Caught in the Scammer’s Net: Risk Factors that May Lead to Becoming an Internet Fraud Victim, AARP Survey of American Adults Age 18 and Older

Authors: AARP: Doug Shadel, Karla Pak, and Jennifer H. Sauer

Year: 2014

Focus Area (s): Victim Profiling, Fraud Surveys, Consumer Behavior, Prevention Techniques

Relevance: Identifying risk factors for being victimized by internet fraud may help identify and protect those who are most vulnerable.

Summary: This multi-state survey of over 11,000 individuals age 18 and older sought to answer three questions:

  1. Are there behaviors and life experiences that may increase a person’s risk of becoming a victim of online fraud?
  2. What proportion of individuals may be at risk of being victimized by online fraud?
  3. How concerned are Americans about online fraud and what if any steps are they taking to protect themselves?

Key findings include:

  • Nearly one in five Americans (19%) who use the internet, or as many as 34.1 million people, engage in at least 7 of the 15 behaviors or experience life events that may put them at increased risk of being victimized by online fraud.
  • Two-thirds of Americans (65%) who use the Internet, or as many as 116 million, people received at least one online scam offer in 2013.
  • Nearly eight in ten (79%) Americans who use the Internet are concerned about being scammed on the Internet.

First Paragraph: A new AARP survey finds there are 15 particular behaviors, life experiences, and knowledge attributes that may make a person more vulnerable to online fraud. Data from this national and multi-state survey of over 11,000 online users also shows that Americans are very concerned about online fraud, yet many avoid taking basic precautions to protect themselves.

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Decreasing Resistance by Affirming the Self

Authors: Julia Zuwerink Jacks (Greensboro—North Carolina) & Maureen e. O’Brien (Louisiana State University at Alexandria)

Publication: Resistance and Persuasion. Ed. Eric S. Knowles & Jay A. Linn. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers

Year: 2004

Focus Area: Persuasion, Prevention

Relevance: The ability to facilitate acceptance of safe behavior and increase resistance towards dangerous behavior is an important opportunity for fraud prevention professionals.

Summary: This chapter outlines a series of studies examining the relationship between self-affirmation and susceptibility to persuasion.

  • Self-affirmed individuals are more likely to process a persuasive message in an open-minded fashion.  By reinforcing the target’s positive self-perception, the persuasive message is perceived as less threatening, making resistance less necessary.
  • The extent of a person’s susceptibility depends on the relationship between the attribute being affirmed (e.g., independence, cooperation) and the persuasive message.
  • The persuasive power of self-affirmation is only effective if the affirmation is unrelated to the persuasive message, or if the self-affirmation is compatible with the message (e.g., “you are so supportive” and “would you mind driving me to the bank?”).
  • If the self-affirmation is incompatible (e.g. reinforcing a person’s sensible caution and then asking the person to behave recklessly) then resistance increases.

Bolstering potential fraud victims’ perceptions of their own careful deliberation and sensible caution may increase resistance to a fraudster’s ploy of the quick sale, regardless of the specific fraud type.

Author Abstract: “You’re the coolest person I’ve ever met,” she said to Heather. They were drinking sweet tea on the patio and staring into the fishpond, both tired from a long day of classes. Heather wasn’t sure where her friend was going with this, but of course she didn’t mind the flattery. “I mean, of all the friends I’ve met in college you’ve got to be the nicest,” continued Jen. “You’re warm, caring, honest. Like, who else would have run after that man to give him the $20 he dropped? I would have kept it. I mean, like he wasn’t even good looking! What else have you done like that? It’s so . . . it’s so honest!”

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Consumer Psychology and Attitude Change

Authors: Curtis P. Haugtvedt, Richard J. Shakarchi, Kaiya Lui (The Ohio State University) & Bendik M. Samuelsen (Norwegian School of Management)

Publication: Resistance and Persuasion. Ed. Eric S. Knowles & Jay A. Linn. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers

Year: 2004

Focus Area: Prevention, Consumer Behavior

Relevance: Understanding how best to change consumers’ perspectives on the risk of fraud and their own vulnerability is a significant challenge to fraud prevention.

