Published On: Thu, Apr 18th, 2019

Mind of the fraudster

Fraudsters are people who deceive others. And, as we can all agree, there are infinite methods of deception. In personal relationships, at school, at work, in politics, in everything. All you need is the motivation and a lack of ethics and morals for someone to fit into any of the three categories of fraudsters.

The first category refers to one who is inclined, without much knowledge, to carry out an act contrary to the rules of society. The second category is the fraudster who rises to the occasion. For example, they are in debt and they come across an opportunity to make easy money. The third category is the professional, who wakes up, lives, and sleeps thinking about how to con somebody.

The last kind is much more difficult to catch and teaches us more about scams, although it is a known fact that their primary motivation is always money. Research at KPMG, carried out in 2016, shows that 66% of scams at companies are motivated by financial gain, and that 65% of fraudsters are working within the companies themselves, while 21% are ex-employees.

Scams are like water balloons: you touch one side, it moves to the other side. What changes from one fraudster to the next is, basically, the techniques used. The rest always follows the same patterns. From a psychological point of view, the mental work process is the same.

North American researcher Donald Cressey created the term “fraud triangle”, which is formed by psychological pressure, opportunity, and rationalization. Pressure is the motivation. The opportunity is the chance to commit fraud; it is clear that even a firm mind can be corrupted. And the rationalization is how we justify our actions to ourselves.

This refers to a mental technique used to eliminate guilt. Criminals rarely see themselves as evildoers. They think they are massacred by day to day life and are victims of an oppressive system, or they engage in a state of mind that blocks any kind of feeling.

Mark Fenton-O’Creevy, professor of organizational behavior at the Open University Business School, says, “Typically, those who commit fraud use a psychological strategy that distances them from any sense of guilt.”

In criminology, this is called neutralization. It’s a very common way is to see the victim as the guilty party. Depersonalize or despise the victim. In one real-world example, criminals launched a sequence of scams on a major internet sales site and referred to the 3,000 victims as “perfect idiots.”

For this reason, Internet fraud and financial fraud are easier for the criminal. The victims don’t have a face. Fraudsters usually start with small crimes, gain confidence, and then escalate to larger frauds. It was no wonder that in mid-1994, then-New York mayor Rudy Giuliani launched the zero tolerance policy for any type and size of crime, achieving tremendous success in combating crime in the city.

The importance of understanding the fraudster’s mind is critical to the well being at all levels of a society. The corruption that is now exploding in Brazil has gained momentum with the impunity of the small fraudsters. It is scary that a country with extraordinary potential is among the most corrupt in the world.

A novice fraudster who holds a position of authority is 100 times more destructive than an extremely professional one. Imagine the destructive potential of a professional fraudster with power, such as a company director, a delegate, prosecutor, judge, deputy, senator, minister or even a president?

The fact is that regardless of the positions mentioned all follow the same pattern. It is inherent to the activity and independent of their will. To annihilate evil, we first need to know about its nature. The rest is a matter of planning.

About the Author

- Wanderson Castilho is the president of Enetsec and a private detective in Florida . He holds a bachelors in Physics from Federal University of Paraná (UFPR), Curitiba - Brazil. Author of the books "Manual of A Virtual Detective" (2009), "Deception, a Multifaced Issue" (2011), "Do you know what your kids are doing on the internet?" (2014), and "100 Critical Facts about the World's Cybercrime”(2018). Representative member from South and Central America on the Michigan Collegiate Cyber Defense Network’s Industry and Academic Advisory Board, at the University of Michigan, USA, which promotes network security competitions with the objective of guaranteeing competitiveness among educational institutions that teach professionals in the field of Information Technology.

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