The Psychology of Being Scammed

I love reading about social engineering type stuff, and this paper (PDF) by Paul Wilson and Frank Stajano is ideal Christmas after turkey reading. Schneier has the low down as usual.

This is a very interesting paper: “Understanding scam victims: seven principles for systems security,” by Frank Stajano and Paul Wilson. Paul Wilson produces and stars in the British television show The Real Hustle, which does hidden camera demonstrations of con games. Frank Stajano is at the Computer Laboratory of the University of Cambridge.

The paper describes a dozen different con scenarios — entertaining in itself — and then lists and explains six general psychological principles that con artists use:

  1. The distraction principle. While you are distracted by what retains your interest, hustlers can do anything to you and you won't notice.
  2. The social compliance principle. Society trains people not to question authority. Hustlers exploit this “suspension of suspiciousness” to make you do what they want.
  3. The herd principle. Even suspicious marks will let their guard down when everyone next to them appears to share the same risks. Safety in numbers? Not if they're all conspiring against you.
  4. The dishonesty principle. Anything illegal you do will be used against you by the fraudster, making it harder for you to seek help once you realize you've been had.
  5. The deception principle. Things and people are not what they seem. Hustlers know how to manipulate you to make you believe that they are.
  6. The need and greed principle. Your needs and desires make you vulnerable. Once hustlers know what you really want, they can easily manipulate you.

It all makes for very good reading. Two previous posts on the psychology of conning and being conned.

Talking of Schneier, he was talking in London on the 11th December and although I was in town I couldn't make the event. Luckily someones recorded the lot and put it up online.

Bruce Schneier did a benefit gig for Open Rights Group last Friday and here's the video of his 'Future of Privacy' talk and the 45-minute Q&A.

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Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.