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Selling the Scam.

Selling a scam. How a scam works.

How a scam works.

Whereas a successful salesperson is good at selling a product, a successful con artist is good at selling the scam. At the heart of that is the singular skill that really makes a scammer and a salesperson equally successful:

  • They are experts at knowing what motivates people—what motivates you!—and they use that knowledge to their advantage.

You probably haven’t thought of it that way before, but you should. Plus, here’s a truth that everyone needs to be aware of:

Your state of mind, your desires and your motivations can change at any moment.

More than that, your motivations and your behaviors (your decisions) can be influenced and even manipulated by a message, depending on the circumstances.

That’s where the art and science of selling comes in.

Selling the scam. Why con artists are good salespeople.

We took a look at an article for people in sales on the topic of buyer motivation. The article explored the many and range of factors that often influence a person’s buying decisions.

These buying motivations, the article said, cited what those factors consist of—the instincts, feelings and thoughts that run through someone’s mind that could pave the way to a buy or do-not-buy decision. One paragraph in the article encouraged new salespeople with this advice:

Advice to a SALESPERSON“If you could figure out your buyer’s top motives, you’d find it easy to design an effective sales approach to suit their desires and interests to generate the response you want. In fact, if you mastered that skill, you’d never lose out on a sale.”

We took that same paragraph and, with a few tweaks and word substitutions, reworded it to see how scam bosses might encourage their teams to do their dirty work:

Advice to SCAMMERS“If you could figure outyour target’s hot buttons, you’d find it easy to create an effective lure and lie to match their instinctual desires and interests and generate the response you want. In fact, if you mastered that skill, you’d never miss a scam opportunity.”

It’s no wonder why so many scams are successful. Contrary to what we might think, they’re not all wild and crazy propositions. They’re simple messages delivered by a scammer…with the skills of a highly effective salesperson.

The components of a sale and a scam.

Let’s take a look at the startling parallels in the components and processes of a sale and a scam:

Sales Components
Sales prospect
Sales pitch
Identify buying motivator
Handling sales objectives
A buyer
Sale and commission

Scam Components
Scam target
Core opportunity or problem
Scam lure and lie
Manipulating desires and/or needs
Increasing pressure or urgency
A victim
Scam and stolen money

This scenario of comparing a sale to a scam works whether the scammer targets a prospect or someone inadvertently “courts” the scammer. Here are few instances where that can happen:

  1. When you go online to buy something but are responding to a scammer’s fake ad.
  2. When you put something up for sale and a scammer posing as a legitimate buyer targets you for a scam.
  3. You are on a social media platform to make friends and meet someone who turns out to be a scammer (think romance and investment scams.)

Double take.

Here’s yet another look at the parallels between the successful sales method and a successful scam method. We’ll compare the buyer’s journey in the sales process versus the victim’s journey during the scam.

The buyer’s journey:

Sales coaches say there are primarily three phases in a buyer’s journey:

  • New or sudden awareness: where someone becomes aware of their need, desire or problem.
  • Exploration: where the person pulls together information related to their situation and addresses it. It can be primarily in their mind from knowledge and/or familiarity.
  • Consideration: The awareness of their situation, the presence of a good or easy solution and the moment of motivation converge to get the buyer to say, “I’ll do it.”

A seasoned and skilled salesperson can assess where their prospect is at each phase of the sales journey and can guide them (and influence them) along the process. As they come alongside the prospect with support, encouragement and the right words at the right time, the chance of sealing the deal increases. That all makes perfect sense to us, right? It seems reasonable and we don’t blame the salesperson for doing their job as they take us through the buyer’s journey.

But when it’s a scammer taking you through the phases of the victim’s journey (and you’re clueless to your role), it’s a whole different story.

In contrast, the victim’s journey:

When we merely switch the scenario and the terms, you’ll see why scams work as often as they do: Here are the phases a victim is taken through, sometimes with the direct influence of the scammer.

  • New or sudden awareness: where the scam target is made aware of a fictitious need, desire or problem.
  • Exploration/conversation: where the victim’s emotional and absorbs information related to their situation. The primary motivation is oftentimes in their mind and usually intensifies with increasing emotion.
  • Deciding: The intersecting/converging point: With a high awareness of their situation, and the presence of an easy solution presented by the scammer, it’s easy for the victim to respond, “let’s do it.”

A highly motivated and skilled scammer can assess where their would-be victim is along their scam journey and can entice and guide them throughout the process.

Whereas the salesperson offers support and clever encouragement to close the deal, the scammer uses fear and huge promises to persuade the victim often against the victim’s better judgement.

Conclusion: Selling tactics work, for better or for worse.

We’ve gotten so used to salespeople offering to help us, as well as advertisement bombarding us everywhere we turn.

We’ve accepted sales tactics as normal living, and we’re oblivious to how easily we can be swayed by our buying motivations.

And maybe that’s why a well-timed, well-designed scam in the hands of a master manipulator can easily—and surprisingly—slip through our defenses.

Stay alert! Follow the Easy Prey Podcast.

Hear experts talk about scams, fraud and cybercrimes and surviving the challenges in the world today. You can find the podcast on your favorite platform, as well as

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