Scam phone calls: six tricks fraudsters use to gain your trust

Scam phone calls: six tricks fraudsters use to gain your trust

Criminals use clever language tricks to gain your trust when they cold call you, here are the words, phrases and conversational cons they use to lure you into a scam.

Ruth Jackson

Rights, Scams and Politics

Ruth Jackson
Updated on 4 June 2017

Fraudsters target our instinctive human willingness to accept someone at their word to con us, according to new research from Financial Fraud Action (FFA) UK.

Speech pattern analyst Dr Paul Breen has found that con artists use specific techniques, or ‘patterns of trust’ to gain our trust when they call before they get us to hand over valuable financial or personal information.

“The process used by fraudsters is carefully scripted from beginning to end – knowing the language fraudsters will use to mimic patterns of trust can help people to avoid becoming a victim,” says Dr Breen, senior lecturer at the Westminster Professional Language Centre.

Six common scam call tricks 

Dr Breen analysed recordings and transcripts of real-life scam phone calls and discovered six key tricks fraudsters use to gain your trust.

1. Seem to know you – the con artist will use snippets of information about you that they’ve gathered from different sources to sound like they are familiar with you and know what they are talking about.

2. Use apologetic language – they will attempt to create a false balance of power by apologising for taking up your time so that you feel sympathy for them.

3. Layers of authenticity – they will remain patient as they seemingly build up authenticity until they have convinced you they are legitimate.

4. Impersonate an authority figure – criminals will pretend to be someone in authority such as a police officer or fraud detection manager.

5. Welcome scepticism – if you are dubious they will turn that to their advantage by welcoming it and acknowledging your concerns about being security conscious.

6. Switch tempo – con artists will increase or decrease the pressure by creating a false sense of urgency or using understanding language.

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Would you fall for them?

[ADVERT] Reading through those tricks you may think you wouldn’t fall for them, but a survey by FFA UK’s Take Five campaign suggests otherwise.

It looked at the factors that make us more likely to trust a stranger over the phone and asked people to rank trust factors. The top three results were all tricks used by criminals.

The most common factor that makes us trust someone over the phone is ‘sounding like a nice person’ followed by ‘sounding like they know what they’re talking about’, and almost a third listed ‘offering to help with a problem’.

Most of the people surveyed said they were cautious of trusting strangers without meeting them, and a third of people said they never trust anyone on the phone. But fraudsters are prepared for our scepticism.

Dr Breen found that scammers used the ‘patterns of trust’ outlined above to build up an appearance that they were legitimate and get around our mistrust by mimicking the kinds of people we tend to believe.

“Tackling financial fraud is a priority for every bank and each one continuously invests in advanced security systems to protect their customers,” says Katy Worobec, director of FFA UK. “However, as this research confirms, fraudsters use sophisticated methods in an attempt to circumvent these when targeting victims.

“While the payments industry stops six in every £10 of attempted fraud, it cannot solve the problem alone. Criminals try to take advantage of our instinctive willingness to accept someone at their word.”

You can protect yourself from financial fraud by taking a moment to step back and think whether a phone call really seems genuine.

“We are asking everyone to take five – to take that moment – to pause and think before they respond to any financial requests and share any personal or financial details.”


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