Summary: The studies outlined in this chapter focus on the role of ‘elaboration’ (thinking about, considering, mentally expanding upon a message) as it influences persuasion and attitude change.  The goal is to facilitate attitudes that are resistant to future changes.

  • A statement that might inspire a negative reaction (e.g. “You have no choice!”) may also draw more attention and may thus be remembered by the consumer.  If the argument is invalid, then resistance will occur, but if the argument is strong, it is possible that reactance might be overcome by the increased attention and focus.
  • Priming certain kinds of information (e.g., a safe investment warning with a story about a fraud) may lead people to consider the message in greater depth, increasing the likelihood of persuasion.
  • Asking individuals to consider their own prior experience in a related situation or with a related product may similarly increase their mental elaboration on the topic.
  • Asking individuals to imagine the benefits of a given option (e.g., hanging up on a solicitor) before suggesting it outright may make that option more appealing.  They may be more likely to be persuaded, as the arguments have come from a trustworthy and appealing source — themselves.

Author Abstract: The extent to which and the processes by which individuals are influenced by print, radio, television, interpersonal conversations, and Web sites (as well as future integrated technologies) is a fascinating area of study. As the various chapters in this book illustrate, as social psychologists make progress in understanding the nature of resistance to attitude change, new and very interesting questions about persuasion processes in general are raised. While many factors may be associated with strong attitudes, the extent to which individuals elaborate on the content of an initial persuasive appeal has been shown to be an important moderator of the extent to which and the processes by which they might resist subsequent opposing persuasive messages (see Petty, Haugtvedt, & Smith, 1995).

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Resistance and Persuasion

Editors: Eric S. Knowles (University of Arkansas) & Jay A. Linn (Widener University)

Publication: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers

Year: 2004

Focus Area: Persuasion, Prevention

Relevance: Understanding the properties of resistance puts one in a much stronger position to change another’s level of resistance – either to diminish or bolster it.

Summary: “This book explores persuasion by considering its antithesis: resistance” (p. 3).  This edited collection defines, dissects, understands, and explains the role of resistance as one half of a persuasive interaction.  Resistance can be expressed variously as: reactance, distrust, scrutiny, and inertia.

The book distinguishes “Alpha” from “Omega” strategies of persuasion – increasing the appeal of a change vs. reducing resistance towards a change – and identifies 7 strategies for managing resistance:

  1. pushing a decision into the future
  2. using narratives/stories to sidestep resistance
  3. warning a target of upcoming persuasion
  4. emphasizing positive thoughts about the message
  5. reinforcing the target’s self-esteem or self-image
  6. training people to identify illegitimate messages
  7. using resistance against itself

Identifying the processes that lead to a certain person’s perspective can indicate which methods would be most effective to overcome or reinforce that viewpoint.  The final chapter also provides a useful integration of information and points towards further areas of research.

Author Abstract: Do we need to convince you that persuasion is an important topic for the social sciences? Probably not. You know that humans are social beings. Our communication, psychology, social organization, political structures, market choices—in short, everything we do—is interpersonally coordinated. Persuasion is one of the important tools to achieve these alliances.

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Creating Critical Consumers: Motivating Receptivity by Teaching Resistance

Authors: Brad J. Sagarin (Norther Illinois University), Robert B. Cialdini (Arizona State University)

Publication: Resistance and Persuasion. Ed. Eric S. Knowles & Jay A. Linn. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers

Year: 2004

Focus Area: Prevention, Persuasion, Resistance, Consumer Behavior, Decision Making

Relevance: Effective fraud prevention depends in part upon reducing the public’s susceptibility to the tactics of fraudsters, while facilitating their preference for legitimate information sources.

