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Why being too polite could leave you a victim of financial scams

Why being too polite could leave you a victim of financial scams
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Politeness is a virtue that many of us were taught in childhood. But could this admirable virtue increase our chances of falling victim to financial scams and fraud? And if so, how can we protect ourselves?

How politeness increases the risk of financial scams

A new study from UK Finance reveals that British politeness could be hindering the fight against scams as the majority of Brits find it difficult to hang up on scammers.

According to the report, the number of impersonation scam cases more than doubled in the first half of 2021. And in the 33,115 cases, fraudsters stole close to £130 million.

Incredibly, the research found that nearly a fifth of people (19%) feel uncomfortable saying no to a request for personal information from a stranger via email or text, with the number rising to 23% when it comes to phone calls. Of those, 92% of people admit to saying yes because they don’t want to come across as rude.

It was found that people use a variety of phrases to avoid saying no, the most common of which is “I’m not sure.”

How to avoid falling victim to financial scams

As revealed by the research, politeness could be leaving a lot of people at risk of impersonation fraud. However, politeness, like any other human behaviour, can be a difficult habit to break.

Digital savings bank Marcus and professional coaching firm Debrett’s have partnered to create the Good Manners Guide. It contains tips on how to avoid being scammed while remaining courteous.

If you are a chronically polite person, you may struggle to find polite ways to end a phone call. Marcus and Debrett’s advice is to avoid the interaction entirely by screening your calls. Answer only those from numbers you recognise, and let the unknown ones go to voicemail.

Another tip is to flip the script on the caller. Get into interrogative mode and politely ask for the caller’s full name, number and who they work for. You can even ask how they got your number. If this approach makes you feel uneasy, you can begin by apologising and explaining that, with so many scammers out there, you’re simply covering your bases.

You can also tell whoever is calling you that you will call back using the phone number listed on their organisation’s website, or even that you will deal with whatever issue there might be yourself. Any reluctance or opposition on their part should serve as a red flag.

Marcus and Debrett’s guide also advises people not to be fooled by politeness. Fraudsters realise that an appearance of professionalism combined with polite manners can dupe even the most astute of people.

It is also a good idea to have a few excuses up your sleeve that you can use to end conversations politely. For example, you could pretend that there’s someone knocking on the door that you need to let in.

Other ways to avoid financial scams

Take Five to Stop Fraud, a UK-wide initiative to help raise awareness of and reduce fraud, recommends that you:

  • Stop: Take a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or information.
  • Challenge: Ask yourself, “Could this be fake?” It is okay to reject, refuse or ignore any requests. Only scammers will try to rush you or cause you to panic.
  • Protect: Contact your bank immediately if you think you’ve fallen victim to a scam. Also report it to Action Fraud, either through the online reporting tool or by calling 0300 123 2040.

Bottom line

Scammers can be extremely smooth and convincing in trying to make you fall into their trap. It is especially easy to become a victim if you are overly polite. Use the tips given here to protect yourself.

Ultimately, the best safeguard is to develop the confidence to put the phone down, no matter how difficult it is. Remember that you don’t owe anyone politeness, especially someone potentially trying to scam you. 

For more useful info on this topic, check out our article on how to spot and block scams.

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