The right answer to “Have you ever been scammed?” may not be yes or no – it’s “I really don’t know”.

A few years ago overseas there was a list of close to 160,000 names being passed around. This “hit list” of people who had previously been scammed was being sold among fraudsters. Victims are often re-targeted because, unfortunately, they are more prone to being fleeced all over again.

Luckily this particular hit list found its way into the hands of the police, although I’m sure there are many more sold on the dark web these days.

When police set out to warn the unsuspecting targets, however, they discovered something disturbing: many people just could not believe that they had been taken. Not only were they not aware, they would not accept that something like this could have happened to them. That list must be wrong, they said. It must be. 

It wasn’t.

Human nature often just does not want to accept that we can be a target or a victim. Even if we do, we dismiss it lightly, tell ourselves we knew it all along and that this time will be different.

We sell ourselves short by not truly learning from experience.

When what we believe trips us up

Our Fraud Education Manager at CFFC, Bronwyn Groot, has an extremely frustrating job at times.

As I’ve sat with her and victims of fraud, I’ve realised it’s not just because she has to let people know they’ve been taken. It’s undeniably heart-rending to have to give someone the news that they’ve lost their savings, or are in debt because of fraud.

Rather, she’s often frustrated because when she breaks the bad news to a victim, they refuse to believe her. They cannot even grasp, it seems, that the romance they’ve been a part of for years, or the hundreds of thousands they’ve been pouring into an investment, has been entirely fake.

Con artists are always selling us a story. A story we want to be true – we need to be true. Think about the stories that come with some of the most successful scams out there:

  • Travel scams: “You deserve to be pampered.”
  • Romance scams: “There’s no one like you.” “You’ve found your soul mate, the love of your life.”
  • Investment scams: “You are smarter than others.” “This is your big break.”
  • Merchandise scams: “You deserve the very best.”

All of these are stories are easy to buy into, easy to agree with, easy to believe.

Perversely, the longer a victim has been believing the story they’ve been sold by a scammer, the more they desperately need it to be true. It can become almost impossible to admit it’s been all for naught.

The key question: “Is this for real?”

One of the most timely questions these days – especially in this era of fake news – is simply asking ourselves whether something is legit. I’ve previously written on these pages about fake websites, shipping companies, and even an entire government agency invented to prop up an investment scam.

I almost want to advise people to see something as fake until proven otherwise, but that feels like assuming guilt before proving innocence. Yet perhaps that’s what it takes. Especially if we’re sending money overseas.

Turns out when it comes to fraud happening to others, we can see it much more clearly. It’s much murkier when it’s happening to us.

Con artists, you see, have it pretty easy when it comes to their work on us. We do a lot of it for them by thinking we’re bulletproof, that we’d never miss a trick, that the story we’re being told is somehow different.

We con ourselves.

These days, we all need to try a new way of reacting to offers and approaches. Stop and think, “Is this for real?”

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2:55pm | 9 Jun 2020