Do you ever think about what you think about? Seriously. Do you consider yourself an independent thinker?
If so, where do our thoughts come? From ourselves? Other people? Nowhere?
Let’s keep the answer simple: our ideas come from the world we observe. Even though we live in the same world, every person has a different perception.
Not only we think about the world, but also about our thoughts. In fact, 95% of the time, we have the same thoughts we had yesterday.
Now, what does it all mean?
- Our thoughts aren’t real: our perception created them.
- We tend to confirm the beliefs we already have rather than questioning them.
- Very rarely, we have original thoughts.
Although we may never see the world objectively, realizing these flaws help us think more accurately. It’s not about knowing the truth but understanding how we think. That’s the difference between information and knowledge, also between thinking and communicating.
The problem is, we live in a distracted world. Ironically, the age of information has led to confusion. All the time, people try to get your attention. How do you know who to trust?
If you don’t know how you think, anybody can come in and manipulate your perception.
Mental Tricks: How Con Artists Get You To Do What They Want
“What the hell was I thinking?”
Have you ever made a decision you should have never made?
As humans, we make mistakes all the time, yet we never expect that what we are doing is wrong. How is that possible?
You may not be aware of the many factors that influence our minds: cognitive biases, stressors, language, environment, distractions.
Funnily enough, you see them all the time.
When was the last time you found a deal that looked too good to be true? How about a person approaching you for no reason? A time-limited offer? An unexpected prize?
Mind tricks are manipulative tactics that make people do what they otherwise wouldn’t do. It composes of all the strategies used to influence someone’s decisions without them being conscious.
Is Persuasion An Evil Tactic?
Many believe it’s not about what we believe, but why we think a certain way. Thus manipulation turns into a tool that’s up to the communicator’s intentions.
Think for a moment about your thoughts. Pretty much everybody has a vague idea about what actions are good and what’s not, yet not many people do it. Similarly, we keep doing certain things even though we know we shouldn’t. Contradicting, isn’t it?
You can blame the person, the fraud triangle, ignorance, or misinformation. A scammer only deceives people because they have fooled themselves first.
Of course, people know what to do. But there are so many distractions that people fail to understand why the right information is important.
- You get something you want from someone else. (unethical)
- You persuade someone to do something good, even though the person may not understand it. (positive)
- You manipulate in marketing to get attention. (neutral)
All three are examples of manipulation. Does it mean we should never do it? Pragmatism shows persuasion can consolidate trust in a relationship.
How Do You Know Someone Is Trying To Manipulate You?
Although persuasion is everywhere, nothing is intrinsical “manipulation” unless you let yourself influence. The moment you realize someone’s intention, you can decide whether to trust or not.
Since persuaders want to win your side, you won’t learn much by listening to their words. If you want to expose them, look at how they interact.
#1 They mimic your behavior
Someone who wants to manipulate you will avoid any confrontation. You may observe these people always agree on what you think. If you meet in person, they may model your body posture or lie about their interests.
Of course, that’s still too early to spot a scammer. Everybody imitates people unconsciously as part of our social nature.
#2 You don’t know what’s in it for them
Here’s why egoistic thinking is more prone to fraud. If you don’t play both sides of the fence, you won’t know what the person’s intentions are.
One may assume that “I should only care about benefitting myself, not the others.”
Imagine the person gets nothing in return, yet they look as excited about the deal as you. Wouldn’t that be suspicious? “We’ll make a lot of money together.” How can they allow themselves to lose money? You know the saying: “Nothing is free.”
Although losing at first can be an ethical strategy, it turns into a scam more often than not. The same applies if you see yourself getting a no-brainer offer for no reason.
#3 No casual messaging
Manipulative people start every conversation with a purpose: to give instructions, remind them, or find out why they haven’t done it yet.
Of course, nobody starts these requests without some small talk first. Manipulation is about making the other person get to your conclusions without denying them. When it comes to trust, your words may mean nothing. But getting the victim to say those words means everything.
#4 They make you talk a lot
You can’t influence someone if you don’t know one’s interests and goals. Asking questions helps scammers win time while they think what trick will work better for you. It seems they care about your thoughts, but they aren’t listening. The conversation is a diversion.
They may also learn your background facts to use against later.
#5 Payment method
Let’s say you looked for the red flags and found nothing suspicious. But from an unrelated introduction, you somehow end up on a payment wall. They ask you for payment via a specific method, and the whole story sounds legit.
That precisely is when it turns into a scam. Even though you’re paying, you still deserve an equivalent compensation (e.g., a service). If you don’t get what you bought, you can cancel the payment. It’s a moral right and the essence of trust.
