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Defending Against Scam Psychology

Updated: Apr 3

Defending Against Scam Psychology by Craig McCart, The Strategy Writer

Scam activities have surged globally, impacting not just the United States but individuals worldwide. According to GASA's State of Scams in the United States of America Report - 2023, scams in the U.S. alone have led to a staggering financial loss of $159 billion over the last 12 months, affecting 23% of Americans. This monumental figure highlights the financial drain on individuals and emphasizes the emotional toll and stress caused by these deceptive practices.

Despite advancements in technology offering new layers of protection, scammers continue to refine their methods, exploiting digital platforms to reach their victims. With a significant portion of scams propagated through emails and phone calls, the necessity for heightened awareness and preventive measures has never been more critical.

The number of fraud reports are down, the amount lost is up.

The psychology behind scams

At the core of most scams lies emotional manipulation. Scammers exploit feelings of fear, greed, urgency, and even love, clouding judgment and prompting rash actions. They often pose as authoritative figures or trusted institutions, manipulating our inherent trust in these entities.

Additionally, they exploit the principle of social proof, wherein individuals rely on the actions of others to make decisions in uncertain situations, creating a false aura of legitimacy around their schemes.

Did you know?

A staggering 88% of all data breaches stem from human error, highlighting the undeniable importance of human vigilance and the need for continuous awareness training to combat phishing and other cyber threats. A Stanford University report underscores that despite advancements in cybersecurity technology, the human element remains the most vulnerable link, illustrating the critical need for ongoing education about cybersecurity threats.

Furthermore, there has been a noticeable shift in phishing strategies. Attackers increasingly use domains perceived as trustworthy to enhance the credibility of their malicious links. This approach dramatically amplifies the likelihood of individuals trusting and engaging with these hazardous links, demonstrating the sophistication of modern phishing tactics.

Top scams of 2023

The past year saw a diverse array of scams, with the top contenders being cryptocurrency scams, online shopping frauds, employment scams, romance scams, and COVID-19-related deceptions. Each targets specific psychological triggers, exploiting the human allure of easy money, the desperation for employment, or the search for companionship during tough times.

the top frauds spotted by the FTC include imposters, online shopping, prizes, sweepstakes, lotteries, investments, and job opportunities

The evolution and impact of scams

Scams have sophisticatedly evolved, leveraging technology to exploit psychological vulnerabilities. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that scam losses in the United States originating from social media platforms have reached $2.7 billion since 2021. Investment scams, often spread through these platforms, have been incredibly damaging, leading to significant financial losses. This trend underscores the importance of grasping the unique challenges of the digital landscape.

Common scam tactics and their psychological triggers

  • Phishing Attacks: These often come as urgent emails or messages from banks or other reputable organizations, creating a false sense of urgency or fear. The aim is to provoke hasty actions, leading to the disclosure of sensitive information.

  • Lottery and Advance Fee Frauds: The promise of quick wealth is the bait, exploiting greed and the dream of financial freedom.

  • Romance Scams: Leveraging loneliness and the desire for companionship, scammers craft fake online personas, forming relationships they later exploit for financial gain.

Real-life example: WhatsApp scam victims

A notable instance involves WhatsApp fraud, where scammers, posing as acquaintances, request money transfers to unfamiliar accounts, often invoking urgency with fabricated stories. One victim lost significantly to a scammer masquerading as his son desperately needed financial help. Thankfully, by promptly contacting his bank, the victim managed to reverse the transfer and retrieve his funds.

Scammers often impersonate a loved one by messaging from a new number and claiming the usual phone is otherwise out of action

Source: @Suchisoundlover via X (Twitter).

Strategies to recognize and resist psychological manipulation

  • Awareness and Education: Knowledge is a formidable defense. Grasping the common tactics used by scammers is the initial step toward self-protection. Continually educating oneself and others about emerging scam trends can strengthen defenses.

  • Critical Thinking and Pause: Always take a moment to evaluate the situation critically. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it likely is. Scammers count on their victims, not pausing to question the legitimacy of a request.

  • Verification and Double-Checking: Independently verify the authenticity of any dubious requests or offers. Reach out directly to the supposed source through official channels, avoiding the contact details provided in the suspicious communication.

strategies to resist psychological manipulation


What are the most common types of scams in 2023?

Cryptocurrency, online shopping, employment, romance, and COVID-19-related scams are among the most prevalent, targeting specific vulnerabilities and desires.

How can individuals protect themselves from scams?

By staying informed about common scams, practicing skepticism, verifying information through official channels, and utilizing security features like two-factor authentication, individuals can significantly enhance their protection against scams.

For those looking to deepen their understanding and bolster their defenses, engaging with content, quizzes, and real-life stories shared on platforms like the FTC's website can provide invaluable insights and tools in the ongoing battle against scams.


Awareness and education are paramount in the fight against scams. Recognizing the psychological manipulation tactics used by scammers and understanding who is most at risk can empower individuals to protect themselves and their loved ones from becoming victims.

About the Author: Craig McCart, The Strategy Writer

Craig McCart is a Freelance Copywriter with a distinct knack for turning the complexity of the tech and cybersecurity world into clarity. Residing in Windsor, UK, Craig has dedicated his career to partnering with tech brands that are eager to challenge the status quo. His approach is rooted in a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the tech sector.

You can find out more about Craig McCart on his website, here.


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