by Francesco Caccetta © vietata la divulgazione senza citare l’autore.
Everytime someone gets tricked, the victim himself and both his friends and relatives can’t help wondering how that has ever been possible. We often use to believe that who was caught in these traps must be some careless individual, not so young anymore, and perhaps not so clever to find out a deception, because of his lack of education. In other words, a naive kind, somehow easy to be deceived. Now, our experience and specific researches on the subject seem to show a quite different truth.
Nearly anybody can actually be exposed to this public menace, especially people who don’t know the basic strategy adopted by swindlers: rules and pitfalls the Police have been investigating for years. Speaking at large, these hucksters turn to techniques and ploys that come from the sales-world, which orbits around the arts of suasion, the laws of mutual agreement, and both clash of interests and consistency. The method of manipulation of thought, aimed to a particular behavior from a particular person, with no initial attempt of psychological pressure, has been detected by the Cognitive Dissonance Theory (Festinger, 1959) and by the Self-perception Theory (Bem, 1965).
How many times anyone of us can have entered a shop, just to take a look around, and after a while we have come out of it with some purchased item, we would have never bought if it were not for that complaisant girl (or boy) working behind the counter so nice and polite to us? We might even repent of our purchase, as soon as we leave the shop. And it is also true that many people find themselevs with a signed contract, discussed and accepted among their own walls, after having been negotiating with some charming door-to-door seller. Even in this case, less than 5 minutes later these people try to understand why they have ever concluded an agreement they did not need at all.
Now, these dynamics are often very similar to the tactics carried out by swindlers, especcialy when their scams are aimed at the elderly. It is quite important to be at least aware of the main action methods adopted by most of the sellers and frequently repeated by a cheater as well.
In such a situation, we might even consider the Guardian Psychology, as Kurt Lewin used to appoint it, establishing that each experimentation must be founded on a previous inquiry, aimed – in cases like these – to bring to light the actual forces that steer people’s choices, when it comes to make a purchase (prices, values and expectation) in addition to understanding whom can be involved in the alluring shifts offered by the sellers. The best known techniques of behavior induction, identified in a commercial environment, and then tested in laboratory, are The Low Ball (Cialdini and others, 1984), The Door in the Face (Cialdini and others, 1975) and The Foot in the Door (Freedman and Fraser, 1966).
Now, the first one – that is to say the low ball sistem – starts with a very convenient offer by the seller, so that the customer feels increasingly motivated to buy the item. But, just before the contract is concluded, the seller breaks his own profitable promises and although the customer can even withdraw from the agreemennt in many cases he won’t be able to get back.
One more ploy we often hear of is the Door in the Face, in accordance with the laws of reciprocity and contrast, basically founded on two different steps. The victim receives some expensive offer and nine times out of ten he refuses it. So, in a way, he shuts the door in the seller’s face, which means the negotiation is over. At this point, the seller submits a second and much cheaper offer, that very often is accepted. Here, we have an example.
The seller apparently tries to convince his victim to buy a 10 $ raffle-ticket, connected with some hypothetical health association, aiming to save children affected from some kind of illlness. Once the proposal has been rejected by the customer – exactly as the seller had foreseen – the trap goes off. As a matter of facts, here we have a second offer: a small pin of the health association, for 2 $ only. Generally it is accepted, although the victim might very soon repent of this purchase, for he would never had bought it as a first, free choice.
In this case, we can behold the law of reciprocity into action.
Since the buyer had refused the raffle-ticket, he has been caught by a feeling of guilt, and that’s why he tries to be forgiven, purchasing the gadget. On the other hand, the law of contrast reminds us that our choices are often due to a comparison, and that no product can be absolutely considered cheap or expesnsive in itself. The second offer was simply less burdensome than the first one and it has been accepted.
A further interesting system is the well known Foot in the door, that leads the seller (and the swindler as well) to achieve what he wants by putting forward a harmless proposal – precisely for this working as a foot in the door, that by this moment can’t any longer be closed – and therefore not frightening for the victim, who feels reassured by an apparently blameless behavior. But that’s only the beginning. At this point, the victim is somehow forced to listen and maybe to give up, once the proposal gets more exacting.
By this system, the seller (or the swindler as well) starts good terms with his customer (or victim), the conversation stays pleasant, every notion of sale is kept in the background, nearly latent, as no request of money is advanced. The customer feels relaxed and trustful, while he deals himself with questions of apparent no concern, maybe even about philosophical themes.
One of the most relevant devices, for such a case, is the request of a sign against all drugs. And although it seems to be absolutely pointless (what could actually a round robin against drugs mean???) many people do stop and sign the form. At that point, the seller admits to be a member of a recovery community, and offers a specialized magazine to the customer. Of course, some particular cost is required for publishing the journal, and the community needs help. And since the magazine is now in the customer’s hands, the foot is in the door!! It’s not infrequent that the victim may accept to pay for it. The victim did what he didn’t want to do, because of a consistency law.
As Kielser has shown us (1971) people do not use to feel bound to their ideas, but try to comply their current behavior with a previous one. Or else, as Joule and Beauvois taught (1987) people underextimate the role of an outer pressure, because of a deliberate consent.
In other words, so many other cheating techniques are everyday put in place, that months of survey wouldn’t even be enough to describe and hinder all of them. The best way to defend ourselves from this kind of risk is not to pay much attention to unknown people, don’t let anybody in, to take a behavior that allows us to express our own point of view, without ever going beyond the limits.
English version by Furio C Falvo ©