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From Social Butterfly to Sociopath

At first glance these character ‘traits’ appear to be at opposite ends of the spectrum, however, my personal experience is that they can (and do) comfortably co-exist, especially in fraudsters. I need to point out that I have no medical qualifications whatsoever, and what follows are my own views and opinions formed by years of scamming victims out of their money and watching others lead teams of others involved in huge and orchestrated frauds.

For those of you reading this fuming with indignation I can only suggest that this should give you some insight into the way in which some fraudsters rationalise what they do. I’ve written an earlier posting which described in detail the typical methodology used, and touched briefly on the mental state of the fraudsters. How can someone send passionate and loving emails to a potential victim of romance fraud, pouring out their hearts in order to scam them out of their life savings, then leave their computer to tuck their children into bed and read them a bedtime story?

Their motivations are clearly greed and laziness (as were mine) They clearly have the choice of getting a ‘normal job’ involving commuting, long hours, office politics, staff assessments, income tax, etc etc or they can work a couple of hours a day from the comfort of their own home, earn a great deal more and have very little chance of being caught.

Suspend belief for a moment, and imagine you are a fraudster practising a romance scam. The 'business case' for you to choose fraud rather than conventional employment is simple and straightforward - as long as you can ignore your conscience. Money is an incredibly powerful motivator because of the obvious difference it can make to your life. Whilst many fraudsters waste all of their money on fripperies such as designer clothing etc. others take a more prudent approach and funnel their ill-gotten gains into other investments such as property as i did. Many of my contemporaries took the view that if victims were stupid enough to fall for a scam, they got everything they deserved. I shared that view until my own parents were scammed - see a previous posting.

In more orchestrated scams involving teams of fraudsters working together, e.g. boiler room scams (the term boiler room refers to an outbound call centre selling questionable investments by telephone. It usually refers to a room where salesmen work using unfair, dishonest sales tactics, sometimes selling penny stocks, private placements or committing outright stock fraud - source wikipedia) there are other dynamics evident.

The first can be likened to the infamous Milgram Experiments that focussed on the conflict between obedience to authority and personal conscience. These boiler rooms are usually ‘managed’ by an individual with a dominant personality type - the archetypal Alpha Male. He will understand exactly how to motivate his team of scammers. If they show any signs of lacking the killer instinct to clinch a ‘sale’ e.g. of worthless (or even non existent) shares, he will convince them they are doing the right thing for the right reasons. I’ve even heard one of these managers justifying scamming victims by (mis) quoting Darwin, stating that they were simply assisting nature in getting rid of weak people in society. Where have we heard that before?

Another tactic deployed by these guys in charge of a team is to dehumanise victims and 'gamify' the scam. They do this by incentivising each transaction and keeping a running total of the scores on a whiteboard at the front of the room. I know one guy who offered the scammer who made the most sales each day, the use of his own Porsche. As a result, his team were like sharks in a feeding frenzy. Other examples of this gamification have even more grave consequences.

In London, gang members were awarded points according to where on the body they stabbed rival gang members; a league table then ranked each member according to the horrors they inflicted. When a gang member is eventually killed, the family are understandably distraught at the loss of a son, brother, father, however, they would (if possible) feel even worse if they realised that the killing of their relative was purely a means of the assailant moving up a grotesque league table.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that with the appropriate motivation, seemingly ‘normal’ people can be transformed into absolute monsters. These people walk amongst us every day. The guy you stand behind in the supermarket queue, the polite neighbour who always gives you a cheery wave when he sees you, and the friendly parent who stands beside you as you wait for your children to come out of school are all potentially living dual lives. They do not have illuminated signs on their heads or wear reflective vests to warn potential victims of their presence. They are to all intents and purposes, the same as you and me.

I’ve yet to meet a fraudster who is introverted. Most are gregarious, friendly people who can often be the life and soul of the party. They have the ability to ‘work the room’ moving effortlessly from one guest and conversation to the other without pausing for breath - true Social Butterflies The only real difference is their capacity to inflict life-changing (mental) injuries one minute, and then to revert to being the ostensibly respectable member of society the next. Never forget - people respond to incentives.

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