Humans are an emotional animal. No matter how advanced our technologies or societies become, no matter how objective or logical we believe we are, primal emotions can still affect our behavior, and when someone manipulates those feelings into a heightened state, we find ourselves at risk of making mistakes.
Many types of fraud work by stoking one of our most basic emotions: fear. The assumption goes: if you can make someone afraid, they’ll believe anything you say, even if it makes no logical sense.
Here is a list of several common scams and how they use fear to trick victims into handing over money or personal information:
- Phishing: uses the fear of losing access to money (“your debit card has been deactivated”) to trick victims into visiting a website that harvests personal information
- Medicare scam: uses fear of losing access to health care to convince victims to reveal personal information
- Tech Support scam: uses fear of malicious software to trick victims into handing over control of their computer
- IRS scam: uses fear of imprisonment to get victims to load prepaid gift cards, then pass along the card information to the scammer
- Missed Jury Duty scam: uses feat of imprisonment to obtain credit or debit card information
- Grandparent scam: uses fear of loved ones’ safety to lure victims into wiring money or loading prepaid cards with cash
- Lottery scam: mostly appeals to greed (another primal emotion), but also stokes fear of missing out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to trick victims into falling for a counterfeit check scheme
- Ransomware: uses fear of losing access to important files to extort payments from victims
In other words, a lot of scams operate by inciting fear.
The key is to understand that the use of fear is an extremely common (if not the most common) tactic, and to be able to recognize when someone is trying to make you afraid. This requires a certain amount of self-awareness, and I’m not really sure how one goes about developing that, other than to just slow down and take a moment whenever a stranger is presenting you with alarming information, instead of reacting immediately.
Unless they’re shouting “duck!”