The Art of Persuasion: 6 Psychological Tactics of Scammers

The Art of Persuasion: 6 Psychological Tactics of Scammers

by Leslie Freeland, April 28, 2017

Scammers Will Use These to Make You Hand Over Cash

Want to avoid getting scammed? Learn the tricks of a scammer’s trade so you can keep your money in your own pocket. Here are six sneaky psychological tricks scammers will try to use on you:

1. Scammers Appeal to Respect for Authority

As old as humanity itself, this trick plays on the emotions of law-abiding people. In its latest disguise, scammers who pose as Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agents call U.S. residents to threaten them with arrest or wage garnishment (taking a portion of your pay) if they don’t make an immediate payment.

IRS Scams: Although the U.S. government—often in cooperation with other countries—has worked overtime to find and arrest these crooks, they’re still out there. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) advises Americans to protect themselves from these scams with five steps:

  • Realize that the IRS will never call you to ask for an immediate payment or threaten you.
  • If you receive a threatening phone call, report them to the FTC.
  • Don’t trust caller IDs: scammers can make the call look like it’s from a trusted source.
  • Talk to a trusted authority—like your attorney—before you give anyone personal or financial information.
  • Don’t rush: Check out what the caller tells you. Search online for information about possible scams.

2. Scammers Appeal to a Trusted Source

Scammers know that it’s easier to fool someone if the person thinks it’s someone they know. So scammers may pose as relatives or friends. If you receive a call from someone who says they’re a long-lost relative who’s down on their luck and wants you to wire them money, do a search for “long lost relative scam.”

Do the same for someone who claims that a relative has left money for you in their will. Chances are it’s a scammer looking for a quick buck. Don’t trust—verify.

Fraudsters also know that it’s easier to scam people if they think it’s a trusted business that’s contacting them, so they may pose as someone from your bank or credit card company. For example, if you receive a call from someone who says they’re from your bank, first call the bank.

3. Scammers Appeal to the Desire for Wealth

The long-lost relative who’s left money for you—that’s a common fantasy of people all around the world. Scammers know that all they need to do to get people to hand over their bank account information is to dangle the prospect of instant wealth in front of them.

Crooks don’t just limit themselves to lost relatives, though. They latch on to:

  • Job seekers on Internet job boards.
  • Business schemes in which only those at the top have a shot at making money (called ‘pyramid schemes’).
  • Real estate scams in which they ‘sell’ you an abandoned property that you later discover someone else owns.

If something sounds too good to be true, beware. More than likely, a scammer has you in his or her cross-hairs. Find out the facts before you hand over a dime.

4. Scammers Appeal to the Desire to Be on the Bandwagon

Scammers use one of Madison Avenue’s favorite tactics—the bandwagon—to attract potential targets for their scheme. “Everyone who’s anyone has already gotten on board with this plan,” a scammer might tell you. They’ll then rattle off a list of celebrities, wealthy individuals, and others who they claim have already jumped on the bandwagon with this ‘opportunity.’

Just ask some of the victims of Bernie Madoff’s investment scheme, one of the biggest scandals of its decade. After his 2008 arrest and subsequent conviction in 2009, interviews with some of his victims revealed that they trusted Madoff because he had so many wealthy investors who had already hopped on board with his scheme.

Don’t fall for something just because someone else does. Instead:

  • Check out the facts.
  • Check out the legality.
  • Check out the details, not the list of who’s on board.

As the Bernie Madoff trial revealed, his list of victims included many in the ‘in crowd.’ Those who resisted the appeal to the Madoff bandwagon turned out to be the savviest investors of all.

5. Scammers Appeal to the Fear of Losing Out

One of the ways a scammer can play on your deepest fears is to tell you that there are only a few slots left for you to get into his or her ‘foolproof’ moneymaking scheme. You think you’ll lose out on the greatest cash cow ever, so you jump in.

The truth, however, lies elsewhere. Don’t forget: the scammer has told countless people the same thing. They are depending on your fear of missing out to get you to join the legions of folks that believed the lie. In fact, there are as many slots left as there are potential victims. The only cash you’ll see is that in the scammer’s pocket as they head out of town, police in hot pursuit.

Don’t rush to buy into a business proposition. Do your homework. If you miss this one—and it’s legitimate—there will be another one just around the corner.

6. Scammers Appeal to Good Manners

Because your mother taught you to return favors—a good thing in most cases—scammers will take advantage of your good manners. That company who offers you a huge spread and a luxury room at its condos in the Keys may want to sell you a timeshare that you’ll never get to use, because thousands of others have already bought shares in the same condo.

Never let a gift substitute for the facts.

Don’t let a scammer make you part with your hard-earned money. Investigate before you sign. Always.

Call the source that the caller says they’re from.

When you search online for information about scams, include the word ‘scam.’


Information is your best friend.




Asurea offers Life Insurance, Mortgage Protection Life Insurance, Medicare Supplement Insurance, Final Expense Insurance, Disability Insurance, Long-term Care Insurance, Retirement Planning products and more. For additional information, click on the ‘Learn more’ button below. Want to have articles just like this delivered to your inbox? Just enter your email address in the box below and click ‘Subscribe.’

This information is provided for general consumer educational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax or investment advice.



Leslie Freeland

Leslie Freeland

Marketing Communications Coordinator at Asurea
Leslie joined Asurea as the Marketing Communications Coordinator in February 2015. Since then, she has been working closely with insurance professionals to educate the public on the importance of life insurance and protect the public from common scams with informational articles.
Leslie Freeland

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