Summary: This chapter outlines a series of experiments seeking to improve consumers’ decision making by teaching them to reject illegitimate and prefer legitimate persuasion methods.  In order to accomplish this, they discovered that individuals must:

  1. Appreciate their own vulnerability: Many people do not believe that they personally are vulnerable, and so do not internalize warnings or feel motivated to learn.  This awareness can be achieved by exposing them to controlled examples of their own susceptibility.
  2. Know how to identify legitimate vs. illegitimate messages: A basic distinction can be identified, such as the validity of an authority endorsing a product (e.g., the Surgeon General vs. an actor who plays a doctor on television when discussing a medical product).  This provides a substitute “rule-of-thumb” to use in decision making instead of simply “someone who looks like an authority.”

Not only are subjects exposed to this progression of training more likely to resist persuasive messages from illegitimate sources, but they show a clear preference for messages endorsed by legitimate authorities.

Teaching individuals to accept legitimate persuasion may in fact be easier than teaching them to resist illegitimate messages.  Given limited mental processing capacity, easy rules that guide acceptance are more likely to be used than the draining task of careful resistance.

Author Abstract: Consumers have a paradoxical relationship with advertising. To our great personal detriment, we routinely resist health-related warnings from legitimate authorities such as the Surgeon General. At the same time, we readily accept advice from illegitimate authorities, even those who begin their appeal by admitting that “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” This chapter describes three studies designed to tackle the latter problem—maladaptive gullibility. However, it turns out that that the former problem—misplaced skepticism— proved far easier to solve.

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Rethinking Trust

Authors: Roderick Kramer (Stanford University)

Publication: Harvard Business Review

Year: 2009

Focus Area: Decision Making, Emotion, Prevention Techniques, Consumer Behavior

Relevance: Fraudsters prey on humans’ natural inclination to trust in others.  Establishing guidelines for safe establishment of trust — rather than operating by easily-faked rules such as friendliness, class, or social standing — may help guard against predatory ploys.

Summary: While trust is necessary and useful, our process of giving and receiving trust is often superficial and flawed.  This article outlines recent research on the subject and summarizes findings into practical guidelines.  These principles (below) include insights for both individuals and organizations.

  1. Know yourself: Establishing oneself as either generally trusting or distrusting can help one guard against the weaknesses of each tendency.
  2. Start small: Incremental steps in establishing trust are more reliable and long-lasting than simply placing trust wholly with a new individual or company.
  3. Write an escape clause: Hedging the risk of trust with a back-up plan both guards against mistakes in judgment and allows people to trust more fully.
  4. Send strong signals: Strong, quick and proportional retaliation to violations of trust is as vital for the protection against predatory individuals as open sharing is to the establishment of trusting relationships.
  5. Recognize the other person’s dilemma: To foster trust, understanding other people’s need for reinforcement is important for establishing a mutually solid, trusting relationship.
  6. Look at roles as well as people: It is easier for someone to trust a person in a position that inherently evokes trust — such as an engineer or investment advisor.  This tendency can be misleading, causing one to see the role and forget the people.
  7. Remain vigilant and always question: By continuing to evaluate the relationships in which we place trust, we are more likely to perceive changes (such as a shift in an investment advisor’s reporting) that indicate a breach of trust.

Author Abstract: For the past two decades, trust has been touted as the all-powerful lubricant that keeps the economic wheels turning and greases the right connections—all to our collective benefit. Popular business books proclaim the power and virtue of trust. Academics have enthusiastically piled up study after study showing the varied benefits of trust, especially when it is based on a clear track record, credible expertise, and prominence in the right networks.

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Narrative Persuasion and Overcoming Resistance

Authors: Sonya Dal Cin, Mark P. Zanna, & Geoffrey T. Fong (University of Waterloo)

Publication: Resistance and Persuasion. Ed. Eric S. Knowles & Jay A. Linn. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers

Year: 2004

Focus Area: Persuasion, Resistance, Prevention

Relevance: Fraud prevention efforts struggle to convince potential victims of their own vulnerability, of the prevalence of fraud, and of the magnetic appeal of many fraudsters.  These messages might be more effectively received if they were presented in a narrative, or story format.

