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Psychology of scamming: How these emailers select those most likely to respond

The hidden hook in scamming emails
The hidden hook in scamming emails
Original graphic, Microsoft Corporation, free Office downloads. Editing, Mia Kalish, PhD, using Corel Paint Shop Pro X4

As internet technology penetrates more deeply into the Borderlands, people need to increase their level of critical thinking in regard to what’s in their inboxes. The silliness of the emails – promises of richness and princely involvement – that makes savvy people delete them before reading is what attracts those most likely to respond positively.
Behind the seemingly idiotic presentation is a highly sophisticated method to maximize return in a market of great uncertainty. The process begins with a low-cost emailing but will require more labor-intensive activities, either email or phone, once the target responds. To make a profit, that is, to have the target send the requested funds, the scammer must allocate his or her time effectively. That requires concentrating on what are called “true positives,” people who will follow through to the end of the transaction. “False positives” are people who respond initially but then back out before sending money.

Given the number of individuals who receive the initial emails – very large – it is important to the sender to weed out those who are not true positives as quickly and effectively as possible. Hence the wild stories and promises, flamboyant names, and quirky misspellings. Although to the more sensible this may seem like a ridiculous way to garner responses, nearly a century of practical experience has shown that this is a highly effective approach for reducing the number of potential false positives.

Once the scammer receives a response – a potential positive – he or she engages in communication with the respondent. At this point, the choice of responders makes the difference between a successful outlay of time and effort and a unsuccessful one. Thus the higher the probability of true positives in the group of selection choices, the better the scammers chances of receiving the payoff.

Although the science behind the approach is strongly mathematical, the surface is stamped with what people believe about those who send these emails. Are they lying? Is the potential for gain real? What would be the cost of taking a chance on a windfall? These people have to be nice because they aren’t slick and sophisticated (aren’t they)?

What it comes down to is what the scam email recipients believe about human nature. Those who have lead more sheltered but pleasant lives will tend to believe in the inherent honesty and truthfulness of others and so become marks themselves.


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