Seven Psychological Principles Con Artists Exploit

Inherent human vulnerabilities need to be taken into account when designing security systems/processes, suggests a study that looks at a dozen confidence tricks from the UK TV show The Real Hustle to determine recurring behavioural patterns con artists use to exploit victims.

The study was a collaboration between Frank Stajano of the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory and Paul Wilson, writer and producer of the aforementioned TV show (Wilson was an IT consultant for twelve years before moving into entertainment).

The seven principles of human behaviour that con artists exploit, according to the article:

  • The distraction principle: While you are distracted by what retains your interest, hustlers can do anything to you and you won’t notice.
  • The social compliance principle: Society trains people not to question authority. Hustlers exploit this “suspension of suspiciousness” to make you do what they want.
  • The herd principle: Even suspicious marks will let their guard down when everyone next to them appears to share the same risks. Safety in numbers? Not if they’re all conspiring against you.
  • The dishonesty principle: Anything illegal you do will be used against you by the fraudster, making it harder for you to seek help once you realize you’ve been had.
  • The deception principle: Thing and people are not what they seem. Hustlers know how to manipulate you to make you believe that they are.
  • The need and greed principle: Your needs and desires make you vulnerable. Once hustlers know what you really want, they can easily manipulate you.
  • The Time principle: When you are under time pressure to make an important choice, you use a different decision strategy. Hustlers steer you towards a strategy involving less reasoning.

via Schneier on Security



20 responses to “Seven Psychological Principles Con Artists Exploit”

  1. […] trip to France I can attest is a truly cunning manipulation of basic human greed. These all use the seven principles of scamming – useful little principles we will be far better placed to […]

  2. […] via Seven Psychological Principles Con Artists Exploit » Lone Gunman. […]

  3. […] of human behavior con artists exploit, including many examples of known cons.  There is also a Cliffs Notes version. (Via […]

  4. […] lately about how scammers take advantage of other people. (Here, for example, is a brief summary of seven psychological tricks con artist use.) It’s easy to think that those who lose their money are just unfortunate suckers. […]

  5. They are out there by the millions right now. I get 5 or 6 email scams a day.

    John DeFlumeri Jr

  6. This is so important to impart especially to our elderly Thank you for posting it MamaC

  7. Great stuff here. Thanks for summing it up for everyone. Keeps you on your toes!

  8. Mike Hunt

    Look to Obama & the US Gov’t- they are experts of the con and use all 7 techniques with impunity.

    And have the gall to stand on the same platform of Hope & Change!


  9. Thanks for your encouragement and comments, all. It’s greatly appreciated.

    Mike, I’m not quite sure this is how Obama and his administration use psychological principals to influence and ‘nudge’ the electorate at all.

    Can you provide an example of where they have used a number of these? (The use of one of these principles barely counts as a ‘con’, in my opinion.

    Rather, Obama and his administration use methods to influence that would more accurately come under the branch of ‘behavioural economics’ or ‘behavioural psychology’. For more on this I suggest perusing my previous post, Behavioural Economics and Financial Policies.

    Thanks for your comment.

  10. […] Artists apparently have a few psychological tricks up their sleeves.  Have you been a victim?  Seven Psychological Principles Con Artists Exploit. Inherent human vulnerabilities need to be taken into account when designing security […]

  11. andre lee

    I see some of these principles applying to the Obama campaignadministration as thus:

    Distraction-Questions about the 20 years of his life pre-book, from college to office….”refer to his books.” Oh, and you probably are racist anyway i.e., Clinton is racist, that’s what he really meant by mentioning Jesse Jackson in S.C. , or Hilary mentioning RFK’s death means she wants him dead, or…take your pick. Just don’t ask any logical, normal background, experience questions. Thank you.

    You can keep your press pass. You’re welcome.

    Herd- Kool Aid. Fresh. Ice cold. Super sweet. How could you not like it? Are you so racist that you don’t like it?