You’ll never find a legit situation where these rules break.
- You simply don’t pay without buyer protection.
- Nobody can request upfront payments except for funding reasons.
- You can choose how to pay. Others can’t impose a single (risky) method.
You can believe their story but never give in financial control. Expect you already lost your money (forever).
The Most Subtle Mind Tricks Of A Scammer
It’s not only about understanding how the scam works. Although the tricks the pull may be the same, the conditions they create make it harder to detect.
After falling for a scam, the person may wonder how they didn’t see the way out sooner. What they may not realize is the many factors conspiring against them:
- They start with a striking first impression so that you feel more confident around them.
- Con artists play with perception to make the scheme look tolerable.
- Their behavior influences the way you think.
- They carefully pick their words to hide their intentions.
- They condition the environment to take away your control.
- They use distraction tactics to prevent you from questioning or stopping their plans.
Before you even message them, they have already manipulated you. Here is an extensive list of tactics categorized by impression, environment, behavior, language, perception, and diversion.
The way con men present you opportunities affects how you perceive them. If you sell something valuable that looks terribly, consider it your last impression. But if it looks well, people will assume the product must be amazing too.
Scammers don’t just use this strategy when they first meet you. They use it whenever they interact.
- Good Impressions
Imagine someone has bad news for you. What if the conversation had a good start and ending, having bad news in the middle? The person will remember the overall story as positive.
People highlight these parts to make the content easy to remember. If the con man presents a critical decision somewhere in the middle, the person will fail to give it the right importance.
- Confidence Markers
If someone we trust already trusts this person, then he or she will borrow that reputation from others. We like to believe what other people think is true.
Imagine you have two options for a product you want to buy. Both have the same features and price, but one has no reviews. Most people will use social proof to make their decisions.
Con men like to include fake reviews and testimonials for this reason. Some people could ignore the many red flags in front of them if others tell them it’s legit. The same applies to certifications and prestige.
Why building trust when you’re going to lose it later? Scammers have found identity theft more efficient than borrowing reputation.
If someone already has the trust you need, you can look like them and expect the same reaction. Most people can’t notice the difference.
Imposters use someone else’s name to succeed in their scams and protect their identity. However, it may appear in the form of white-collar crime, where the person indeed belongs to the company but has dishonest intentions.
There’s a subtler imposter trick. A fake company models the name of a reputable brand so that everybody relates the fake brand with the real one. But both have nothing to do with each other.
Who said making decisions was easy? What if we told you something else is affecting your thoughts apart from your consciousness?
Decisions require accuracy, which can vary a lot with our levels of energy, urgency, or confusion.
What if a decision can lead to terrible consequences? That risk stresses our brain, which will default to the safest, most obvious choice. The thing is, problems are smaller than our mind makes use believe, so we end up making illogical decisions.
Another form of pressure, time, reduces accuracy, and activates subconscious thinking. Although it helps for survival, it’s easy to mislead with logical problems.
Important decisions require 24h to 48h to process. What do you think marketers achieve when they set time-limited offers to ten hours or less? That’s how we buy stuff we regret later.
Let’s not forget our favorite one: you should hurry because there are limited spots available. And they notify you whenever someone buys one (combines social proof).
Scammers make sure nothing interferes with the victim. However, they still need others to fake trust (imposter fraud). So what do they do?
After you choose to move forward, they try to move the matter outside the platform.
- Ecom sellers make you pay outside the retail store.
- Contractors want you to use a fraudulent escrow site.
- Texters move the conversation to email, Telegram, Facebook, or similar.
Why isolate that much? They justify it with protection. If you don’t keep the secret, someone else will take the opportunity. It will no longer work!
- Decision Fatigue
If you’ve ever tried to create many habits at once, you know what this is. You may know decisions take willpower, which is a finite energy bar.
Why do you think we think the same every day, follow the same daily routines, or talk to the same people? Active thinking is draining, and every decision made affects the quality of the next one, no matter how small it is.
That explains why scammers overwhelm you with questions. Every answer ends up turning into a Yes.
Here one you may not know: they message or call either very early or very late. Sleep deprivation reduces consciousness and makes people easy to influence. Haven’t you ever heard about the 4 AM infomercials?
The people’s non-verbal communication can affect the way we respond to their message. You may have already heard of emotional intelligence: we do what we feel like doing, whether it’s bad for us or not.
Let’s list them from the most to least conventional.
Say you win the lottery today. What do you feel? A sense of freedom? Hope? Greed?
Depending on your financial situation and intelligence, money can create all these emotions. When you’re about to make more, you feel excited. When you’re about to lose it, you feel stressed and fearful.
