Are People More Gullible Now Than They Used to Be?

badgeI got a notice from my bank telling about some of the latest scams to be aware of. In one such scam, a man claiming to be from the Social Security Administration in Georgia told the old woman that they would be sending her a new social security card. Then he asked for personal and bank information to verify that he was talking to a real person. The woman felt certain it was a scam and hung up the phone.

A friend of mine got a call from a woman claiming to be from the police fraud division, who then told her that her AOL account had been hacked. My friend also hung up, feeling certain it was a scam, but it turned out to be the truth.

Some people think we’re more gullible now, especially on the internet where we tend to take people at face value, but still, most people do have a healthy dose of skepticism when they receive messages such as, Hi Linda, my name is John. I came across your profile and was taken by your smile. I must confess you are a very beautiful lady….I would love to get to know you please be nice enough to tell me a thing or two about you ok?” Calling me Linda was my first clue that this email wasn’t directed at me personally, but even without that, I knew it wasn’t on the level. If they were truly interested in me, they would have referenced an article I wrote or mentioned one of my ideas. I am much more susceptible to flattery about my writing than I am about my looks! Well, not susceptible. Let’s say appreciative.

I have a hunch it’s not that we’re more gullible now but that the scams are more detailed and often seem as if they could be true. If someone dressed as a cop came to your house and flashed a realistic-looking badge, wouldn’t you assume that he or she really was a cop? We all have a vague idea of what a cop’s shield looks like — we’ve seen thousands of them in movies and TV shows. Many of us have even seen them up close when we had to report a burglary or car accident, but we probably couldn’t tell the difference between a real badge and a fake one, especially if it were dark and we were scared. And chances are the badge wouldn’t be fake anyway — it could have been stolen.

Dick Clark once did a show called TV’s Bloopers & Practical Jokes, where they played tricks on people. I didn’t watch it very often because I truly hated it. I remember one scheme they pulled on Corbin Bernsen that was so elaborately detailed, they got real producers and directors to take him to lunch and make him believe he got a big part. I still remember his blank look when they laughed at him for being gullible. How could he not believe it was the truth? It was exactly the way it would have happened for real. That blank look remained only for a moment, but I remember it more than his good-natured laugh that came afterward.

Whether people are more gullible or not, we authors hope for at least some gullibility. If it weren’t for readers’ ability to believe in things that are not true, we’d be out of a job.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” All Bertram’s books are published by Second Wind Publishing. Connect with Pat on Google+

4 Responses to “Are People More Gullible Now Than They Used to Be?”

  1. ROD MARSDEN Says:

    I believe that, with modern technology, there are more scam artists around and also more ways in which you can be scammed. I have written about overseas scam artists in one of my blogs.

    There was once a time when you were most likely to be scammed by someone living in your own country. Now the world is their playpen. The rat might be living in China or India or who knows where. I think the scam artists most likely to try me on are Indonesian by their accents but I could be wrong.

    For a start it isn’t that hard to get someone’s name. There was a time when if the othwer person knew your name then they were probnably legit. Not any more. If they require further details from you then they are definitely not legit.

    One scam I really hate which comes up every now and then is to havew someone from Windows ring up and say your computer is in danger but for a fee they can save it. So they want you to give them all your details (very useful on the black market) plus pay out a fee and also given the access to run your computer while they get the bugs out. I have been approached a few times this way. My dad, a year ago, got such a phone call. He listened to their rot for a while then calmly told them he didn’t have a computer. They hung up after that.

    As for gullibility among fiction readers, I don’t buy it. You have written yourself about suspension of disbelief. This suspension I’m more willing to go along with. Our readers are not gullible, just willing to allow us to take them into our fictional worlds. My thoughts at any rate.

  2. rami ungar the writer Says:

    I think Ted Bundy used a policeman costume and a fake badge to fool most of his victims.

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