Don't let emotions get the better of you when it comes to scammers

When do you think you might be at your most vulnerable to falling victim to a scam? Well, new research suggests we're particularly 'scammable' when we're emotional.
Fraudsters tap into our personal hopes, desires and fears. Photograph: PAFraudsters tap into our personal hopes, desires and fears. Photograph: PA
Fraudsters tap into our personal hopes, desires and fears. Photograph: PA

Looking at some common online scams, NatWest has worked with behavioural psychologist Jo Hemmings to investigate the techniques scammers use to exploit their victims online.

They found that they often seek to exploit our emotions, by tapping into our personal hopes, desires and fears – and our natural willingness to trust others and respect those who appear to be in authority. Here are the emotions scammers prey on according to NatWest’s findings.

Romance scams: targeted emotion – desire

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By preying on a desire to be loved, our hopes and even our emotional vulnerability, they get the information needed to scam their victims.

How to spot this scam: A warning sign could be if someone you’ve met on a dating website attempts to move the conversation away from the website. They may also ask many questions about you, but offer little information about themselves. They may be reluctant to meet in person and might have a ‘sob story’ to tell, which results in them asking you for money. While you may feel like you’re being swept up in a big romance, take some time to stop and think, and perhaps consider discussing any warning signs with people whom you know well and trust.

Holiday scams: targeted emotion – excitement

Scammers prey on our excitement at the prospect of booking a dream holiday and our eagerness not to miss out on the best possible deal. These feelings can limit our ability to make a rational and considered decision.

How to spot this scam: Watch out if you are asked to make your payment for your break outside an official website – and be particularly cautious if you are asked to transfer money directly into someone’s bank account. Check reviews across different websites, and be wary of anyone trying to pressure you into signing up to a ‘limited time’ offer.

Goods not received scam: Targeted emotion – trust

Scammers play on our natural willingness to trust a hard-to-resist deal. We like to think we’re savvy shoppers and by appealing to the bargain-hunter in us, they leave us little time to consider the situation and convince us to part with our money. In this instance, scammers also play on the implicit trust that purchasing online from a seemingly authentic website seems to provide.

How to spot this scam: If something looks too good to be true, it probably is. Make sure you are buying from a genuine website and be careful how you pay.

Payments scam: targeted emotion – fear

When scammers ask for advance or up-front payments for goods and services, they capitalise on our fear of missing out, by making us worry that we will lose out if we don’t act fast.

How to spot this scam: Payment scams can happen when a request for payment is received from someone purporting to be someone senior in a company or a client, so ask yourself whether this person is who they say they are, and consider checking with the company they say they’re from.

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