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Learning the Hard Way: Getting Scammed

Who is most likely to get conned? Victims tend to be well-educated, financially literate, predominantly male, persons who tend not to live alone, and persons who have higher incomes than non-victims.

How do you fall victim to a scam? The most common persuasion tactic is called phantom fixation, where the con artist dangles a desirable phantom in front of you, representing something that you really want, like a key to instant success at whatever you want to do - and it won't cost you hardly anything! For medical students, this is phrased as, "You want to pass your exams with a high score" or "You want the best residency, don't you?" Another persuasion tactic is social consensus, the idea that if everybody is doing it, it must be good. "Everybody who bought this [online resource, book, course, study guide] did extremely well."

Con artists will encourage their victims by using the "expert snare" tactic with a come-on such as, "You know, I don't have to tell you about this, Mr. Sucker, because you're already an expert." Physicians are particularly prone to such scams, because the con artists play to their intelligence and encourage victims to believe they have such incredible intelligence that they know everything and can do anything. The sheltered work environment of the health care system makes many physicians naïve about what goes on outside the workplace.

The empathy that physicians try to show can leave them vulnerable and gullible if they don't know where to set the boundaries of relationships. Medical students may be taught boundary setting with patients. However, boundaries in relationships must be learned with non-patients, not just in health care settings, but also in other settings. This includes interactions with marketeers.

Persons under stress are more likely to seek out any means to feel as though some kind of control can be obtained, and substitute magical thinking for rational judgment. Persons sensing potential danger, but who perceive they can do little about it, often turn to magical beliefs. The con artist preys on such persons.


"Who's getting swindled?" from "Marketplace" on American Public Media, Friday, December 1, 2006. (Accessed April 5, 2018).

Keinan G. The effects of stress and desire for control on superstitious behavior. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2002; 28;102-108.

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