Most of us are convinced we will not fall for scams. But that confidence may be misplaced, especially if we view the world in specific ways, new research finds.
The attitudes and beliefs that shape how people view the world — a concept known as “mental frames” — might influence how likely they are to fall prey to a scam, according to a two-year study by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, the Better Business Bureau Institute for Marketplace Trust and the University of Minnesota.
The researchers identified and interviewed 17 study participants. They came from a pool of people who filed reports with BBB Scam Tracker, an online fraud reporting tool. Ten of them lost money to scammers, while seven did not.
In interviews with researchers, some participants shared their experience with scammers who contacted them with “promises of easy money or lucrative investments.” Other participants had received phone calls from crooks acting as IRS agents and demanding payment of back taxes.
Researchers also interviewed two people who worked in an overseas call center, where they used the IRS scam to defraud hundreds of victims.
The study concluded that four mental frames — views regarding compliance, opportunity, intelligence and order — may influence how we interpret the things we hear from scammers.
Specifically, the researchers found that people are more likely to lose money in scams if they hold the following beliefs:
- Authority should not be challenged.
- Financial opportunities are a zero-sum game with clear winners and losers.
- The world is organized in a way that rewards good people.
- Asking too many questions can make a person seem ignorant.
On an encouraging note, the researchers said those who hold views that make them more vulnerable to scams are not doomed to becoming victims, as the meanings people assign to things and experiences can be modified. For example, social psychologists have found that short, simple exercises often are all it takes to change behaviors.
According to the researchers:
“Researchers found that when study subjects had some knowledge of common financial scams, they were less likely to be defrauded. Those who knew a little about the specific scam presented to them were 80% less likely to engage. Even when they did engage with scammers, they were more than 20% less likely to lose money in the end.”
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