Watch Out for these Common Scam Mind Traps

Art Maines | June 18, 2014

As I explain in my frequent talks, empowering seniors (and others) to defeat scammers must include training on the psychology of scamming and fraud victimization. Psychological research suggests that if a person understands the feelings and mental tricks that scammers use to rip people off, then he or she is much less likely to become a victim. And that’s my goal for you and all the people I encounter!

All of us can get tripped up by what I call “mind traps” in many areas of life. Our brains or minds, as marvelous and wondrous as they often are, can also fool us in ways that can end up getting us in trouble. Nowhere is this more important to remember than in preventing scam or fraud victimization.

Here are 3 common scam mind traps to watch out for:

“I never do this, but…”

This one showed up at a recent talk I gave at an elder living community in a suburb of Saint Louis. A very nice and bright lady came up to me after my presentation and said to me, “I never do this, but I just sent $5 to some outfit that says they can help me enter and win sweepstakes.” All the red lights went on on my “scam dashboard” when I heard that! What she didn’t know is that most of the time those sorts of organizations are a freeway to Scamville! She explained more about her path to that choice, and I realized that she had been so flooded with come-ons for these things that she finally said “What the heck” and took a chance. Remember this: You can’t take a chance with a possible scam. Always check on a company or contest before you enter, and never send money for a prize. Fortunately, we were able to stop the possible scam because the mail hadn’t yet gone out with her envelope and $5 in it, so, with her agreement, we pulled it out of the mail.

The “well, okay” problem

In my field of psychotherapy and counseling clients often talk about people in their families who are what we call “underfunctioning.” These are the ones who never quite seem to “get it together:” You know, they can’t get or keep a job, they never have money to pay their bills (but they always seem to have money to go out or buy nonessentials like sodas and fancy coffees. Hmmm). What happens with this mind trap is they may come to their grandparent, aunt, uncle, or whoever the senior happens to be, and ask for money to help out with an urgent need like paying their car insurance or rent. Being eager to help, the elder says “Well, okay, here you go,” and gives them the money. Now, I think it’s great to help people who are genuinely going through a bad time or trying to get back on track. However, this mind trap can lead to the elder’s saying, “Well, okay” to the point they don’t have money for medicine or food. The other sad thing is that what they’re doing doesn’t really help the person asking for money, it just enables them to stay in a negative and disempowered state. The takeaway message here is help people as you can, according to your budget, and what’s really helpful for the recipient. Make sure your help does the most good!


As the bad joke goes, it’s not a river in Egypt! All of us are prone to denial, and it can sometimes serve a useful purpose in helping us come to terms with a tough reality that, if fully and immediately faced, could overwhelm us and our ability to cope. However, in the face of both the potential for scam victimization and the possibility that someone is currently getting scammed, denial works against our wellbeing. Hand in hand with this is the bonus mind trap of the overconfidence bias. This is when we think we are more capable or on top things than we really are, and it ends up hurting us in the end. This is especially damaging when a person could end up losing thousands in a fraud or scam. What’s the answer? Never assume you know everything, always keep learning, and if you get tricked, reach out and ask for help right now rather than later.

Art is a specialist in elder frauds and scams and the author of the book Scammed: Three Steps to Help Your Elder Parents and Yourself. He is also a speaker and trainer on elder scam prevention and has been presenting a series of scam prevention trainings to Bethesda residents. For more about his book and work visit You can contact Art at

Related Articles

affordable assisted living can be beneficial to everyone involved

Assisted Living — More Affordable Than You Think

When is it time to consider assisted living for a senior loved one? It is a complex question involving emotions, physical health and finances… Read More

Care manager helping with cost-saving methods

How Care Managers Can Cut Senior Care Costs

“Care managers wear many hats,” says Kristen Daniels, Director of Bethesda Senior Support Solutions. “They work with residents in senior living communities, or in… Read More

CARES Act Offers Tax Incentives

The COVID-19 pandemic has had tremendous negative impact on nonprofits nationwide, and Bethesda is no exception. However, the CARES Act inclusion of an expanded… Read More

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.