But emotions are just a way to perceive the world. There are fraudulent schemes that sound good, also good strategies that don’t feel right. Emotions are a poor indicator when making financial decisions.
In essence, money is just a number that operates with logical statements. Emotion can attract customers, but logic makes them buy the product.
There’s nothing wrong with bold promises and “thinking big” as long as they deliver.
- The mirror effect
Aren’t you tired of smiley faces on every page? Sketchy websites use these all the time. People look to show unnatural happiness about a product/service that may not be a big deal. If you pay enough attention, you start feeling they are lying to you.
According to the Mirror Effect, we tend to reflect the same emotions of people we observe. If you read a lot of positive reviews from people like you, you may start believing in the product.
Aside from the images, it may have to do with the website color, words, or fonts used. These tiny things add up to influence your emotions.
Imagine a stranger asks you to be his new business partner. You accept, and he shows you his master plan. Excitement grows: “We’ll make a lot of money together!”
When you least expected, the partner stops messaging and leaves everything in the air. You wonder where he has gone, and when he will come back, impatiently.
Right when everybody is thinking about them, the person appears. So you give them special attention. Nobody knows how long they will be around.
The conman will take advantage of that attention to share his scheme with emotion. He will probably set time limits to urge the victim to take action. Because they don’t want to lose him again, they do it.
Manipulation by isolation works better on larger groups. People will stop engaging with a person who refuses the plan, letting the emptiness consume them until they give in.
Whenever you do what scammers want, they make sure you feel good, always. They may even let you make money at first to fire you up.
The Milgram experiment shows how people can control other people’s obedience by just asking them politely. Without their influence, you would allow yourself to do it.
Rewards play an essential role in the fraud triangle.
It’s not about what they say, but what you think about it. That’s what we know as connotations, the hidden meaning of words. One can say words with multiple meanings and still follow the same definition. It’s how politicians, marketers, and con artists make the ugly part of things sound acceptable.
If you want to win someone’s approval, you learn how they talk first and then mimic their expressions. When you want to disagree or give an instruction, you first paraphrase what they said, so it doesn’t feel like an opposition.
Throughout the conversation, you pay attention to the keywords they use the words, then use the same ones in your explanation. Because one cannot be against oneself, they will likely accept your message.
Neurolinguistic Programmation also helps to communicate by removing contrast. Whether it’s ethical or not, it depends on the person and purpose.
Here’s a simple exercise: whenever you want to discredit an opinion, replace or remove every contrast conjunction. That includes: but, except, yet, however, and its variations. Without affecting the sentence logic, displace them for: and, also, even, especially, and so on.
You will see how the conversation gradually turns the way you planned.
You will rarely miss this one. Whenever you slow down, refuse, or redirect the conversation, the scammer always remits to the same question in every message. If you ignore it, they rephrase it and put more pressure.
Perhaps you do it only so that they stop rushing you with the annoying message.
Another example: they always talk about the money you will make and ask you how you plan to spend it. By the time you need to pay, you’ve heard the promise so many times that you doubt no more. But those words aren’t real: only in your mind.
When things get complicated, it’s tempting to back off and do nothing. In business, many things won’t depend on you, which means playing the waiting game and trusting other people.
However, problems don’t solve themselves alone. You can’t wait and expect everything to go fine, only worse.
Con artists will ask you to slow down as soon as they get what they want. Once they have control, they reward you and tell you to “rest assured” until their next response.
They encourage laziness so you can’t monitor what they’re doing. When you don’t pay attention, you end up finding it too late to recover lost money. While you sleep, con men may be carrying out the worst scam ever.
You think you control the situation when, in fact, scammers make you focus on the wrong thing.
For example, everything may look okay throughout the deal, so you take it for granted. But then, scammers call you for another matter that requires your attention. They can use that small window to alter a contract you will overlook later.
Just because everything started well, it doesn’t mean it will stay the same. You may have already dealt with salespeople who promise one thing but show a different story on paper.
A scammer cannot trick you if you don’t give permission. Manipulating perception, however, makes your mind think that taking the risk is somehow a good idea.
It’s all about your expectations. Perception can make you see two things differently, even though they are the same.
- Foot In The Door
If you can’t make the person do what you want, start small. Getting small victories is much easier and offers no opposition. Then, you gradually increase the volume to charge what you want.
It’s everywhere in marketing. Sellers start from a free webinar and a $39 course. Over time, the same clients pay five figures for other services without blinking an eye. Again, nothing wrong as long as you get the value.
Scammers let you win at first and let overconfidence push you to the big deal. That’s where they dupe you.
