Shortly after I began my career as an FBI agent in the Bureau’s Kansas City Division, I heard an interesting recounting of a conversation that two mobsters had on a phone line that was wiretapped by the FBI. The mobsters, who I will call Tony and Joe, had this conversation while an FBI agent listened to the wiretap:

Tony: Joe, I am really glad you called.

Joe:    Yeah, why?

Tony: I got a little problem. I think the FBI is tapping my phone.

Joe:    What are you going to do about it?

Tony: I already got it taken care of. I got a new number.

Joe:    OK, good. Gimme the number.

Tony: I better not give it to you on the phone. I’ll meet you for lunch and give it to you then.

Joe:     I can’t meet you for lunch.

Tony: OK, I’ll give it to you now on the phone…but better give you the number…backwards.

Joe:    Good idea.

Tony proceeded to give him the number backwards. The FBI, of course, sent the backwards number to its cryptology department immediately. Six months later, using state of the art, super computers, we had the new number!

This short exchange between Tony and Joe illustrates how important the role of common sense is when it comes to everyday occurrences. As it relates to fraud, the use of common sense by a target for fraud may stop victimization before it occurs.

In many cases where fraud occurs, the perpetrator attempts to manipulate the victim into making an emotional decision, which helps grease the wheels for the crime to occur. When we make decisions based on emotion rather than on common sense, there is a greater chance that we will make an unwise decision.

Common examples of this manipulation include a phone call made by a person who purports to be from the Internal Revenue Service who claims you owe back taxes; a phone call from a person who says they are from “software support” and alleging that your computer has been infected with a virus; or a person who calls on the phone indicating that they are a grandchild in trouble. If contact is made via email or text message, the communication may contain words like “fraud alert” or “your account has been compromised.”

These situations have the potential to elicit an emotional reaction from the person receiving the call. Emotions motivate us to want to solve the problem as quickly as possible. This usually involves providing money, personal information, access to a computer, or all of the above.

If logic and common sense prevailed in these interactions, the result might be very different. The potential victim might stop and think about the veracity of the information. It is true that people owe the IRS money, computers get infected with viruses, grandchildren get in trouble, and online accounts get compromised. However, if any of these things happen in our lives, before we have an emotional reaction, we must determine through logic and common sense if what is alleged to be happening is true and, if so, what the appropriate steps are to take if this is the case.

In my next series of posts we will see specific examples of how the manipulation of emotions can lead to fraud.