Always be wary when something is "too good to be true"
Updated: Jul 25
Amazing things DO happen in life, but unfortunately, so too - do scams.
Whether you've got an opinion on Netflix's "Inventing Anna" over "My Friend Anna" - I read the latter before watching the former, or the behaviour of the women in "The Tinder Swindler" - one thing is very clear when it comes to fraud and scams.
Unfortunately, if you have handed over money or bank details etc BY YOUR OWN VOLITION (no matter what the story) - there is little that the police can actually do. However you are always encouraged to report a scam, and sometimes banks will stop any payouts and in some cases credit cards will clear the debt - but at the very least by reporting it you can be helping the authorities build a case should the fraudster ever come to trial.
I was reading Frank Abignale's book (of Catch me if you Can fame) - he now helps the FBI and was asked "Isn't it harder, with all the security we have now, for fraudsters to act" - he replied "If anything, it's easier". And our own behaviours don't always help. Have you posted on a social media platform your "porn name" - ie. the Street you grew up on and your mother's maiden name, or the name of your first pet!? These sorts of questions are easy ways that people can get hold of personal data which is used as protection for banks.
Another strange thing is our passwords - while on the one hand it's not great to have the same password for everything, when forced to change there are easy behaviour tricks that fraudsters try eg: if they recognise that one of your passwords is "Flower1", they are simply going to try "Flower2" and so on!
Common red flags include:
- Wanting to talk on a private platform quite soon after meeting you
- Living in the area but "working abroad"
- Asking for money
- Telling you they "love you" very very early on
I'm not trying to pour water onto true love, but in the throws of dopamine, we do need to keep our wits about us...if it's the real deal people are often happy to wait until the time is right for you.
Another thing I should add here, is that even though we may think we won't fall for such a thing, often the clearer we are with what we need and who we want, the easier it is for the scammer to "be" the perfect soulmate. It's called con artist for a reason!
- Pressuring you to make decisions NOW!
- Not being able to answer any of YOUR questions - eg. scammers tend to have a script they stick to
- Mistakes in email addresses, and other typos (although even HMRC has been known to have atrocious grammar in official correspondence)
- Asking for payment in gift cards or crypto currency
...you can also check with your bank for a list of "current scams" that they are aware of
Other helpful points
There are also buying and selling scams eg: the rental which doesn't exist, the car which never shows up, the phone you sent, but you don't get the money in return. With online purchases, read the reviews, and where possible, try to meet the seller in person.
I was recently asked to comment on why we like True Crime so much. Thee key points I responded were as follows:
Informative and entertaining
The brain derives pleasure out of being amused – especially when it knows that it is in a safe environment (such as the sofa when watching Netflix)…it can experience the “reward” of a positive resolution, after the “mild peril” of the scam itself, and it can know that it is at least one step removed from involvement.
The titles “Confidence trickster” or the con artist give immediate insight into why such stories are so compelling – they are going to be fascinating. And while we read them we can sometimes comfort ourselves with the notion “Oh wow – but it’ll never happen to me”…or if we have ourselves been conned or scammed in the past may think “At least it’s not just me”, or of course “If I read about their tricks, I can learn so I will be more mindful next time.” (Or secret option 4…so THAT’s the play book on scams…!)
A story about a successful scammer will likely entertain us as much as it will inform us!
It allows us to discuss our behaviours
Watching others and their reactions gives us a chance to express opinion, and even gain insights into our friends’ behaviours, while still being able to say “I saw on TV…” (it’s a bit like the proverbial “asking for a friend”. We can be incredulous, or frustrated, or full of admiration and the more we talk the more we can gauge what is acceptable and not acceptable types of behaviour in our own social circles.
It can be a teaching point
Expanding on the point about stories such as these informing us of the tricks that con artists and scammers use, as a teacher I will sometimes take the analysis a little deeper and look at the emotional states that make us most likely to fall prey to such circumstances. With gaslighting for example, while it can be sometimes assumed that a narcissist seeks a “meek” victim, it isn’t always the case because the more confident (at first) person not only presents a challenge, but also is often quite vocal about what they want and it’s easy for the scammer to be everything they dreamed of (it’s an art remember).
Exploring such nuances gives us as students of mind and behaviour a greater insight into how we think. For example, if you recognise that one of the characters in a scam drama was “so desperate” at the time, we could then use this to educate ourselves and think twice especially at the times when we “really want” something, or feel down and need to be “picked up”…those are the times at which we are most vulnerable…but this sort of discussion often needs to be prompted as it can feel a little too “deep” for everyday chat…but as a trainer, I do find it helpful to use these sorts of stories as a starting point for discussion.
And I know I DO approach my love of True Crime in this way...it helps me think critically - if you love it as well, I hope it does the same for you. While there is no guarantee that we won't be conned...fraudsters are exceptionally sophisticated in their approach, we are at least taking the opportunity to learn second hand before we have any regret in first hand!
- KNOW when you are most likely to overlook a red flag (eg "desperation", emotional bias, tiredness)
- DOUBLE CHECK facts...if things are really that good, there's enough time to do an element of due diligence
- Utilise sites such as:
I discuss scams on my radio show The Wellbeing Lounge where I was delighted to interview a Financial Crime Analyst and a Cyber Security Expert on how we can protect ourselves.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For self development tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt