Page last updated at 10:45 GMT, Monday, 18 May 2009 11:45 UK

Scam victims 'easily persuaded'

Cash in hand
Victims often act against their better judgement

Some knowledge of investments can make people more vulnerable to scams, according to research published by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).

The research found that scam victims "often have better than average background knowledge" of lotteries or financial investing.

However the OFT's main finding is that most victims are in fact gullible.

It warned that between 10% and 20% of the population are "particularly vulnerable to scams".

"Compared to non-victims, scam victims report being less able to regulate and resist emotions associated with scam offers," said the report.

"They seem to be unduly open to persuasion, or perhaps unduly indiscriminating about who they allow to persuade them," it added.

The OFT published the findings as part of its continuing campaign against scams, which it reckons lead to about 3.2 million people being defrauded of about £3.5bn a year.


The scams the OFT has been highlighting range from the so-called Nigerian or advance free frauds, to bogus lotteries, fake clairvoyants and health cures, bogus investments and crooked racing tipsters.


Bogus holiday clubs

High risk investments

Get-rich-quick schemes

Fake foreign lotteries
Source: OFT

Typically they masquerade as legitimate businesses and lure their victims with offers of huge rewards.

Four different pieces of research entitled, "The psychology of scams: provoking and committing errors of judgement", were carried out for the OFT by staff at Exeter University's psychology department.

Despite confirming that many victims are more gullible than the average person, the Exeter researchers reported several surprising findings.

They found that people who play legitimate lotteries, or who already had some knowledge of investments, were more likely than the average person to fall victim to scams in these areas.

Victims often put more effort into analysing the content of the scams than those who simply ignored them, even though they knew they were acting against their own better judgement.

And the researchers found that scam victims hid their involvement from friends and family, seemingly to avoid being told that what they were doing was foolish.

Thrown away

The OFT warned against assuming that gullibility is the only reason for people falling victim.

It argues that most people are potentially vulnerable to a "persuasive approach" because scams are usually marketed in a similar way to legitimate offers.

Some people deliberately took part realising there may be something wrong, but took the view that it was like a "long-odds gamble", believing there was a remote chance it might be real.

The researchers found that people who never fall victim to scams usually just throw away the letters or delete the emails unread.

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