Why You Fall For Online Scams When You Should Know Better

According to the latest crime report by the ONS (Office of National Statistics), over 50% of all fraud cases in the UK (approximately 1.7 million cases) are cyber-related. [1] Cyber-crime cases are still high despite increasing efforts from organisations such as Action Fraud and the NFIB (National Fraud Intelligence Bureau) to curb the menace.

From the above statistic, it’s clear that online scams are big business in the UK. The scams come in all forms from emails that you have won millions in a lottery you didn’t participate in to annoying pop-ups from supposedly legitimate companies. Although online scams keep evolving, it’s easy to avoid them if we are vigilant. But why do millions of people keep falling for online fraudsters?

Scammers use authoritative figures

Most online scams utilise authoritative figures, and most people fall for these figures because we have a tendency to obey authoritative requests
without questioning. In actual sense, the scammers usually pose as authoritative figures, and since we are socialised to comply with authority from a young age, people get scammed easily when authoritative figures like government officials or recognised institutions are used.

Scams tend to exploit common social norms/rules

Online scammers also utilise social weaknesses. For instance, it is human nature to help someone in need, repay a favour or free gift. Most people find it hard to decline polite requests. Online fraudsters know this which is why many scams involve polite requests for donations to cater for medical bills or travel expenses even when the underlying request is based on falsehood. Online romance scams are perfect examples of scams which exploit common social norms.

Scams also exploit emotions

All scams have an emotional aspect whether positive or negative. Online lottery scams tap on the feeling of excitement when you win money. Online romance scammers tap on the positive emotion (excitement) of finally finding a life-time partner or fear of missing out on a lifetime partner. Online banking scams tap on a person’s fear, panic or anxiety about fraudulent account activity taking place and the prospect of losing money. If scams didn’t elicit an emotional response, people wouldn’t take the action required to expose themselves. Scientific studies have proven that emotions encourage scam victims to take mental shortcuts and make quick decisions without thinking. [2]

Sense of urgency

Scams which manage to elicit strong emotional responses and create a sense of urgency are the most effective. When you are full of fear or excitement and have a limited time to make a decision, you’ll probably make a bad decision. That’s why many victims of online scams wonder how they fell for an obvious scam in hindsight. If you ever feel pressured to make a decision you haven’t thought out critically, think twice.

You may be greedy

This might be shocking; however, some studies allude to the fact that victims of fraud tend to be greedy in nature. Theorists behind these studies claim most people who fall for financial-related scams like lottery scams tend to be victims because they are motivated by self-gain – making a large amount of money in a short time. It has been hypothesized that people who score highly on greed are most likely to be scammed.[3] To avoid being scammed, it’s advisable to avoid unconventional ways of making money.

You may be a scam addict

This may also sound shocking, but some theorists claim some people get scammed because of their addictive tendencies to scams as well as the visceral responses they get from being involved in a scam. According to Monica T. Whitty’s research published in 2013 in the British Journal of Criminology, some scam victims are attracted to the addictive experience of a “near win”. According to her hypothesis, individuals who have a high addictive disposition tend to be fall for romance scams. [4]

Given online scam cases are underreported, it can be hard understanding all the factors that come into play and make smart people fall for scams. It’s therefore crucial for scam victims to speak openly about their experiences. Awareness campaigns will go a long way to curbing online scamming as people get encouraged to share their stories without feeling ashamed. The stigma around scam victims must be reduced for “seemingly smart” people to stop falling for scams.


Is the Company Director of Swift Money Limited.
He oversees all day to day operations of the company and actively participates in providing information regarding the payday/short term loan industry.

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