Why We Get Scammed

Jan 30, 2024 Safety & Security

Spot scams before they turn into costly mistakes by familiarizing yourself with common tactics fraudsters use to manipulate you.

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With technology so entwined with everyone’s everyday lives, it’s almost certain that you’ve been exposed to an attempt at mass marketing fraud. Common examples include being interrupted by an annoying robocall or getting a suspicious message in your email inbox. Sometimes the attempted fraud is almost comical, leaving you to wonder how anyone could possibly fall for such an obvious money grab – an exiled prince that needs help transferring a million dollars, really?

Unfortunately, mass marketing scams persist because they work – at least enough to justify the attempts made. In a 2022 Data Breach Investigation report conducted by Verizon, it was found that 2.9% of employees click on phishing emails, while that doesn’t seem like a lot, it ended up being 33, 473,532 accounts phished in their breach data alone.

How Do Fraudsters Trick Even The Smartest People?

As it turns out, there’s some psychology at play. Scammers are very good at crafting situations that create “amygdala hijack”, which is a term used to describe what happens when the brain perceives an emergency situation. Fear, urgency, or threatening behavior can trigger a reaction in your brain that sidesteps the usual neural pathways.

What Does This Mean Exactly?

Amygdala hijack is what compels you to act before any rational thought can kick in – this is what many scams are designed to get you to do. In a state of amygdala hijack, you might comply with a scammer’s request before your brain gets a chance to notice any red flags. This helps to explain why anyone can fall for (seemingly) obvious scams.

In order to create the degree of urgency that triggers amygdala hijack, scammers rely on the following tactics.

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3 Common Tactics Used To Trick You


This is perhaps the most obvious interpretation of creating a sense of urgency: the scarcity of time. Targets are presented with a situation that requires immediate action – for example, your account will be deleted unless you enter your password now.

In online sales scams, scarcity of product is often emphasized; the sales page will draw attention to the fact that there’s only one product remaining at the too-good-to-be-true discounted sale price. Scarcity can also be applied to success, which plays to people’s desire to benefit themselves financially. In pyramid schemes or investment fraud, a scam may be presented as a limited opportunity.


Scammers will often pose as authority figures in an attempt to make demands on their targets without being questioned. Common impersonations include estate lawyers (in email scams offering a large inheritance), government representatives (in tax scams), and law enforcement (in identity theft), but this tactic also extends to impersonating businesses – like Amazon, FedEx, etc.

In email form, scammers pose as authority figures to get you to click on links or provide passwords and information without paying close attention to the actual message or its sender. Some scammers abuse their fraudulent powers of authority further by using threatening or aggressive behavior to bully their targets into compliance.


We often look to family, friends, and even other consumers when it comes to decision-making, and scammers use this to their advantage by impersonating others in order to make a scam seem more credible. A common example is fake product reviews on online shopping sites. In order to move more product, the fraudulent seller will fabricate identities and post glowing reviews to influence a purchase and to bury any accurate and negative reviews.

In other scams, existing connections are used to make a scam seem legitimate. In one especially manipulative example, scammers will use social media posts to figure out when you’re out of town or on a vacation. Then, posing as you, they contact friends, relatives, or co-workers and request financial help with an emergency. Because you’re in fact on vacation, the request gets a little boost of legitimacy that makes it easier for targets to overlook the scam.

What You Can Do

Even though scams come in all shapes and sizes and via different communication methods, there are some underlying similarities. Being aware of tactics like scarcity, authority, and credibility will help you flag potential fraud.

When presented with a stressful situation, create an opportunity for yourself to pause and think before acting. Although the circumstance may seem time-sensitive, work through these steps:

Don’t worry about being polite – verifying the legitimacy of the person or company you’re talking to is a reasonable thing to do. It also helps to take preventive measures by being careful with your personal information and using privacy settings on social media accounts.


Whether it’s online, over the phone, or in person, scammers are always coming up with new ways of influencing their targets to act in ways they might not otherwise. By staying calm in high-stress situations and by giving yourself a little extra time to think, you’re better able to spot recurring scammers’ favorite tactics, avoid a state of amygdala hijack, and save yourself from making costly mistakes.

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You work hard for your money. We want to help protect it by sharing tips to help recognize scams, deter fraudsters, and take appropriate action if you fall victim.

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