Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


How Not to Be Easily Conned

Watch out for overconfidence, warning signs, and the erosion of trust.

Key points

  • We tend to be more vulnerable to cons and scams than we think.
  • Acknowledging our potential vulnerability and the various tactics that con-people use would be a first line of defense.
  • Some warning signs can be considered before making irreversible decisions and falling for a scam.
Source: FLY:D/Unsplash

In the 1973 film, The Sting, Shaw and Hooker (and their team) play a con on a notorious crime boss, Doyle Lonnegan. He gets duped precisely because he thinks, decides, and behaves like a crime boss. In this way, Shaw and Hooker know how to attack him, lure him in, and get away with it.

Have you ever been conned, scammed, or duped? Chances are everybody has, to some degree.

Unfortunately, a good con or scam is very deceptive. We may think we wouldn’t be vulnerable. Yet con-people capitalize on that confidence. To make things even more complicated, we may also be fooled by others’ experiences: The scheme that somebody else falls for becomes blatantly obvious after the fact, leading to an illusion that we wouldn’t be susceptible to it if it happened to us.

Hence, there isn’t a guarantee that one never gets conned. Let us not judge too quickly those who fell for a scam. There may always be certain situations where we can be exploited. At least we should check how the con happened and what kind of methods were used. Acknowledging one’s potential vulnerability and the various scam tactics would be the first line of defense and a prerequisite for wiser decisions.

Warning signs and erosion of trust

Authorities also continuously warn about certain warning signs. In particular, they list some fundamental questions that we should ask ourselves before making irreversible decisions. They are relatively cheap and easy to consider.

Let us paraphrase some of them here (We adapted the list from Nottingham City Council's website):

  • Did you solicit the offer, or was it unsolicited?
  • Were you called by an outside party? If yes, can you call them back?
  • Does the deal look too good to be true?
  • Do you have to send any money to start a process?
  • Is there any urgency communicated by the other party?
  • Is there an enticing prize or reward involved?
  • Do you have to provide details that you wouldn’t provide to your bank?
  • Are you asked to keep this confidential?

Even one “yes” should raise questions. And the higher the number of yeses, the higher the probability that something fishy is going on.

Trust is essential for any economic transaction to take place and social interaction to flourish. Con-people use that trust to lure their victims to behave in certain ways. They don’t usually target crime bosses, as in The Sting, but those of us who are most vulnerable. As a result, they erode the trust that we have for future transactions and interactions. Hence, their cost is far greater and more extensive than the damage they directly exert on their victims.


Nottingham City Council's warning signs and advice about how to protect yourself from scams and cons.

More from Emre Soyer, Ph.D., and Robin M. Hogarth, Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today