Forewarning Reduces Fraud Susceptibility in Vulnerable Consumers

warningThis article, published in Basic and Applied Social Psychology, presents results from a field experiment that examined the effectiveness of forewarning in reducing susceptibility to a mock phone scam. Laura Carstensen, Founding Director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, and Martha Deevy, Director of the Financial Security Division of SCL, were involved in the project.

The participants in this study were a highly vulnerable group of consumers who had fallen for telemarketing scams in the past. Working with a Fraud Fighter Call Center operated by AARP, elderly volunteers engaged these participants in phone conversations about fraud that included forewarning about two different types of scams. These participants, as well as a control group who received no forewarning, were called either 2 or 4 weeks later by a research assistant pitching a mock phone scam. Respondents were told that they qualified for a federal stimulus grant and that the telemarketer’s company would help them apply after receiving a service fee of $279. A real fraudster would ask for a bank account number immediately, but in this mock scam, the potential victim was asked to accept a package with information and an invoice for the fee. Responses were coded into the following four categories: unequivocal acceptance, skeptical acceptance, ambivalent refusal, and unequivocal refusal.

Results show that:

    • • Compared to the control group, those who received forewarning (either the same scam type or the different scam type warning) were less likely to unequivocally accept the mock scam informational package.
    • • Both the same scam type warning (which was the same scam as the mock pitch) and the different scam type warning were effective in reducing “unequivocal acceptance” responses.
    • • Further, the same scam warning further increased “unequivocal refusals” and different scam increased “skeptical acceptance.”
  • • The effect of the delay (2 weeks versus 4 weeks) differed between the two types of warnings. The same scam warning was only effective after the 2-week delay, but the different scam type warning was still effective after the 4-week delay.

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