Consider this: Bernie Madoff, America’s most famous con man, sits in a federal prison in Butner, North Carolina. He scammed some of the brightest, wealthiest people in the world out of an estimated $12 billion to $20 billion!
Research tells us 69 percent of scam victims are under the age of 45, and 75 percent of those hold college degrees. Research says American households are fleeced by scammers of up to $50 billion a year. Plus, a recent Harris poll confirms that last year $8.6 billion was lost on phone scams, with nearly half occurring on mobile phones.
Whether it’s Madoff, a scam from Nigeria or someone knocking at your door wanting to coat your driveway, all scams follow a nearly identical process in separating you from your money.
The one over-arching principle scam artists rely on in the process is this: It’s not about how smart a person is, it’s about how well the person controls their emotions. Con artists strive to find those emotional hot buttons. Once they’ve found a hot button, they will then work to get you to what one former con artist called “under the ether.” He described it as a fuzzy state of mind in which the victims’ emotions are stirred up, and logic is nearly nonexistent. That con artist sums it up simply, “Ether trumps intelligence every time!”
What are the motivating factors to put victims “under the ether?” The two most powerful ways are through need and greed.
Con artists discover victim’s emotional “need” hot buttons by asking a lot of personal questions. For example, they may find out that the victim is close to retirement and is worried about the future. Their kid’s college tuition is driving them to the poorhouse. Victims then begin looking at the offering as a way to solve their problems. It becomes emotional, not logical.
The greed hot button is pushed by simply promising the victim they can make a bunch of money. As Madoff showed, even smart people fall under the allure of easy money. At the BBB, we constantly talk with people who have been told by scammers that they have won a lottery or the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes. The power of greed is stunning! Even when we tell people they are victims of a scam, they don’t believe us. They hold on to the belief they are going to be rich.
Former scammers say most people that get emotional quickly fall for the scam. Those scammers also would move on to the next victim if potential prospects didn’t get worked up, if the victims asked lots of questions or said things like they wanted to talk it over with their lawyer.
So what is the best way to prepare yourself for the inevitable scammer’s pitch?
• Make it a hard and fast rule that you always wait 24 hours to think about it. Doing so diminishes the emotional effects of the sales pitch.
• As enticing as the offer may be, always be logical. Ask yourself, “What’s in it for them?” “Is it logical they called me about it?”
• Don’t answer a bunch of personal questions. Don’t give people trying to sell you something your financial situation, your worries or family problems.
It seems like I say this in every column: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is! Always check with the BBB or authorities to see if the offer you are being presented is legitimate.
Be smart! It’s the logical thing to do!
Cheryl Parson is president of the Better Business bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at www.lima.bbb.org.