Why service providers can learn from scammers

 In Thoughts

‘I thought I’d met my dream partner, but was conned out of thousands’.

scam picture
Breakfast news brought the story of an intelligent woman in her 50’s becoming victim to a callous group of scammers. Sadly, she won’t be the last. In this case an organised group of crooks had convinced her that the man she had only met online would provide the key to her future – if only she would send regular payments amounting to some £10,000.

But how could it happen? Despite never meeting the culprit how could this sensible woman share her heart and her bank account details online?

The fact is that the scammers were very convincing, they learned details about her life, her interests and her opinions and they responded to them in a way that made her feel wanted and valued.

Now clearly, this gang had criminal intentions – not something to be lauded, but what does require a second thought is the approach they took to engage this woman – and thousands like her.

From recycling to channel shift

A good number of clients approach us with questions about how best to engage consumers – from the local authority wanting residents to be more active recyclers to services encouraging audiences to move from paper based communication to online. Whatever the scenario the basic proposition is the same – how to get people to alter their behaviour in a given situation?

Clearly, those engaged in spamming aren’t working in the interests of the consumer but there is a certainly a role for ethically driven behavioural insight work that can deliver benefits all round.

For a while ‘nudge’ became the buzzword of offices around the country, taken from the seminal text by Thaler and Sunstein[1], as their positive approach to improving health and wellbeing attracted the interest of policy makers keen to find more insightful ways of changing health behaviours.

But what has this got to do with scammers? What they both have in common is they seek to get to know the person they are engaging with. This isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, its targeted, specific, knows the interests, motivations and challenges of the person concerned.

In ethically controlled practice, where the aim is social and personal benefit, the use of behavioural insight, has the potential to transform the ways that service providers and devise and deliver as well as the positive engagement of citizens. And its just this approach that has informed our work with Essex County Council as they seek to create a culture that works smarter, makes the best use of behavioural science and saves the kinds of sums normally only criminals can dream of.


[1] Nudge, Improving decisions about Health and Wellbeing, Richard H Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein, 2008, Yale University Text

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