Some simple things that we can do on a daily basis to avoid scams, crooks and all manner of misfortunes during the season for taking. Well, it is that time of the year again, the holiday season and the time for the last rush to get the shopping done. This is the premiere time for criminals and crooks to take advantage of those hard working Americans that are already stressed. There are few people that can claim no extra stress during the holidays, and there is no coincidence that this is the highest suicide season of the year. Along with that stress and last minute rush is born an opportunity for the dregs of society to apply their trade, they too are under holiday stress and this is the season to take advantage.

Handing Over The Cash

Handing Over The Cash

There are a number of different techniques that thieves and scammer use to liberate you from your possessions. I cannot possibly cover all of them in the context of a blog post but I can cover some of the more common ones. Additionally I can cover some of the main techniques that you can use to avoid becoming the mark. Let’s begin with personal perception. It is basic human nature to assume until proven otherwise, that the person you are talking too is just like you. If you are a good hearted person that cares about the welfare of others, it is natural to believe at least initially that the people you come in contact with are the same. Inversely, if you are a crook or a criminal you tend to think that everyone you come in contact with is motivated by the factors. So before we begin you need to cast off those perceptions and make no assumptions about the people you meet either way. Allow them to “show” you who they are and consider dealing with them based on that initial engagement.

In order for someone to take advantage of your good nature they must first select you as a potential target of opportunity. This is done through surveillance and later mild contact. These criminals have very finely honed perception skills and will pick only the easiest of targets. The targets are selected based on awareness, threat, and potential gain. Your first defense is to make yourself a “hard target” this is often the only deterrent that you need. The surveillance conducted by these criminals is not usually as elaborate as that of police and investigators, but is always well rehearsed and often conducted by small teams working in concert. The person or persons committing the scam or attack will not necessarily be the ones that are doing the surveillance.

Becoming a hard target: hard targets are aware of their surroundings at all times. You do not have to be specially trained in order to be aware. As you are out shopping simply keep your eyes up and look around at the people in the area. Those that are looking for targets will take immediate notice. As you are looking around, do not be afraid to make brief eye contact with everyone. Most people look around and transfer their gaze from objects to objects not at faces. It can be intimidating to make eye contact with everyone especially if you are not used to it, you will get used to it eventually. If you make eye contact with a criminal while they are doing their initial surveillance. You will most likely be scratched off the list. That is unless for you reason they believe that YOU are worth the risk.

If you suspect that someone is checking you out, and you are still in a public place, confront them. Step right up to them, look them in the eye and ask them what time it is. They will most likely become nervous and disengage. If they just give you the time and go back to what they were doing they are probably legit, but not always. Be alert for people that you see multiple times in the area. Look at their shoes and slacks. Criminals will often go through multiple disguises during their surveillance of a target but the pants and shoes are harder to change quickly than a shirt, hat, or jacket. For the reason of quickness those articles usually remain unchanged.

The two forms of surveillance that the scammers will use are mobile and static. Mobile surveillance can be following you on foot or shadowing you. They may not always follow you into a store or building unless there is potential that you can leave through other exits. In the strip mall shopping centers you could likely go in and out of the stores unmolested however a large indoor mall would require them to remain in visual contact with you or risk losing track of you. If you suspect that someone is following you just drop a small piece of paper (accidentally) to see if they pick it up or return it to you. The little FAKE credit card that comes in a new wallet is perfect. If they run you down and return it then they are most likely not surveying you because that brings attention to them. If they step over it or pick it up and keep it, then you may be the mark. Static surveillance is just that, it could be someone sitting in a parked car or a food court and they are harder to detect unless they are seen multiple times in unlikely locations.

If you determine that you are the target, do not hesitate to report it. Many victims of scams, muggings, and even kidnappings have confessed that they had suspected something but ignored it. Had they reported it the whole situation could have been avoided. If you report it and you are wrong, so what, all it will cost is a little embarrassment. I will personally gamble a little embarrassment to keep my life any day. If you happen to fall victim to a scam report that as soon as possible, you may be able to help protect someone else in the future. Many victims do not report, these scams because there are ingeniously designed to make the victim embarrassed to have been taken. Here is an example of a common one that is run in every corner of the world. The fine details can change but the scam outline is always the same. I have personally recognized this scam in action twice during my travels.