- Door in the face
If you want to make someone buy something, the “pain” of not buying it must be higher than the pain of giving money.
This strategy aims to create an instant rejection. You shoot for the stars and ask the victim to do something extravagant. When they refuse, you propose the actual deal, which will look far more realistic for them.
If you know anything about negotiation, you know the chances of people rejecting your first offer. If you start big and end very small, people will notice how much you’re committing and will take it. A 90% discount sounds better than 30%.
- Social Interaction
In this curious trick, you surround the victim with other victims. Without him knowing it, you’ve incentivized the others to do what you want. “If you help me scam this person, we’ll split the gains with you.”
Thus, the victim observes how other people follow the flow and wonder whether you should do the same. Especially when facing a complex decision, people will prefer not to think and default to whatever the rest is doing.
- Illusion Of Choice
It’s not easy to convince people when you’re always telling them what to do. Give them the freedom to make decisions, and they will accept your advice better.
Suppose you’re subscribing to recurrent payments, and a scammer gives you these options:
- You cover a security deposit before getting the service.
- They want the transaction to be in check, wire transfer, money order, crypto, or any method without buyer protection.
- They let you choose your favorite payment option, but only if you commit to their method for the first month.
Which of the three sounds more enticing? The third one gives you the “freedom to pay how you want.” But all three lead to the same result:
- If you pay upfront, you lose money.
- If you don’t use protection, you lose money.
- You never heard of them again after the first month, and you lose money.
As the last example, you see the illusion of choice in the so-called “packages:” the Novice, the Standard, and the Enterprise. Which one will you choose?
- Novice has the worst value since it costs almost like Standard.
- Enterprise is overpriced for features you may never need.
What if we told you none of those packages exist? Marketers expect 95% of their clients to choose the average pack. Suddenly, you don’t wonder whether to buy or not, but which one to buy!
Don’t Fall For These Mind Tricks!
As you can, multiple factors affect perception, not only about the scam itself. It’s not enough to know what they plan to do, but how to avoid it.
You get a lot of control over these factors by thinking critically. Here, we show how to prevent these mind tricks without becoming close-minded to opportunities.
- Slow down.
Do not make a critical decision the same moment they propose it. You may think smart people take them rapidly, but it depends on the consequences it will cause.
The more you can lose, the more careful you have to be analyzing the outcome. If you give yourself a few days to think, you’ll pay attention to details and start making questions you didn’t do before. That’s because the brain works at the problem all the time.
Come back with those questions, and if they respond conveniently, move forward.
- Get out of yourself.
Some con artists like confusing people so they can no longer trust themselves and listen to them instead. If they used perception, diversion, or emotional tricks, you might not be thinking clearly about the offer.
If you believe your perception is tricking you, consult a trusted person who’s outside of that influence. If that person thinks differently, consider stopping and questioning why they have that opinion.
- Remember why you’re with them in the first place.
Sometimes, we stay on spots where we don’t want to be because we feel like we have to. If you stayed on track for so long, it wouldn’t make sense to leave things unfinished after so much commitment.
Scammers start asking for small favors, so the big ones keep feeling natural. If you don’t feel comfortable or confident doing it, always question when you should be giving up.
Just because you’ve invested a lot of time, it doesn’t require you to stay there. You quit the moment you find something wrong.
- Keep it simple.
Scammers want you to act fast, whether you understand your thoughts or not. They may rush you with information and promise you’ll have time to think about later.
When you feel pressured with time and data, stay away from complexity. Rather than taking their word, think by yourself what their information means. If you can’t understand anything, then they may have presented it that way on purpose.
- Wrong unless proven right.
You probably said Yes because you heard of an opportunity you didn’t want to miss. Nobody can’t scam you without having an interest.
Unless they come up with proof, assume the deal is what it appears to be, regardless of the promises they make you. When it comes to money, sellers get too optimistic advertising what a product does for you.
Advance payment? Checks? Assume they are all fake. Trust cannot exist without verification.
- Understand how you think
We never think 100% rationally, not even when being aware of ourselves. Whenever you have a thought, remember at all the flaws that could be distorting it. Although there’s many, here are the most highlighted phenomenons:
- Confirmation. You’re more likely to detect an argument you already agree/believe. You’re also more likely to miss the contrary point of view.
- Survivorship. We focus too much on the visible data, ignoring the countless examples of hidden information.
- Ambiguity. We favor familiar decisions and reject new ideas to avoid uncertainty.
- Sunk Cost Fallacy. After losing a ton of money, people feel motivated to win it back by taking reckless risks.
If you want to think logically, click here for the list of cognitive biases explained.
“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason so few engage in it.” — Henry Ford