Scammers are scumbags. Scammers are manipulative. Scammers understand us.

Every scam ever perpetrated can be viewed through the lens of those three statements. The first is our general impression as a society. They’re scum. That’s what we say to separate ourselves from them, and it’s not wrong, but it’s not everything.   We cannot defeat an enemy we don’t understand, which scammers recognize and take advantage of. Our emotions are powerful implements in the scammer’s toolbox. To better contemplate how we turn the tables, we need to examine the ways in which customers are being manipulated – turning them into unwitting accomplices and victims. So, let’s look at two types of scams that best illustrate what bankers are up against when their own customers are being misled.

Romance Scams: When love is anything but splendid

No group subscribes more deeply to the notion that ‘all is fair in love and war’ than scammers. For them – love and the prospect of it – are completely fair game when it comes to exploiting victims. Love is an essential need, right after food, shelter, and our physical well-being. Establishing the facts of how this emotion guides our behavior – which scammers are very much depending on – is the key to figuring out when scammers are playing customers for fools.

Fact #1: We would do anything for love.

There is truly no limit to what we would do for love. We write songs. We climb mountains. We build monuments. Seriously, consider the absolute limits to what you would do for your loved ones.

And now consider just how low a bar it is to send someone you love money.

From that perspective, scammers are really asking for very little.

This is exactly why victims will keep trying even if you block the transaction.

Fact #2: We put on blinders.

We can become acutely aware of when a friend has crossed that threshold with a new partner. The threshold where they’ve gone from an object of affection to something far more meaningful. We also recognize the difficulty involved with getting our friends to see warning signs that portend problems for their relationships. It’s an emotional tripwire that’s more likely to hurt the messenger than the subject of the message.

The problems might seem glaringly obvious, but that doesn’t matter. Even if their photo looks like it came from a model shoot; even if their profile reads as though it was pulled from a magazine; and even if their messages are littered with enough grammatical errors to make the spell check in Word explode.

For the person in love, that’s only surface deep. When it comes to love, we just can’t see it.

Which is why you can’t preemptively tell another person there may be something wrong with a future love interest.

Because when we finally are in love, we tell ourselves that our financial institution’s educational efforts weren’t meant for us.

You can’t argue with true love. Not without being thoroughly armed with indisputable facts.

Fake Charities: Sympathy can be a (costly) virtue

Tragic events always get the headlines ahead of feel-good stories. We want to know of them, see them, and hear about them. And scammers understand that. Every disaster – whether that be an act of nature or an act of terrorism – are all just flashing dollar signs for them. Now imagine the good that money could do if it didn’t end up in their grubby little hands. Those inhuman, uncaring hands that are right at this moment instructing an AI’s inhuman, uncaring hands to type out and send solicitations to soon-to-be victims. Victims who will respond because of motivations that bankers must understand and recognize to protect customers from themselves.

Fact #1: We suffer vicariously

Witnessing human suffering elicits a psychological, as well as a physiological response – especially when we connect with the victims. The phrase ‘I feel your pain’ is not a wholly inaccurate statement for people to make when trying to connect with someone else affected by traumatic events. Scammers know that when we associate ourselves with the victims, that effect is powerful and easily manipulated to their purpose.

Put another way: If the victims of a tragedy look familiar, if they are from the same place, or if they have the same beliefs, then ‘they’ are us. And that goes for almost all of us. According to Pew Research, 95% of women experience sadness for those who are suffering, as do 91% of men. (Yes, we have feelings too.)

Asking someone to eschew their decision to help a victim (or a cause) they relate to is tantamount to asking them to not save themselves. And no number of rewards miles or clever influencer marketing is going to outweigh self-preservation.

So, all those generic warnings about scams? They don’t even come to mind when facing the prospect of helping those in whom we see ourselves.

The message needs to be in our self-interest if there’s any chance of breaking through. Directed to us in the moment, not some boilerplate language addressed to thousands or millions of people tucked away on a website.

Fact #2: Pain aversion is an even stronger need

If love makes us dumb, then pain makes us dumb, deaf, and blind. Revisiting Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – the only things that are more critical to our survival than pain aversion are air, water, and food. Acts of love take time and purposeful effort, avoiding pain is a reflex. Touch a hot stove and you instantly pull your hand away. Feel vicarious pain and you immediately want to find a way to make it stop.

That feeling is further amplified when a cause is something that is physically out of reach, because our first instinct is to go and help. In person. When we can’t, it’s then that we reach for our wallets – virtual or otherwise.

Thinking doesn’t enter the equation as much as that feeling telling us to end it as soon as possible. Researching exactly who among a litany of charities is legitimate isn’t even a consideration.

We can’t give scammers the money fast enough.

Starting to see payments from your customers through Venmo and Cash App shortly after a catastrophic event? There’s a good chance that they think they are helping, but tragically, the truth is far from it.

I’m ok. You’re ok. We’re all ok.

We can’t expect customers to suddenly be anything but human, so the inherent behaviors that scammers depend on aren’t going to change. Artificial intelligence may be all the rage, but it takes emotional intelligence to recognize when customers are being scammed and how they need to be engaged.

There are clear signals that customers are in the midst of a scam. For bankers that understand their customers as people, it’s their behaviors, including the speed and frequency with which they act, and with whom they are interacting that all betray the scammer. Being able to detect those signals must be paired with well-informed, just-in-time customer engagement if there’s any chance of stopping a customer from making transactions they are going to very soon regret. Scams can be stopped cold if we put ourselves in our customer’s shoes and pair a thoughtful process with the right technology.

Scammers think they have us figured out, and they do. That’s ok.

People are people. Scammers are scum. And we’ve got their number, too.

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