The Anatomy of a Scam: Unveiling the Three Phases Used by Fraudsters

R.O.S.E., Resources/Outreach to Safeguard the Elderly

Scammers are master manipulators who prey on people’s vulnerabilities and trust to deceive them into parting with their hard-earned money. Understanding the three critical phases they employ in their deceitful schemes can help individuals protect themselves. These phases include Initiating Contact, Creating a Compelling Reason to Act, and Requesting Payment. And there is a sense of urgency for you to act immediately.

Phase 1: Initiating Contact

The first step is establishing contact. Scammers use various channels to approach their targets, such as emails, phone calls, social media, text messages, or various other online applications. The scammers often masquerade as legitimate entities, such as banks, government agencies, or well-known companies. By spoofing phone numbers or creating fake profiles, they appear convincing and trustworthy.

Phase 2: Creating a Compelling Reason to Act

Once contact is established, scammers aim to build trust. They use several tactics that may include a friendly or empathic tone, or they pretend to know something personal about the target and use news or current events to add to their credibility. Sometimes the trust is built immediately, like when impersonating government; other times, like in a romance scam, they will take the time to develop the relationship.

When they feel they have the trust of their target, they craft a narrative designed to evoke a sense of urgency or fear, compelling the victim to act quickly without thinking rationally. They play on emotions, such as fear, greed, need, or isolation, making the victim believe their immediate response is crucial to avoid dire consequences or gain a significant benefit.

Phase 3: Requesting Payment

The final phase involves the request for payment or sensitive information. Scammers often provide specific instructions on how the victim should transfer money, such as wire transfers, gift cards, Zelle or Venmo, or even cryptocurrency. They may also ask for personal details like Social Security numbers or bank account information, exploiting identity theft opportunities.

These three phases of scamming are versatile and adaptable to almost any situation. From phishing emails and investment fraud to lottery scams and tech support hoaxes, the core principles of initiating contact, creating urgency, and requesting payment remain consistent across various scams.

Understanding the anatomy of a scam is vital in safeguarding against fraudsters. By recognizing the phases of Initiating Contact, Creating a Compelling Reason to Act, and Requesting Payment, individuals can develop a healthy skepticism and become less susceptible to falling prey to these deceitful schemes. Vigilance, skepticism, and verifying the legitimacy of any communication or request are crucial in thwarting scammers and protecting one’s financial and personal well-being.

To protect yourself against scams, consider modifying the old axiom of “Trust, but Verify” to “Verify before Trusting.” Take time to verify if the contact is legitimate. Hang up and call the phone number of the company. Talk to someone you know and trust before issuing any payment to anyone you don’t know.

R.O.S.E. seeks to create change by educating and providing awareness of financial scams that typically target the older/elderly population, with a focus on those age 60 and over. For more information and resources, visit, email us at [email protected], or call us at 602-445-7673.