Scams appeal to basic human desires and needs. Scam victims often show a lack of emotional control.

The subject of scams usually leads to analyze the victim/victimizer binary and to always focus reflections and judgments on the latter actor. The literature describes in detail the perpetrators, their psychological profiles, and the origin of their behavior.

However, all relational models – including abusive ones – are systems that require certain behaviors or ways of responding to be active to function. In this sense, studies are still indebted to the analysis of why someone becomes a victim, even in contexts where danger signs flashing everywhere.

Given that the cryptocurrency ecosystem is naturally attractive for the proliferation of tokenized Bernies Madoff, it is particularly interesting to review the study that the now-defunct Office of Fair Trading (OFT) commissioned the School of Psychology of the University of Exeter, in 2009. The Study consisted of conducting in-depth interviews with scam victims and close people who closely experienced the process since they were relatives or friends of the scammers’ victims.

In this study, they not only indicate the scam strategies used but also how these connect with certain personality traits or emotional states that many of the victims of scams tend to share. In this sense, they are usually very far from the stereotype of an illiterate, ignorant, or poor person.

Hunting Strategies and Falling into the Trap

All scams are based on so-called “visceral triggers” since they appeal to basic human desires and needs, greed and fear are the most relevant. Once the scammers make the connection by promising enormous benefits, the victims usually disconnect from their rational cognitive processes temporarily.

On the other hand, among the most prominent strategies is that of creating the feeling of scarcity, that is, of convincing the victims that the offer is an “exclusive” one, an initiative for a few people. Since it is also a select group, they must act quickly if they do not want to lose the opportunity, given the large number of people waiting to be chosen.

The criminals also induce a behavioral commitment, asking the victims to fulfill small tasks or stages, associated with the delivery of small sums of money or the recruitment of new victims. This also relates to the fact that the prize payment at the end of the process is such (becoming a millionaire in the short term and without additional efforts) that all these tasks and payments seem only a minor energy expenditure.

Another very interesting behavior – which can constitute an alert – is that the victims of scams usually do not talk about the big business that they are about to close, either with friends or with relatives. Somehow, they know that they are acting unwisely, fearing that another person that they consider rational will confirm that intuition.

According to one of the conclusions, scam victims usually do not make an effort to investigate the content of the offer. Some of them study the offer, but the size of the prize is the most relevant factor. However, many of them said that they perceived that something was wrong about the whole thing. At this point, they decide to try it anyway, proving once again that emotional responses rule over rational responses.

By Willmen Blanco


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