The topic of this article is dealing with unwanted incoming communications to yourself or your business, especially scams such as impersonations (where someone pretends to be a person or business that they are not) and unsolicited / unwanted requests. The method is to be prepared, and ready to impose a rational buffer between yourself and the scammer from which to create a strategic response (which may be to do nothing at all).
Scams are become more frequent, personalised and sophisticated all the time, and can be costly and traumatic. Whether they are seeking information or money, (or both) there are highly motivated people out there whose full time occupation is targeting and attacking individuals and businesses alike, with a view to taking advantage of them. It’s easy to be caught off guard and sucked in to these scams because they catch you off guard, and can apply pressure to you.
It’s critical to note that there are two types of incoming communication: Dynamic and Static Communication. The difference is the difference between a street fight and watching boxing on TV – it’s about your level of participation in the communication.
Examples of Dynamic Communication
When Dynamic communication happens, you’re involved. Receiving a phone call, being approached in the street, having someone knock on your door. You’re a part of it – it’s a conversation.
Examples of Static Communication
Static communication is a form of communication that you receive – For example, a letter, an email, or receiving an automated message on your phone. There is no conversation – you interact by reading or listening.
The Important Difference between Dynamic and Static Communication in Scams
The difference between Dynamic and Static methods of scamming is in pressure. Pressure is a tool of leverage for scammers, and comes in many forms. Fast talking, threatening language, the creation of obligation, guilt, urgency, reciprocation or just – pressure. Pressure gets people off-guard and keeps them confused – a perfect position for a victim to be taken advantage of. In real-time, pressure creates results – it can force people to give up information they wouldn’t ordinarily, or to engage in ways they would usually avoid. Much more pressure can be created by a Dynamic Communication, whereas in a Static Communication the recipient has time to consider their response, if any.
The Advantage of Time and Space
A Dynamic Communication can rob you of your ability to think and act clearly – it is designed to do just that. Therefore in responding to a situation where you’re suddenly on the back foot because you have received what you feel to be a dubious incoming approach, it’s important to create time and space to strategise your response and diffuse the pressure. Here are the steps to avoid this type of Dynamic Communication Pressure.
1) Disengage / Do Nothing
Typically when approached by a scammer or any unwanted communication attempt, the longer you talk, the weaker your position becomes. The best thing you can do is to not engage at all. If you have a threatening call from someone claiming to be from the ATO or any institution, (see below), hang up and call the actual ATO to clarify the situation. If you’re approached in the street, just keep walking. You don’t have to be rude – you can just say, “Sorry but I have to go”. If you’re at home and it’s someone at the door, it can be hard because of the psychological expectation imposed on you by having a visitor. However, you may politely excuse yourself. “Sorry, but I have to go now”.
2) When you can’t disengage
Sometimes you can’t disengage for many reasons. You’re bailed up, or circumstances conspire against you. Saying no can be hard, even if you want to. A good tactic is to use the power of an external authority to justify your actions. For example, if you are asked for your personal details, you can say “My husband / wife doesn’t like me to give that information out”, or “my bank doesn’t allow me to provide that information over the phone”. If you’re asked to provide information to verify who you are, politely decline and indicate you will contact the institution yourself.
Be Aware of Tactics
Although times change, the tactics that have been used to scam people haven’t changed too much over the years. Be aware of the tactics and if you can’t disengage, consider your response to them.
You are offered a prize, a coupon or voucher (it ends up in your hands suddenly!) or a handshake, but there are strings attached. Don’t take what’s offered, if you don’t want to find out about the strings! And remember, you can always give it back. This seems to diffuse any sense of obligation.
Many of your neighbours.. Many of other businesses.. everyone else is (supposedly) onboard – you should be too. That’s the logic that can underpin an appeal to your sense of guilt.
A verbal barrage can put you off.. if you can’t just get away, ask “What are you actually doing?” to cut through and clarify the situation. Ask for clarification, or repetition – this helps to buy time, enabling you to process what is actually happening.
Fill in the Blanks
So are you the home owner? No? you must be the… (pause, waiting for your response) This type of question can easily find you providing information to finish the sentence. But you don’t have to. Be aware of this tactic and politely disengage, or say nothing.
The Psychology of Silence
Often we create difficulty for ourselves by our sense of obligation to converse with people. However, silence is a useful tool that you can use. If you’re in doubt – say nothing.
Case Study – The ATO Scam
An example is the ATO scam, which is doing the rounds at the moment. Various threats are made for fabricated tax-related misdemeanours. You can learn some more about it at this article by the ABC. According to Scamwatch, ACCC, their advice is:
How to protect yourself from scams:
If you receive a phone call or email out of the blue from someone claiming to be from the Commonwealth DPP or Australian Taxation Office telling you about an arrest warrant, hang up.
If you have any doubts about the identity of any caller who claims to represent a government department, contact the body directly.
Don’t rely on numbers, email addresses or websites provided by the caller — find them through an independent source such as a phone book or online search.
Never send money via wire transfer to anyone you do not know or trust.
Never give your personal, credit card or online account details over the phone unless you made the call and the phone number came from a trusted source.
If you think you have provided your account details to a scammer, contact your bank or financial institution immediately.
Responding to a Scam (or not)
Surviving a scam is not about beating the scammer. It’s not Hollywood. Surviving a scam is about not being scammed. Don’t engage with these people, don’t try and show them how smart you are by defeating them. Don’t forget, these people have enough time on their hands to cold call and automate fraudulent processes all day long. Would you want one of them to have a vendetta against you? Survive the scam by not being scammed.