fall for these psychological techniques.

Exploitation of social norms

From birth, we’re conditioned to have unwavering respect for authority figures. Scammers take advantage of this social norm and therefore often pose as bank employees, government officials, or qualified professionals who appear trustworthy. In a similar vein, scammers try to exploit man’s inherent good nature. You may find it hard to say “no” to a charity asking for donations. Or you may be compelled to send money to help pay for emergency medical or travel expenses — which often plays out in online dating scams.

Scarcity-based incentives

Most of us have fallen prey to tempting “limited-time only” sales when shopping. Retailers and scammers alike rely on scarcity-based incentives: offers that expire soon, offers that are one-time only, or deals that will fall through if you don’t act RIGHT NOW! They conjure a sense of urgency in order to get you to take immediate action. The fear of missing out is primal and you’re more likely to forgo rationality and self-control in the face of it. Scammers want you acting now instead of taking time to asses the situation and likely realizing things don’t add up.

Eliciting of emotion

People who lack control over their emotions are more likely to be persuaded by scammers, a report by the UK Office of Fair Trading reveals. Sometimes these will be positive emotions like the excitement of winning money or online relationships. Alternatively, negative feelings like fear and panic are often elicited via supposed fraudulent bank activity. It’s natural to want to alleviate strong, unpleasant emotions as soon as possible. People will therefore act out of fear and desperation — rather than reason — and respond to the scam in order to feel better in the short run.

So, how do you know who to trust? Never give out personal information or money to anybody — especially on first contact. Delete emails from people you don’t know. Do your own research to verify something — but don’t call numbers or click links you’ve been given. Give yourself time to carefully think about the situation. Does it elicit strong emotions urging you to act? If in doubt, always go with your gut. Finally, if you find yourself the target of a scam, report it and let others know, so they can avoid falling prey to the same or similar scam in the future.

What Does Science Say about Psychics?

by Jackie Edwards

Extrasensory perception and haunted houses seem to be the stuff that horror stories or comedies are made of. Yet, a Gallup survey indicates that around three out of four Americans hold at least one paranormal belief. Around 32% of people believe that spirits of those who have passed away can return to certain places, and 31% believe in telepathy. Around 21%, meanwhile, believe that people can communicate mentally with someone who has died, which begs the question: has science ever established the existence of psychic powers?

An Academic Study on Psychic Phenomena

A study that is often cited when discussing what science has to say on psychic abilities is D Bem’s Feeling the Future: Experimental Evidence for Anomalous Retroactive Influences on Cognition and Affect, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The study involved nine experiments and over 1,000 participants.

In the experiments, aspects of stimuli were shown to correlate with participants’ responses which occurred before the stimuli were produced randomly by computer. For instance, participants were shown two curtains on a computer screen and were told to pick the one they thought had an image behind it. In fact, none of the screens had an image behind them. Rather, after the participants made their choices, the computer randomly chose which curtains would hide an image, and the researchers subsequently found that the participants had ‘predicted’ the positioning of the images at a higher rate than chance would indicate.

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The Cocktail Party Effect


The term cocktail party effect was coined by a British Cognitive scientist Colin Cherry, in the 1950s. He was interested in understanding how people listened, by conducting a few experiments. In his first experiment, he played two different overlapped messages recorded in the voice of the same person, through headphones. The participants were asked to listen carefully and try to write one of the messages on paper. If they put in enough concentration, the participants usually succeeded.

Now, if someone asks you to describe the cocktail party effect. The formal Cocktail Party effect definition is as follows:

Cocktail Party Effect Definition:

The cocktail party effect is the phenomenon of being able to focus one’s auditory attention on a particular stimulus while filtering out a range of other stimuli, much the same way that a partygoer can focus on a single conversation in a noisy room. Continue reading The Cocktail Party Effect