8 Ways Spammers and Scammers Manipulate Your Emotions

8 Ways Spammers and Scammers Manipulate Your Emotions

Last Updated on June 29, 2024

We’ve all received them. They looked like something real and urgent, demanded that we take immediate action, and sent us into a state of panic. Welcome to the world of phishing scams – fake messages designed to manipulate you, steal your money or identity, or take advantage of you in some other nefarious way. You are the fish they are “phishing” for.

The difference between spammers and scammers is the degree of evil. Spam is usually just dishonest marketing to sell you stuff you don’t need and promote the business in questionable ways. Scam is a crime designed to deceive you and steal your money.

Spammers and scammers manipulate your emotions by using calls, emails, texts or websites. They can be human bad guys or AI bots. One thing they have in common is using emotions as bait. How can we spot phishing scams to protect ourselves? Here are a few “case studies”.

Phishing Scam #1: FB message - your page is about to be deleted!

⚠️ Important Notification:

Your Facebook page is scheduled for permanent deletion due to a post that has infringed upon our trademark rights. We have reached this decision after a thorough review and in accordance with our intellectual property protection policies.

If you believe this to be a misunderstanding, we kindly request you to file a complaint seeking the reinstatement of your page prior to its removal from Facebook.

Request for Review: <phishing link they want you to click>

We understand that this situation may impact your ongoing business operations. However, please be informed that if we do not receive a complaint from you, our decision will be final.


Facebook Support Team © Noreply Facebook. Meta Platforms, Inc., Attention: Community Support, 1 Facebook Way, Menlo Park, CA 94025

Emotions manipulated: Fear, sense of urgency, loss aversion at a pending loss of your page’s stored value, anger and indignation – I did nothing wrong!, authority bias, saliency – notice the exclamation mark emoji.

How to spot: Check the sender address – usually it has nothing to do with the company they impersonate. The message is legalistic, threatening to take away something very valuable for you, and demands immediate obedience on your part.

Phishing Scam #2: A damsel in distress

She (or he) has fallen on hard times. Her money was stolen, she lost her passport, bad people had deceived her, she is in danger and she needs you to rescue her. You get to be a knight in shining armor and send her money.

Emotions manipulated: empathy, high morals, sense of justice, and your own self-image as a noble human being.

How to spot: Do I actually know this person? Do they pretend to be someone I know? Are they asking to open an attached file that could be a virus? And the biggest red flag – if they are asking for money, that is most likely a scam.

Phishing Scam #3: Spam comments to make you click

From <website address .com>
I think you’re incredibly smart because of the ways in which your knowledge of this subject leads me to believe it. It appears that unless it has to do with <link they want you to click>, neither men nor women are interested in this topic. You are doing fantastic work; keep it up.

Emotions manipulated: Distraction. Sometimes also flattery, hoping the website owner’s ego would let the comment stay because it’s all praise. The senders (usually bots, not real people) count on website owners to overlook a link in the comment and a dot com in the name of the sender. The purpose is a black hat tactic to flood the internet with backlinks to questionable sites to make them look more legitimate and rank higher in the search engines algorithms. If these fake comments are allowed to proliferate, contamination spreads to any website visitor who might accidentally click on them.

Phishing Scam #4: You Are a Winner!

“CONGRATULATIONS! You have won the lottery/car/tool set/beach chair! Click here to claim your prize!”
“90% off on this incredible deal, ends at midnight, click now!”
“You won a gift card from Kohls!”
“Watch Netflix for Free!”

Emotions manipulated: Greed, sense of urgency, scarcity, and our universal love for free stuff.

How to spot: Free cheese can only be found in a mousetrap. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Check the sender’s actual email address, not what they are claiming to be. If money needs to be sent “for shipping” to a questionable website or person to get the free item, think twice.

Phishing Scam #5: Click to Confirm

“You received a package, click here to confirm receipt.”
“Payment received – thank you. Your payment has been confirmed.”
“You opened a Coinbase account. Click to confirm.”

Emotions manipulated: Curiosity – what package, did I order something? Fear – was I charged for something I did not order?

How to spot: When you receive legitimate packages, there is nothing to confirm. To check for suspicious payments, go to your bank statement instead of clicking on the phishing link.

Phishing Scam #6: Expired!

“Your Netflix account has expired. Click to renew now.”

Emotions manipulated: indignation, shock, distraction, fear of losing access to a valuable service, or fear of being signed up for something without our knowledge.

How to spot: The sender is not the business they impersonate. Plus, legitimate ongoing memberships would not just suddenly stop charging you their monthly fees, they are not idiots.

Phishing Scam #7: Sudden disaster.

“We’ve detected a virus on your computer”
“Your home is in foreclosure”
“This is the IRS, and you owe back taxes”
“A lawsuit has been filed against you”

Emotions manipulated: Fear. Sheer panic.

How to spot: There are lots of these emails in your email spam folder daily, occasionally slipping through to your Inbox, pretending to be from real businesses or the government. Scammers are impersonating legitimate agencies. If in doubt, find contact information from independent sources like companies’ real websites and check with them directly.

Phishing Scam #8: A phone call from a loved one.

With AI-generated deep fakes the scams get really scary – you receive a phone call from your child and it sounds exactly like them, they are in trouble, in jail, etc., and they need you to wire money to bail them out.

Emotions manipulated: Deep evolutionary biology of love.

How to spot: Is the call coming from your child’s number? Ask them something that only the two of you would know. If you both speak another language, use it. Call them back from another phone, or call the person they are supposed to be with.

How to become spam-and-scam-proof

The most important thing when dealing with suspected spammers and scammers is to monitor your own emotions. Phishing scam tactics are designed for an immediate emotional response, the more negative the better. The scammers’ goal is to get you to react impulsively, without thinking, to benefit a bad actor behind the spam. So if you feel fear and anger after reading the message, that’s a red flag to stop and think carefully before doing something rash.

Between the stimulus and response there is a space – dwell in that space and consult with your rational mind before taking action. Scan the message again for those tell-tale signs of emotional manipulation, and check if the sender is legitimate. Then send it to the spam folder where it belongs.

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