Revealed: The six language tricks financial fraudsters use to take advantage of trusting Brits

  • Analysis of real-life telephone scams identify ‘patterns of trust’
  • People admit that they are more likely to trust a call from someone who ‘sounds like a nice person’ or ‘sounds like they know what they’re talking about’
  • Knowing the types of language fraudsters use can help people avoid becoming a victim of phone scams

Research released today by Financial Fraud Action UK’s Take Five campaign reveals how fraudsters commit their crimes by targeting our instinctive human willingness to accept someone at their word.

Working with speech pattern analyst Dr. Paul Breen, Take Five – the national campaign against financial fraud backed by all major banks and key financial services providers in the UK – reveals the techniques or ‘patterns of trust’ financial fraudsters commonly use to scam members of the public into handing over financial or personal information over the telephone.

Recently published figures showed that the UK lost £2 million each day in 2016 to financial fraud.

In his report, Dr. Breen found that six ‘patterns of trust’ emerged from his analysis of real-life evidence drawn from recordings and transcripts of scam phone calls. Fraudsters will:

  • Use snippets of information about you, gathered together from different sources, to sound like they know what they’re talking about
  • Create a false balance of power by using apologetic language for taking up your time to make you feel sympathetic towards them
  • Remain patient as they continue to build up layers of seeming authenticity until you’re convinced they’re legitimate
  • Assume the identity of someone in authority such as a fraud detection manager or a police officer investigating an ongoing crime
  • Welcome your scepticism and turn it into a weakness by acknowledging your concerns about being security conscious
  • Switch tempo and increase or decrease the pressure by creating a false sense of urgency or using understanding language

To coincide with the release of Dr Breen’s analysis, Take Five has unveiled new research which shows how Brits are vulnerable to the techniques identified. When asked to rank factors that make us more likely to trust a stranger over the phone, the top three results were all tricks used in the ‘patterns of trust’ approach, with the most popular being: ‘sounding like a nice person’ (46%) and ‘sounding like they know what they’re talking about’ (42%). Almost a third listed ‘offering to help with a problem’ (30%).

While on the whole Brits claim to be cautious of trusting strangers without meeting them – one in three (38%) claim to ‘never really trust anyone’ when speaking over the phone – Dr. Breen’s analysis of real-life frauds suggests that fraudsters are well prepared for our scepticism. He argues that by using the ‘patterns of trust’ approach, the financial fraudster can build up the appearance of legitimacy and get around our general wariness of strangers by mimicking the kinds of people we tend to believe.

Consumer research released today with Dr. Breen’s report sheds further light on the characteristics that tend to trigger Brits’ suspicions of other people. Asked to rank popular fictional characters on how much we mistrust them based on the way they talk and act, the top five results were Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs (21%), Cruella de Vil from 101 Dalmatians (18%), Professor Snape from Harry Potter (16%), Mr. Burns from The Simpsons (14%) and Richard Hillman from Coronation Street (13%), suggesting that unpleasant personalities are a red flag for most Brits.

Commenting, Katy Worobec, Director of FFA UK, said:

“Tackling financial fraud is a priority for every bank and each one continuously invests in advanced security systems to protect their customers. However, as this research confirms, fraudsters use sophisticated methods in an attempt to circumvent these when targeting victims.

“While the payments industry stops six in every 10 pounds of attempted fraud, it cannot solve the problem alone. Criminals try to take advantage of our instinctive willingness to accept someone at their word. That’s why we are asking everyone to take five – to take that moment – to pause and think before they respond to any financial requests and share any personal or financial details.”

Dr. Breen, Senior Lecturer at the Westminster Professional Language Centre, said:

“The process used by fraudsters is carefully scripted from beginning to end – knowing the language fraudsters will use to mimic patterns of trust can help people to avoid becoming a victim.”

The Take Five campaign is asking consumers to help protect themselves from financial fraud by remembering some simple advice:

  • Never disclose security details, such as your PIN or full banking password
  • Don’t assume an email, text or phone call is authentic
  • Don’t be rushed – a genuine organisation won’t mind waiting
  • Listen to your instincts – you know if something doesn’t feel right
  • Stay in control – don’t panic and make a decision you’ll regret

The Take Five campaign aims to put consumers and businesses back in control with straight forward advice to help prevent financial fraud. It focuses on financial frauds directly targeting customers, such as email deception (known as phishing) and phone and text-based scams (sometimes known as vishing and smishing), and is designed to remind people that it pays to stop and think.