How con artists trick your mind

Washington State investigators presents “How Con Artists Trick Your Mind”

None of us likes being scammed, and David Modic is no different. But it’s not the fact that scammers try to trick us into handing over our money that bothers him – it’s the way they can rob people of something far more important: their hope.

Take the abuse of dating websites. “People go on dating sites in the hope of fulfilment, and they sometimes get scammed,” says Modic, who researches the psychology of internet fraud at the University of Cambridge. “And that makes me angry.”

It’s this personal passion that’s convinced Modic to study the psychology of scamming. He’s not alone: the field is thriving, and the information that researchers are uncovering is valuable to us all – from vulnerable singletons in search of love to the technology wizards in charge of the world’s online security.

Modic is particularly interested in what makes people vulnerable to scams. It’s tempting to imagine that only the foolish or poorly educated might fall victim – but even anecdotal evidence suggests this is not the case. Take Paul Frampton, an Oxbridge educated academic who was, until earlier this year, a professor of physics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 2012 Frampton was given almost 5 years in prison for drug smuggling in Argentina, after falling victim to an online dating scam. And then there’s John Worley. As a psychotherapist, Worley arguably knows more than most of us about controlling life’s trajectory. But in 2005 he was put on trial for bank fraud and money laundering after becoming a victim of the notorious Nigerian email scam. This scam sees people contacted by someone claiming to be a Nigerian government official appealing for help moving large sums of money out of the country – who just requires a little money upfront to release the fortune. Worley was found guilty and sentenced to two years in prison.

Intelligence and experience offers no protection against scammers, says Modic. “If it did, then better educated people and older people would be less likely to fall for scams. And that is not supported by my research.”

So what does make someone vulnerable? continue reading

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