Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Scam Psychology: How Scammers Push Your Buttons through your personality disorders

The Age of Uncertainty
The Age of Uncertainty
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As the MLM Skeptic, it is rather interesting to see many people who are defending their particular scheme from criticism suffer from personality disorders (not that I am a professional of any sort regarding psychology). They are often self-obsessed and arrogant as well as intolerant of ambiguity, and lack of empathy.

Many unscrupulous multi-level marketers and scammers play to these personality disorders by claiming they are VIRTUES, not disorders. These disorders are, instead, presented variably as confidence, conviction, certainty, and "they are not us".

People develop coping mechanisms when their self-image was diminished. One of the most common coping mechanism is retaliation: when they feel devalued, they devalue others as a response. Scams often play up this personality disorder by encouraging it with "they are not us; they don't think like us; they just don't understand us". It is then followed with epithets like "They have JOB -- just over broke", or "they will stay wage slaves while we achieve financial independence".

Any one who questioned the person's choice (the scam, in this case) will be devalued, even if they are best friends and family, and even spouse. That's why "intervention" when it comes to scams rarely succeed.

Another coping mechanism people develop is equating conviction with certainty. Conviction is a collection of your strong beliefs about the morality of your choice and/or behavior. If you don't really have much conviction, you'll often adopt certainty as if it is conviction. Thus you'll also develop certainty about other people (and what you believe to be THEIR conviction or lack thereof). This comes across as arrogance and intolerance. Scams play up this aspect by creating fanciful stories about the critics asking questions, such as "you're just jealous; you're just out looking for hits for your blog; you must have hated the owner; you're the 1% out to fleece us the 99%".  After Zeek Rewards ponzi scheme was shut down in 2012, some started floating fanciful stories about "SEC doesn't have a case because they privately admitted to our lawyers". Others even explained to newspapers that Security and Exchange Commission does not know what securities are.

However, what people don't understand is very often, certainty is an ILLUSION.

Life is never fair or certain. We never have every bit of information we need to make a decision unless it is a very simple one. Thus, the only way to be certain is to THROW OUT / FILTER information, and thus, vastly increasing the potential for making a wrong decision.

This is also why emotions contribute to bad decisions. Emotions, esp. anger, trigger sharp release of adrenalin and cortisol, which narrows mental focus and leading brain to ignore variables that involve self-doubt. Stimulants, like coffee, can do that too. Anger can lead you to believe that you're right and everybody else is wrong. All that mental focus leads you to pick out a few aspects of thinking and ignoring the rest, which leads to you taking things out of context and blow them out of proportion. In other words, the more certain you feel, the more likely you're wrong.

Scammers are quick to encourage this sort of attitude with the "they just don't understand you" which encourages you to react to your friends and family with anger, and also blocks you from any voice of reason. With a few words that play upon your insecurities, they managed to invert your world view. People who really care about you no matter what (family and friends) are now your enemies. People who may be out to scam you are suddenly the your only confidants in the world.

Furthermore, they will often ply you with woo which you interpret as "most wonderful thing (since sliced bread)" because it worked on you, when in reality, it worked because you just "knew" it would work (wishful thinking, expected result, cherry -picking). And now, you're so hyper-focused on this ONE positive result, namely you (Ikea effect, anecdotal fallacy), you cannot POSSIBLY conceive this product NOT working for anybody else, any time, anywhere.

(Previously, I've had a commenter who stated that _____ coffee is good because it reduced hunger. She knows because she tried it. The problem is, ANY liquid will reduce hunger, even plain tap water. I showed her the article and never heard from her again. Wonder if she decided I'm "negativity to be avoided" or realized she had been lied to and all this testimonial she had been giving was a delusion?)

So what can you do about it?

Certainty and Doubt
Certainty and Doubt (Photo credit: Celestine Chua)
First thing is to recognize that uncertain is a part of life, and while it should be minimized, it cannot be covered up or ignored through illusions (or delusions).

Recognize the instances you're being manipulated via
  • You are encouraged via aroused emotions (anger, frustration, infatuation)  and encouraged to make a quick decision
  • You are separated from your friends and family and encouraged to make a quick decision
  • You are encouraged to devalue people who disagree instead of trying to understand their position
  • You are encouraged to AVOID people who disagree instead of trying to understand their position
  • You are encouraged to make up random reasons about people who disagree (to devalue them), or you are in groups of people who do the same (and you're expected to follow along)
You should instead:
  • Adopt a scientific method of evaluating evidence; never accept something at "face value". It could be a trick, a mirage, a construct, or a facade to hide the truth. Look up what experts in the specific field, with proper credentials, say about the field, and if there's a general concensus
  • Accept uncertainties in life; learn how to minimize them, but accept them as part of life

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  1. This was really interesting, thank you. The separating targets from friends and family is really chilling. I've read that Vemma tells college aged recruits very specifically not to discuss this "business opportunity" with their parents. It's really sad to think of kids falling for that scam.

    1. It's really sad that we don't teach basic scam avoidance in high school or as intro to college. Or even basic logic and/or skepticism and "crap detector". Increasing MLM recruiters are targeting college kids... not because they have money (most don't), but they are impressionable sheeple.