Saturday, March 16, 2013

Who Are the Suckers?

Psychologist Anthony Pratkanis, University of  California-Santa Cruz, recently gave a talk on criminal scamming at CSICon 2012. His PowerPoint presentation is available, but here are a few points I found eye-opening.

Americans lose $40 billion a year to telemarketing fraud out of $110 billion total. To put that in perspective, the amount of money spent on the 2012 presidential election was a mere $6 billion.

As reported in the March/April 2013 Skeptical Inquirer coverage of his talk,

There is no evidence for the myth of the weak victim. The weak and the strong are taken. And the evidence indicates that seniors are less susceptible, not more; they are just targeted more.... And contrary to what you might expect, victims are more, not less, financially literate. They think they are immune. That makes them susceptible.
There is no profile of the kind of person who can be victimized by a con, but research does show that victims have experienced more negative life events, ranging from the death of a spouse to developing a medical condition that limits activity to having moved recently. (People who get involved with cults are also more likely to have had more negative life events.) 

Pratkanis and his colleagues are working with the FBI on a solution. It turns out, these con men share names of victims and keep "lead" sheets on them, the way a salesperson would, and share or sell them. And sometimes these files get seized by law enforcement. So Pratkanis and the FBI contact the victims before a con is completed to explain what's happening. They're working on a range of scripts and educational techniques to decrease gullibility and counter the social influence strategies used by con artists.

 According to Pratkanis, even one phone call can cut the victimization rate in half.

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