Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Overcome your Oxtyocin

Stephen Hickson forwards this email that made it through to our undergrad economics tutors. It's a nice little scam; hopefully, none of our tutors went for it.* Here it is:

How are you doing today? As for me I am okay and my son is doing good. I would be more than happy if you can handle Mark very well for me because his all I have left ever since his Mother died four years ago. Payment for the lessons will be made upfront like I told you and will be by cheque. In view of this I will need you to email me the information required to send the payment as I will not like to send the payment to a wrong location.

I contacted his step Mother and she made me understood that she is not in a good financial condition to help the situation and this makes me to think of an alternative because am off-shore as a petrol chemical engineer and can not be able to make any payment arrangement directly to you. I will equally want your first meeting with my son and cousin on Second week of April for proper arrangement. Further information needed about my son will be giving to you on your first day of meeting my son and my cousin. I will advice you meet in a library because of your reasons.

I discussed this with my cohort who has accepted to issue you the payment his owing me in form of cheque. Meanwhile, the cheque he will be sending you will be ($3,000) which is a bit more than the cost for the 12 weeks ($600) Right? lessons. So please, I will appreciate your focus in rendering the service. As soon as you receive the cheque, I will like you to deduct the money that accrues to the cost of lessons, also the cost of the material needed for the tutorial service and you will assist me to send the rest balance to my cousin.

The remaining balance will cover the funds for Mark and my cousin's flight expenses down to the state and also to cover his living expenses in state. I think,I should be able to trust you with the remaining balance? I will give you the details of my cousin that you will send the balance of the money to as soon as you receive the cheque. Here are some of the details I will need for final assurance of the payment to you.
  1. Full Name
  2. Mailing address,
  3. your direct telephone number
Once you get back to me with all the above details, the payment will be issued out immediately and it will be sent to you . Hope to hear from you as soon as you can and I am sure you will find my son as a good student.
It's a classic scam: demonstrate your trust in the recipient (by sending the cheque with what's very likely an overpayment) and expect the trust to be reciprocated (by wiring the balance back) before the recipient figures out that the cheque has bounced.

It's then a variant on the kind of scam highlighted in Paul Zak's TED talk around the 9 minute mark:


Being trusted gives you a little oxytocin boost, making you more likely to reciprocate. So be careful of oxytocin rushes.

Zak does interesting work; here's a summary at The Guardian. But where he talks a lot about how he likes to hug people to get (and to give!) Oxytocin boosts; I have more fun wondering whether electronics retailers could make a buck by having aerosolized Oxytocin near the spot where salespeople try to convince you of the merits of long-term warranties. 

Economists giving out hugs... Folks will think the whole profession's gone soft (mutter grumble)...

* They'd get part-marks for trying to scam the scammer: though that too is not without risk.

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