Why Do People Believe Scams?

Why Do People Believe Scams?

I hate to be the bearer of devastating news but this will be my final post. My life is about to change. I shall, any day now, be entering the secret domain of the disgustingly wealthy.

My soon-to-be new life began last weekend when I opened my inbox and saw an email that caught my eye. Its subject was;


Good Day,

Greetings of the day to you, although you may be skeptical receiving this email as we have not met before, I am Mr JERRY NTAI, I work with the Mevas Centeral Bank, in conjunction with the Federal Republic of Nigeria.  I have a business proposition involving the sum of $51,500,000.

Mr. Ntai went on to tell me that I could earn $20 million dollars for the simple act of sending my personal information, plus a small one-time fee of $500 to cover the transfer of his $51 million to a Canadian account. The reason for which was rather unclear. He closed the email with,

Very Important You Reach Me ONLY with My Private Email Address. Confidentiality is essential.

mrsugarlips @ hotmail.com. hk

I was stunned by my good fortune. Out of the 7.6 billion people on the planet he chose me. What an honour.

Visions of caviar, mansions, private jets and mh dog Malka adorned in diamonds flooded my mind as I hurriedly completed the requested information and included my credit card and S.I.N. info to show good faith. How soon do you think I can expect my $21 million?

Scams, cults & conspiracies: no laughing matter

Sadly, many people have allowed themselves to be sucked into these types of scams. We believe what we want to believe and our beliefs are based on our life’s experiences. Beliefs aren’t real until we make them real for us.

You may know someone who has fallen victim to an email scam like this, or a “catfishing” scam, where they are fooled by a romantic prospect they meet online who turns out to be someone trying to relieve them of their money. And of course, we see more and more people buying into obviously debunked conspiracy theories, like the QAnon theory that some celebrities and politicians are part of a global cabal of Satan-worshiping cannibals. Yes, there are educated, employed adults who actually believe that.

Why Do People Believe Scams?

How otherwise rational people get duped like this is a complex matter.

Our beliefs are rarely fact based. They are based on how we interpret information, and we often form beliefs because we really want them to become true.

A wise teacher once shared with me that “we will never be truly free, until we are willing to hold every belief we have up to the light, for examination and to change those beliefs that do not serve us well.”

The fact is, we don’t always want to do that. That can be true for any belief. We see it in the form of prejudice, for example. People hold a preconceived notion about a person or a group of people. Those preconceptions would certainly not stand up to scrutiny. However, they don’t wish to challenge their beliefs, and so they don’t. The prejudice persists.

The same can be true of beliefs around scams. Look at the “catfish” scam as an example. Instead of getting an email from a bank manager, as I did, you get a message from someone whom you believe you’re in a long distance relationship with, maybe even in love with. That person asks you for $40,000 for a home repair or to start a business. Do you hold your beliefs about them “up to the light for examination?”

Perhaps not. Perhaps you want your fantasy about the person to remain intact, even if it’s just that, a fantasy.

Stress and anxiety impact our judgement

We are living in very stressful times. We are more susceptible to believing unlikely scenarios, like a stranger in a foreign country wants to give us $20 million dollars, during times of stress and anxiety. A study by an email security firm showed more than half of employees made serious security errors when they were under increased stress at work.

People under stress and anxiety about their economic conditions may be more susceptible to believing those wild conspiracy theories too. That’s because our brains are wired to rely on “cognitive shortcuts” when taking in information. In other words, we categorize information based on the beliefs we already hold, rather than evaluating everything like it’s brand new.

The more stress we’re under, the more of those cognitive shortcuts our brain takes. Which means we are less likely to scrutinize information we receive. And the more easily upset we are, the worse it gets. A researcher at the University of Kent in Britain says people are more prone to believing conspiracy theories if they tend to make the worst of their problems.

You’re in Control of Your Brain

I help people change their beliefs for a living, because our beliefs are intimately connected to how successful we are at everything we do. So let me assure you, we’re in control. We have the power lift those cognitive shortcuts, we just have to choose to do it.

It’s devastating to read about people who have given over control to scammers, or who have lost family members to cults and conspiracies. Researchers understand just how difficult it can be to reach people who are dedicating to believing something that just isn’t true.

Their surprising recommendation to help them is to encourage them to believe they have control over their own life.

You too are in control of your beliefs. Affirmations, for example, are a great way to challenge the existing beliefs in your head that you’ve determined aren’t serving you.

Taking the time to challenge the information you’re presented with is almost always worthwhile.

I will certainly have more time to do this, now that I’m going to be a multi-millionaire any day now.

Till we read again.

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