Anyone can be scammed. When we blame victims for being ignorant, we make it easier for scammers to get away with their crimes.
Sharon Osgood just wanted to buy Super Bowl tickets. Shut out during the initial ticket sale, she turned to the secondary market and found a pair of tickets on Craigslist. The seller turned out to be a con artist. Osgood lost nearly $6000.
When she contacted her local news, seeking to warn others, both Ticketmaster and the San Francisco 49ers heard Osgood’s story and stepped forward with complimentary tickets. It was a devastating, embarrassing financial loss transformed into a rare happy ending.
But many didn’t see it that way.
“If you are really dumb enough to wire $6K to someone you don’t know without any protection, you deserve it,” wrote one commenter when The San Jose Mercury News reported Osgood’s story online. They mocked her ignorance and insulted her.
Another scoffed that Ticketmaster and the 49ers weren’t helping a distraught fan; they were rewarding Osgood “for being brainless.”
I’d never fall for that.
The reaction to this story reflects an undercurrent of denial that’s present whenever we talk about scams. We often distance ourselves from scam victims, framing their misfortune as an issue of personal responsibility and intelligence. We say, he should have known better or that’s why you use common sense. I’m too smart to get scammed.
This is why many people, especially senior citizens, don’t report a scam until it’s too late — if they report it at all.
Pointing fingers at the victim only prevents them from seeking help and draws attention away from the scammer. To fight these crimes, we need to educate ourselves without creating a hostile space.
We also need to acknowledge that anyone can be scammed. Scammers trap their victims by preying on basic human characteristics and exploiting unfamiliar technology. No matter your age, gender, race, income or education level, we all share the same psychological traits. We all have personal or financial information stored online. We’re all at risk.
Here are 5 reasons why anyone can be susceptible to scams:
1. Our Basic Emotional Needs Make Us Vulnerable.
For example, we all get lonely and crave romantic companionship. Today, more and more people turn to the Internet to find it. In fact, online dating has become so prevalent that a 2012 study by Drexel University found that 1 in 5 Americans met their spouses on the web.
Scammers seek out the loneliest people on dating sites and woo them with charming fake profiles. They gain the victim’s trust and love slowly over time. Then, they spin an elaborate yarn about why they need the victim to send them a large sum of money. Some victims lose tens of thousands of dollars this way.
2. When We Look for Shortcuts, We Might Not See Red Flags.
Our culture can move at a break-neck speed that often breeds impatience. Everyone’s looking for a shortcut or ways to make life easier. That’s why many scammers lure their victims with promises of instant gratification.
We all want convenience and scammers are ready to sell it to us in the form of “Get Rich Quick” schemes, bogus weight loss products and more. When you’re impatient or even desperate, it’s easy to suspend your disbelief about claims that are too good to be true.
3. Bogus Scarcities and “Act Now or Miss Out” Tactics Trap Us in Consumer Scams.
Scammers frequently borrow common sales tactics and snare victims with artificial scarcities. In an article for Psychology Today, psychologist and marketer Kit Yarrow describes how certain transactions are difficult to resist. She writes that a perceived scarcity “inspires a fear of ‘missing out’ that we often don’t consciously notice – which enhances the power of our emotional reaction.”
In other words, when we’re rushing to “act now or miss out,” we might not be thinking clearly. That’s how we fall for bait-and-switch scams, accidentally purchase counterfeit goods or wire $6000 to a crook posing as a ticket seller.
4. Information Overload Blinds Us to Devils in the Details.
For most of us, our daily lives involve a constant stream of new information to be processed. Our brains can’t keep up with every single email, text message, IM or Tweet that comes our way — to say nothing of the complicated legal jargon in a software Terms of Service agreement.
To cope with the sheer volume of input we receive, we have a tendency to notice certain details while overlooking others. Con artists exploit this in a variety of email impersonation scams and online membership fraud.
Every day, Scambook receives dozens of complaints from consumers struggling with unwanted fees or recurring payments because they missed small details in a contract’s fine print.
5. More Internet Equals More Private Information to Steal.
More of our personal and financial information is online today than ever before. With as little as one hacked password, scammers can gain enough data to commit identity theft or wreak havoc with your digital life. But even if you’re not plugged into social media and cloud communication, you’re still exposed.
Most banks, health insurance companies, employers, and even many government agencies store user information digitally. Although generally secure and encrypted, these databases can still be breached. Over 3 million Social Security numbers were considered compromised when the South Carolina Department of Revenue was hacked in late 2012.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that scammers are devious and predatory. When it comes to scams, it isn’t a question of whether people like Sharon Osgood “should have known better.” It’s a question of awareness and education.
At Scambook, we foster a community free of judgment where people can file complaints and gain the knowledge they need to protect themselves. We know that everyone is vulnerable and we believe that no one should ever feel too embarrassed to report that they’ve been scammed.
No one ever deserves it.
What do you think?
Have you or anyone you know ever been the victim of a scam? Did you feel like you “should have known better”? Remember, you’re not alone.
Share your thoughts and stories in the comments below for online support from the Scambook community.