    Deception- FISA, NAFTA-‘Clinton did it!!! Oh, there’s a note that says I did it and not her? Well, it doesn’t really say what it really says, just ask the media.’ Iraq war vote and supporting re-created ‘anti-Iraq war speech’ that was recorded by absolutely no one in existence the first time around. Public campaign finance-destroyed since Mickey Mouse and his friend Donald can give money unfettered there’s no need to make sure the money comes from real people. Public option just like the Fed Health care plan…’you believed that too didn’t you?’. Bank bailout, habeus corpus, etc. “Of course I’ll do it because I’m all for it. Believe me, I am. I’ll just be doing things that accomplish the opposite. Seriously.”

    Need and Greed- You get the chance to think of yourself as being a great/good/ progressive/not bad person because you didn’t deny yourself the opportunity to vote for the half-white guy that you knew less about rather thatn the other full-white people that you could have voted for. You are so cool and with it.

    Time- Iraq War, Afghanistan War, the economy, healthcare, social security…’they’re all broken so hurry up and make your decision to vote for me so I can fix everything. Don’t ask me for details on my plans, just trust me…hurry up and make up your mind to vote for me. Did I already say that?’

    I think there is also one other principle missing and that is the strong desire and effort by marks to deny and deny and deny that they have been had. This gives the con-ner more space to get away with it with other folks.

  12. Christe

    We have all had these basic practices (7 at least!) applied to us and we have all used them on others as well. Does not have to be purposeful so much as available, workable, useful, etc. Not that we should condone the practices but should instead have mindful awareness of how all of use them at times.

    Concerning politics, wow! The vast majority of politicos will and have used such principles as a path to power, albeit, not always knowingly. It does not matter what party, principles, or beliefs they supposedly espouse. “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely” (Lord Acton and William Pitt the Elder). There is really no way to avoid if history lessons are to be heeded.

    This begs the further question of POWER. IF most of us by adulthood are engaged knowingly or unknowingly in power relations with each other then the seven principles mentioned are part of that set of relations. Will not matter what ‘side’ or beliefs you claim to ally with or hate.

    Gaius (Caligula) Caesar from 2,000 years ago had a saying “Oderint dum metuant”, roughly translated as “let them hate (me) so long as they also fear (me).” Roman emperors had absolute power, at least until they ticked off someone too much! He was assassinated by a Praetorian guard he had insulted.

    Today, some rulers such as presidents past and present, cant use Caligula’s practices as much as they would like but the corruption of power leads them toward use the principles mentioned above…

    In other words you will find the same practices employed by Obama, the Bush or Clinton families, etc. There is little difference from a historical perspective and arguments generally turn into a matter of ‘degreee’ concerning such behaviors by leadership. This is especially true when leading a former superpower such as the U.S. with 300 million people.

  13. Alex

    The person who posted as andre lee at about 5:13…is really sad. Kind of pathetic really and is the perfect example of what’s wrong IN this country. I pray for you. Get some help. Please try not to use “as thus” anymore. You look stupid.

  14. […] lately about how scammers take advantage of other people. (Here, for example, is a brief summary of seven psychological tricks con artist use.) It’s easy to think that those who lose their money are just unfortunate suckers. […]

  15. […] State of Disbelief, one of my favorite of the many great writers at The Confluence has the Sunday News round-up. I especially liked the sciencey stories about mirror synasthesia (literally feeling the pain of others), and how and why we are vulnerable to con artists: […]

  16. […] found this website  which is about the seven psychological principles that con artists exploit. These are as […]

  17. […] push deadlines backward or forward. This is a psychology strategy utilized by many con artists. By manipulating time, you can force those around you to make rash decisions, and possibly even induce a panic […]

  18. […] speechless in a matter of a minute. I have seen men driven to tears thanks to the use of dirty psychological tricks as they realize that they have possibly lost the woman that they love more than anything in the […]

  19. @ Alex

    You sir, are a tiny little sheep with ruffled fur. Sit down.

    “whats wrong IN this country” – stereotypical indignantly righteous response from a wrongly patriotic American.

  20. […] lately about how scammers take advantage of other people. (Here, for example, is a brief summary of seven psychological tricks con artist use.) It's easy to think that those who lose their money are just unfortunate suckers. That's not […]