There have always been confidence tricksters, scammers, cheats, liars, fraudsters. Whatever you call them, these are the people who trick others out of their money or goods, in return for nothing or something essentially worthless.

The rise of the Internet and more recently social media gives lots of new opportunities for these people to steal from others over long distance.

What is it that makes some people potentially susceptible to such fraud and others to avoid it?

Research at the University of Bath and University of West of England sheds new light on this complex and very important issue.


The Anonymity of Online Influence

The Internet allows for anonymity for the scammer and this can lead to less engagement emotionally with their victims. In other words it’s easier not to care about the financial loss and psychological pain being caused when you don’t see the person.

Social media networks allow the targeting of individuals interests, location, occupation and so on which can make the scam more efficient.  E.g. a scam business proposal aimed at women reputedly by women thus giving a false sense of security to women targeted.

Young people who do not appear to be vulnerable offline can become vulnerable in online settings due to the familiarity of offering more information about themselves and lower inhibition levels  online.

Primary Mechanisms of Online Influence

Influence Technique

Application in Online Scams


Posing as authority figures or institutions, such as Police, Banks or senior personnel.


Creating profiles that portray trusted traits or appear friendly


Suggesting that other people have benefited from responding

Commitment and Consistency

Requesting a small upfront fee e.g. advance fee fraud


Providing a free gift or favour


Instigating a time–limit in responding


The promise of rewards, whether monetary or psychological


Claiming that a failure to respond will lead to a loss of some kind, such as account closure


Self Deception and Trust

The ability to deceive ourselves is in everyone and the repetition of false information can lead to a belief that something  is true when it isn’t .  This applies to beliefs both about ourselves and anything else.

In the process of remembering, false information can be created and then strengthened by repeating remembering.

So, over time memories seem to change.

This may be linked to how some people respond to a scam they would normally ignore when their circumstances make it more relevant e.g. someone in financial difficulties responds to an advance fee scam in the hope of resolving their problems. 

Generally we have a bias in favour of truth i.e.  we tend to believe unless there is reason to disbelieve.

This makes life a little easier as questioning everything we ever see, hear or read  would be very tiring and time-consuming.

However, the perceived anonymity of online situations may lead people to be more trusting than face-to-face situations and this can lead people to believe fraudsters when they should stop and re-evaluate instead. 

 Approach to Risk

 Everyone has a different approach to determining what level of risk they will accept in a given circumstance but personality traits such as low self-control, sensation seeking and impulsivity have all been associated with risky behaviours.

People who are outgoing, confident and extraverted along with those who have low self-esteem and self confidence may be more likely to become online victims.


It is acknowledged that emotion plays an important role in the persuasion process.

Some scams describe a threat then provide a solution to that threat. Some offer rewards and encourage the victim to take a risk to get that reward.   There are many ways the scammer can attempt to induce an emotional response then play on that to get the victim to act as desired.

People who feel socially isolated may be more inclined to take part in risky behaviour online such as chatting openly in chat rooms. 



The research has led to the following equation.

SIND= (TIND) + (StIND) + (CIND) + (InMECH )


Where SIND is susceptibility to influence,

TIND is propensity to trust,

StIND is need for finance

CIND is level of power

InMECH is reciprocity

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