Grooming techniques used in various frauds are getting more common and more elaborate. Fraudsters are coming up with narratives that involve complicated lies and may have different stages, depending on the type of fraud.
Often, different actors are brought into the story. These actors also lie to the victim, in order to support the narrative. The purpose of expanding the fraud in this way is to groom the victim to dismiss their doubts or concerns and comply with requests. These lies are spread over months of intense contact with the victim, making them easier to believe. But their higher purpose is to groom the victim into accepting grander lies and more ludicrous narratives down the line, which ultimately leads to loss of funds.
In this article, I will focus on Sam, a victim of financial fraud, to illustrate how fraudsters utilize lies and deception, in order to groom the victim to comply.
Sam was contacted by fraudsters pretending to be agents from the Financial Conduct Authority. She was told by them, that there have been cases of inside fraud involving several members of staff, and her account was affected. They told her that they are investigating this and asked her to help the investigation, for which she was going to receive a payment. They appealed to her sense of duty by telling her she would be helping other people whose accounts were affected also.
Sam spoke to two people, Chris and Brian, quite regularly, although she spoke to Brian more often. Both would ring her regularly and frequently to let her know how the investigation was progressing. In these conversations, Sam was repeatedly told not to tell anyone about this communication, because it may jeopardize the investigation, since they were not sure which bank staff members were involved and whom they are connected to.
Then, one day, Sam was told that the money in her savings account was at risk. A high-ranking bank official was arranging the transfer from her savings account to a Dubai based bank account. Her bank account held a large sum of money after the sale of the property. The perpetrators produced evidence of the transaction, which was going to be completed in two days, and told her that they can delay this transaction for a bit.
Sam now had only two days to transfer the money somewhere safe, putting enormous pressure on her. The perpetrators suggested that she should open a crypto currency account and transfer her money into cryptocurrency to keep it safe until the investigation was over. Initially reluctant to do so, Sam eventually agreed after more pressure from Chris and Brian, fearful that she would lose her savings. From this point, Sam was coached by Chris and Brian, on how to transfer money, open a cryptocurrency account and what to tell the bank staff when she went to the bank. Sam was also instructed to keep her phone on while at the bank, so perpetrators could listen to the conversation, supposedly to help the investigation. However, it is likely that they wanted to get information of what the bank staff would be questioning, so they could use this information for future grooming. Sadly, through this lengthy ordeal, Sam lost a large sum of money.
Lies, techniques and outcomes
The narratives that perpetrators concoct have changed in recent times. They are becoming more imaginative and are often supported by different actors (few people speaking to the victim), evidence (receipts, invoices, statements, etc.), and authority cues (citing governmental or official organizations). All of this is done with the sole purpose to convince the victim to push their doubts aside and comply with requests. The perpetrators also take their time, grooming the victim first by having frequent conversations with a victim, through which trust is gained.
Lies are used sparingly at first, with more plausible ones first, building up to more alarming lies, which are likely to put a potential victim in a state of stress and panic, aiding compliance. But by this stage, the victim may feel they already have a good relationship with scammers, making them less likely to doubt or question the request.
Below is a list of lies Sam was told, broken down to show scam techniques applied with each lie, and the effect it had on her.
Harmful effects of lies on the society
Most people extend trust when a reasonable amount of evidence is produced to support the argument, or when the people they are dealing with are of a ‘certain standing’. Some professions are seen as more trustworthy. For example, immediate trust is often extended to police officers, lawyers, doctors, bank officials, and government bodies, because they are meant to have our best interests at heart. Their jobs come with expectations of ethical conduct and integrity. This fact is exploited by scammers. The elaborate deceptive narratives and lengthy grooming techniques concocted by fraudsters, for the purpose of grooming potential victims, are incredibly harmful. They lower the defense mechanisms little by little, which can go unnoticed, and facilitate compliance. This then leads to bigger financial losses.
Frauds that utilize elaborate lies and deception and long-term grooming strategies are also harmful to how we view society. Deception that involves trusted professions (even when it is only fraudsters pretending to be someone in such a position), can lead to loss of general trust, harming future cooperation.
Previous research found that deception and lies used by fraudsters can be just as harmful as losing funds. Even people who encountered scams but didn’t lose funds report losing trust in the society as a whole. This is because they assumed the fraudsters were genuine people, extending their trust as they would to anyone else, and this trust was violated. As a result, victims and potential victims of fraud reported being more suspicious, less helpful, and less empathetic, sometimes even consciously avoid helping others that need help. This loss of trust can greatly affect how we interact and cooperate with others, leading to less helpful and less cooperative society for everyone.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this guest author article are solely those of the contributor, and do not necessarily reflect those of Tripwire, Inc.