Keep in mind that you have already been surveyed to find that you are suitable for the scam and the actual story has been adjusted to be believable. {These are the emotional triggers }

Phase one: The scammer approaches a small group of two to three people. They feel {safe} because they are in a group, and he looks clean and non-threatening. The scammer gives a convincing story as to how he is from (another state, city, country etc) here on (work, vacation, foreign military port visit etc) some small talk is made to gain a little {comfort} with the group. Then comes the scam “here is my problem”{your apprehension} “just hear me out a second” “I need to go into this (store, brothel, meeting, etc.) and I don’t trust the people inside but I don’t have a choice, I will be fired if I don’t.” {pity} “The problem is that I have my entire paycheck in my pocket and I don’t want to get mugged” {desperation}“Could you hold my cash while I go in for a minute, five minutes tops” Then he/she produces a big bank roll before you can answer.{your initial surprise} “You look trustworthy and I don’t have many options” {his desperation/and trust} You tell him that it is not wise to flash that much cash around here.{playing on your trust} But the Cha-Ch’ing bell rings in the back of your head.{GREED} “Sure Dude Ill hold your cash” you say. {Now he is playing on your greed and comfort} He noticed the twinkle in your eye when the cash came out. The comfort level will be reduced but the hook is your greed. You know that you can drop that wad in your pocket and go continue with your shopping. Hell the guy is going to be gone for five minutes so you can be out of there long before he gets back.

Phase two: He begins to hand you the bank roll then retracts, “what happens if you get mugged while I’m gone?” “You should put your money with mine just so I know you will protect it for me.” {Your apprehension} “Just as a precaution, it would make me feel better.” Now at this point you don’t want to admit that you were planning on running off with his money and what’s the risk, you’re going to hold the wad anyway. So you grab your cash and hand it to the guy, he rolls the money together and put it in a bandana. ALL OUT IN THE OPEN RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU. Then secures the bandana with a simple overhand knot. He struggles with the knot for a minute waiting for a momentary distraction. {Your anticipation} Now you are a little nervous because you are about to score big, so every distraction catches your attention. In the blink of an eye he puts his right hand in his pocket and takes his left hand out. In his left hand is the dummy. (Yes it is the old bait and switch) He hands you that wad in the bandanna, and re affirms “I’ll be back in five minutes” and he casually walks out of sight.

If you wait, he will not be back; if you leave you will soon discover that the bandana is tied up tightly and hard to open. Once opened it contains a finely rolled stack of newspaper. Now you are {embarrassed} and {enraged}. “How stupid, I should have known better”, and you don’t go to the police because you were baited by your own greed and willingness to rip him off.

The scam is complete and goes unreported and the scammers continue to work the area.

Is seems like a no brainer but it is executed by a professional, and it is totally believable. The triggers are the emotional draws in the scam. All of those emotion shifts set your common sense and awareness off balance and make the decisions seem believable. It is an emotional confusion that is hard to beat.

That is not the only scam out there, there are potentially millions of them being run all over the world and new ones coming up every day. The common thread is emotional confusion, ending in embarrassment. If you find that a seemingly innocent conversation starts to make you uncomfortable or emotionally confused or conflicted. Walk away! It is the beginning of a finely crafted but predictable pattern. It is unlikely that you will ever see that exact scam but the pattern will emerge many times.

The above scam was run on me and another Marine while we were young/dumb privates. I had at least enough awareness to always go out with ten dollars in my shoe, so I could always get back to the base. We did not report it either, sometimes life has a hard lesson to teach and I paid for that education, what I got in return was the ability to detect and avoid every scam that has been attempted on me since that day. I am not embarrassed to admit that now, because I understand that my embarrassment was a finely crafted emotional confusion that I had no control over.

Enjoy your holiday season, be aware and be safe.

Thank you Tiffany and Rich for asking me to guest post at Wilder Wolf. I hope that I gave your followers something that helps them beat the patterns.


4 Responses to How NOT to become a Holiday Season Victim

  1. Norseman says:

    When you load all of those presents and packages into your car, consider driving around the parking lot to a new parking spot before going back into the store for a second pass. They are watching and you might end up losing all your new stuff and a window to boot.


  2. Docwatmo says:

    AWESOME article Norseman. We all get a little complacent at times and this is a great refresher. I’m going to link to this from my blog and Facebook as well. EVERYONE needs to read this and be reminded how easy it is to become a victim and how simple it is to avoid.

    Well Done


  3. LvsChant says:

    Good food for thought, Norseman… thanks for sharing the tips.

  4. The Kiwi says:

    Brilliant! You are so right about reporting it, it is amazing how good our instincts can be.

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