Criminals use six basic principles of Influence to steal. In this post we will discuss the first 3. The ability to influence boils down to science. By applying some science, anyone can learn to be more influential. It’s easy to influence sheep and cattle. It’s a bit more complicated to influence people. But many people can be influenced as easy as a cow. Criminals understand this the same way sales people do. The derivative of “confidence” is con. All influence in some way is designed to gain your confidence and in some cases to trick you. That’s where “confidence trick” comes from. Robert Cialdini is a psychologist who studied influence for nearly 30 years, condensing his findings into six principles. I’ll bet every crime syndicate out there read his books.


  • Do something nice for a person and they will feel obligated to return the favor. This concept is seen in doctors who promote a particular drug—the pharmaceutical company has just given him free notepads, pens and a coffee mug.
  • Want your children to show you respect? Show them respect. They’ll feel obligated to treat you the same. Mostly.
  • Scammers use this by offering something free in an emailed link. You might have to reciprocate and give up an email address or simply click a link. Clicking on the link installs a virus. You get a call from a colleague in tech support. They say “I need your password to fix this server” and “I’ll be there for you someday when you need help”. We want to help, we want to return the favor.

Social Proof

  • This is the “It’s okay if everyone else does it” approach. People have a tendency to check out what other people are doing when they’re not sure what course to take. Stand on a street corner in a busy city and look up at a skyscraper, then watch the crowed gather to see what you are looking at.
  • Why does the new treadmill user at the gym hold onto the rails while walking? Because they see everyone else in the gym doing it. What made you decide to buy that kitchen gadget? Because the TV ad said, “They’re going fast, everyone’s buying it, so order now!”
  • This concept also applies to emergency situations, such as people lined up at a third story window of a burning building, afraid to jump—until one person leaps. Suddenly, everyone else leaps.
  • Scammers will use social proof to trick you in a Ponzi investment scheme. If all kinds of people you trust are making the same investment, then why wouldn’t you?

Commitment and Consistency

  • Get someone to verbally or in writing commit to something, and this will increase the chances they’ll follow through. They are committed. Signing a contract means you are committed. Anything that comes out of that contract is your responsibility.
  • People want to do things by the book, they want to be civilized and play by the rules. This plays off of social proof to conform like others.
  • Scammers recognize most people are committed to “doing the right thing”, or being appropriate. So if you get a call or an email saying there is an issue with your account, you want to do the right thing and fix it. Getting things right may mean giving your data to a criminal.

Don’t be cattle. Don’t act like sheep. Most of the world functions based on the honor system. As long as everyone is honest, everything works seamlessly. The honor system is designed with the mindset that we are all sheep and there are no wolves. We know there are plenty of wolves. Don’t be sheep.

Robert Siciliano is an Identity Theft Expert to Hotspot Shield. He is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen See him discussing internet and wireless security on Good Morning America. Disclosures.

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