The Role of Mental Confusion in Elder Scams

Some of you may have heard my presentations in which I describe the emotional dynamics of scam targeting and victimization, using the analogy from the world of neuroscience of “a boy or a girl on an elephant.” The elephant represents the much older and larger emotional brain, which takes over when highly activated. The boy or girl on the elephant represents the thinking, reasoning part of the brain, where critical thinking and healthy skepticism live. Scammers, in effect, “hijack the elephant” of the target’s emotional brain through what I call “The Five FLAGS:” Fear, loneliness, anger, greed or guilt, and sympathy. This is a major way they get seniors to do things against their better judgment and fall prey to the crooks.  Recently I’ve updated my talk called “The Street Smart Senior” to better explain the role of mental confusion in hijacking victims’ brains. I have heard so many stories, from both my stepfather and others, about how talking to the crooks was confusing. As I’ve studied this, I see how 3 main tactics create mental confusion in the victim, effectively shutting down their critical thinking and thus, their ability to avoid victimization:

  1. Rapidity of speech
  2. Volume of information
  3. Lots of contradictions
Many people I’ve worked with in scam prevention and recovery say that when they talked to the scammer on the phone, “they talked so fast I wasn’t sure what they were saying.” One person I worked with said talking to the person on the other end of the phone “sounded like they were one of those car commercials,” talking so fast she couldn’t make sense of anything except they wanted money. 
Closely related to the rapidity of speech is the high volume of information the fraudsters throw at their intended targets. Bill said many times they would tell him so much about the money he had supposedly won and all the problems they had had which necessitated his sending the crooks even more money that he couldn’t keep track of it all. When the brain gets bombarded with too much information it gets stressed out fairly quickly.
Another quality of the scammers’ verbal communication is how it is frequently filled with lots of contradictions. “They told me one thing, and then said something else almost completely different,” said one near-victim with whom I spoke. If a person can’t figure out what the real information is, they have a hard time using their critical thinking to question the scam pitch.
When some or all of these are used against a target, it creates a very distressing internal state which the person seeks to escape; however, the scammers have also presented the easiest way out, which is all too frequently to do what they want and have the person send money or give them personal information. My wish for you is that you will recognize the mental confusion tactics and the scam itself and never fall prey to crooks.
Thanks for reading,
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