Why Even the Young, Savvy and Well-Educated Fall for Scams

I recently watched an Instagram reel of individuals recounting their near-miss experiences with AI voice clone scams. One girl spent two hours crying believing her brother had died in an accident. Turns out it wasn’t real; a scammer used AI deepfake technology to impersonate her brother’s voice and it was extremely convincing.

Get this – as long as there is a video of yourself talking on any public social platform, your voice can be cloned convincingly.

The glossary of scams are ever increasing

The AI voice clone scam is the latest scam type to join the ever growing plethora of scams, namely love scams, job scams, phishing scams, e-commerce scams, investment scams, loan scams, pig-butchering scams (fattening the pig up for slaughter) and more.

Scammers are a seasoned lot who are committed to employing increasingly sophisticated behavioral and psychological techniques. If only they used these skills for good! So why do people fall for scams?  I am not a scam survivor but I will not be so quick as to say this can never happen to me.

Anyone can be a target to scams

Forbes ran an article titled “Why sophisticated people are more likely to be scammed”, saying “People who never expected to be victims of scams and frauds often are scammed and really are among the most vulnerable”.

The headlines show that more and more young people are victims of scams and even the savvy and well-educated are not spared. In an article about pig-butchering scams, CNA Insider spoke to a legal professional, an IT entrepreneur and a finance professional who lost S$1.2 million…ouch.

Human interactions over technical exploits

Essentially, different people are targeted simply because they have different needs or vulnerabilities. We all have unmet desires and complex inner worlds and scammers are on a cruel mission to find out what that is with the malicious intention to exploit our vulnerabilities. It may be a desire for money, social proof, a new job or deep feelings of loneliness, fear and excitement over “good deals”. Scammers on the lookout for their next big fish can become the best listeners on this planet.

They call it social engineering

Scammers are successful because they employ multiple persuasion techniques and cognitive biases which can be used on anyone. The idea is to get you to feel very emotionally aroused so that you would not think too much about it and comply with the scam demand. Fear is an effective and common one.

Sunk cost fallacy

The sunk cost fallacy is the idea that people often continue to invest time or money into something because they have already invested time or money into it, even if it’s clear that it’s not worth it. Even if the victim suspects it may be a scam, they may feel compelled to invest more money in order to “recoup” their initial investment, even if doing so would actually result in a greater loss overall.

Social proof

There is a real case study of a legal professional in her 40s who found herself in a discord channel with whom she thought were legal professionals like herself – only to realize this “safe community” was actually a community of scammers and that she was their only target. This is classic social proof at play; the psychological phenomenon where a person is more likely to do something when it is endorsed by others or when they think others are doing the same things.

We’re not dumb, they’re just too “good”

Social engineering, sunk cost fallacy, social proof and more. At the end of the day, nobody wants to walk around thinking “look out – something bad may happen to me today”. Living like that would be too tiring. But what we can do is to educate ourselves on their evolving schemes and not fall into the trap of complacency that says “this cannot happen to me”. It all begins the same way.

Sincerely yours,

Stephen Le, Lead Trial Lawyer