Summary: Narratives are particularly effective for overcoming strong resistance for a number of reasons, including:

  1. People don’t expect to be influenced by a tale, and so don’t summon the same degree of resistance.
  2. Given that narratives inspire careful attention, targeted messages are attended to that might otherwise be ignored.  People generally avoid information that is incongruous with their existing attitudes (e.g., Sweeney & Gruber, 1984), but narratives convey a message “under the radar.”
  3. Arguing against the “real” experience of someone in a story is more difficult than arguing against a hypothetical situation.  While fictional stories may not be true, if they appear plausible then they may still carry the same persuasive impact.
  4. Beliefs can be presented implicitly in a story, as opposed to being stated explicitly in an argument.  With no specific arguments to resist, the beliefs are more difficult to oppose.
  5. When people are cognitively and emotionally invested in a story, they are left with less ability (mental resources) or motivation to resist the targeted message.
  6. As people are more inclined to accept information from someone they like and feel kinship with, stories can present messages from likable characters with whom people can relate. (For example, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) negotiated with television networks to include anti-drug story lines in popular series (Forbes, 2000).  The opportunities for message placement are substantial.

Author Abstract: Narratives are ubiquitous. Consider the vast numbers of people who are consuming stories at any given time. Casual observation of rush-hour passengers on the subway in Toronto (and we imagine those in Chicago, New York, and Paris) reveals a large number of commuters reading newspapers, magazines, and novels. At the same time, commuters driving the city’s major highways are listening to the radio—hearing stories about what is happening in the world. Children in day care and at school spend part of the day reading (or being read) stories, selected as age-appropriate and noncontroversial in their content, lest impressionable youth be led astray. Meanwhile, adults at home avidly tune in to soap operas. After school and after work, millions of people around the world switch on the television, expecting to be entertained by dramas, comedies, and “reality” television.

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Forewarnings of Influence Appeals: Inducing Resistance and Acceptance

Authors: Jeffrey M. Quinn & Wendy Wood (Texas A&M University)

Publication: Resistance and Persuasion. Ed. Eric S. Knowles & Jay A. Linn. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers

Year: 2004

Focus Area: Persuasion, Resistance, Prevention

Relevance: Fraud prevention interventions frequently depend on forewarning individuals of persuasive dangers.  This chapter details how those warnings can influence a person either towards increased vigilance or towards increased susceptibility, depending on the context and manner of delivery.

Summary: Warnings may or may not create greater resistance, depending on the context and the information provided.

In order to maximize a person’s resistance, practitioners’ warnings should:

  1. Point out the possible threat to the person’s attitude.
  2. Not jeopardize the person’s self-image.
  3. Encourage thinking about specific aspects of the issue, including the potential repercussions of the threatening message.
  4. Be delivered free of distractions.

On the other hand, a forewarning may increase susceptibility if emphasis is placed on a person’s gullibility.  If recipients are concerned about losing face, they may preemptively agree with the persuasive appeal in order to minimize the later change (e.g., “It’s not persuasion if I agreed already!”).

Author Abstract: According to conventional wisdom, “forewarned is forearmed.” That is, warning of an impending request allows people to prepare for it and ultimately to resist it. For instance, advance knowledge that a telemarketer is about to call and deliver an unwanted sales pitch or that a friend is about to ask a burdensome favor should allow the target of such appeals to mount a successful defense. The idea that warnings generate resistance also is evident in reviews of persuasion research, which typically discuss forewarning effects along with other resistance techniques (e.g., Eagly & Chaiken, 1993). The assumption that warnings yield resistance can also explain a common practice in psychology experiments on attitude change. Experimenters often avoid warning participants of an impending persuasive communication, presumably to maximize participants’ susceptibility to persuasion (Papageorgis, 1967, 1968).

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Instilling Resistance to Scarcity Advertisement

Authors: Savia A. Coutinho and Brad Sagarin, Norther Illinois University

Publication: Studies in Learning, Evaluation Innovation and Development

Year: 2007

Focus Area: Decision Making, Emotions, Prevention, Persuasion

Relevance: Reducing the incidence of fraud depends in part upon reducing the public’s susceptibility to the tactics of fraudsters.  People are more vulnerable when they deny their own vulnerability.

Summary: This article expands on previous work (Sagarin et al 2002) investigating how to train people to detect and defend against unscrupulous persuasion methods.  The study focused on developing resistance to the use of illegitimate scarcity tactics by dispelling illusions of invulnerability.

  • Subjects of the study were either assigned treatment or left as controls.  Those who were assigned treatment were either a) demonstratively shown that they had been misled by advertisements, b) told that some advertisements use scarcity techniques illegitimately, or c) told of the illegitimate techniques and asked to rate the extent to which they were convinced by a set of advertisements.  Subjects were then provided with two rules for discerning legitimate from illegitimate scarcity tactics, and asked to record their responses to the advertisements.
  • Subjects who had experienced the feeling of being misled were substantially more resistant to subsequent illegitimate scarcity tactics.
  • Reducing this “illusion of invulnerability” has potential benefits in the realms of health and safety, as individuals typically perceive themselves as less vulnerable to illness, disease, infection, and other negative consequences than the population in general.

Author Abstract: This study examined the effectiveness of instilling resistance to scarcity advertisements among college students. Participants, who were undergraduate students enrolled in introductory psychology classes in their first year of college, were taught the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate uses of scarcity in advertisements through constructivist learning theory-based training. Following Constructivist Learning Theory which suggests that direct experience is a powerful learning tool, some participants had their vulnerability to deception demonstrated to them by unambiguously showing them that they had been misled by illegitimate scarcity advertisements. Other participants only read about how to distinguish illegitimate from legitimate uses of scarcity in advertisements. Results showed that participants with direct experience of demonstrated vulnerability found the advertisements to have manipulative intent and to be unpersuasive. Results suggest that Constructivist Learning Theory-based programs can effectively train students on identifying illegitimate scarcity advertisements; such training in schools and colleges may help students become critical thinkers.

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Dispelling the Illusion of Invulnerability: The Motivations and Mechanisms of Resistance to Persuasion

Authors: Brad J. Sagarin, Northern Illinois University; Robert B. Cialdini and William E. Rice, Arizona State University; Sherman B. Serna, Northern Illinois University

Publication: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

Year: 2002

Focus Area: Prevention, Education, Profile

Relevance: Reducing the incidence of fraud depends in part upon reducing the public’s susceptibility to the tactics of fraudsters.  People are more vulnerable when they deny their own vulnerability.

Summary: This article describes three experiments that explore how to increase people’s resistance to illegitimate forms of persuasion.  The authors note that a great deal of attention has been spent understanding persuasion methods, but little on how to protect against persuasion that seeks to deceive.  Effective persuasion resistance training was found to consist of two parts:

  1. Demonstrating personal vulnerability to persuasion – not just the vulnerability of people in general (an outline of how to achieve this is provided as a three-step process)
  2. Educating individuals on how to distinguish legitimate from illegitimate forms of persuasion

The focus of the experiments was not to increase resistance to all forms of persuasion, only to reinforce resistance against those that use illegitimate methods to manipulate consumers.  By combining the two principles above, participants consistently demonstrated:

  • Increased preference for ads that used legitimate (or “fair”) persuasion methods
  • Increased resistance to ads that used illegitimate (or “unfair”) methods
  • Sustained improvement over time

The authors note that these results were obtained using brief, written formats, and that significantly greater results might be achieved through interactive and longer-lasting interventions.  Further work on this topic has been published by Professors Coutinho and Sagarin of Northern Illinois University (2007).

Author Abstract: Three studies examined the impact of a treatment designed to instill resistance to deceptive persuasive messages. Study 1 demonstrated that after the resistance treatment, ads using illegitimate authority-based appeals became less persuasive, and ads using legitimate appeals became more persuasive. In Study 2, this resistance generalized to novel exemplars, persevered over time, and appeared outside of the laboratory context. In Study 3, a procedure that dispelled participants’ illusions of invulnerability to deceptive persuasion maximized resistance to such persuasion. Overall, the present studies demonstrate that attempts to confer resistance to appeals will likely be successful to the extent that they install 2 conceptual features: perceived undue manipulative intent of the source of the appeal and perceived personal vulnerability to such manipulation.

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