All scams share at least four common characteristics which, at first glance, should be obvious that they are, indeed, scams. They all share a fundamental dishonesty, and they all require your belief and, at some level, your participation.
Here are the four categories that I use for identifying that what I am seeing is, indeed, an internet scam:
I am going to give an example of a real internet scam, that was present on FB around the Christmas season of 2015, and illustrate them, all four.
"If you are somewhere in public, and you hear an elderly woman screaming for help, do not help her!
The most famous example in history of the fallacy of blame in practice: the Jewish people being blamed as the source of German misfortunes after WW1.
In the now-famous, "Nigerian Prince" scam, the fallacy of blame redirects your attention to bankers, blaming them for his snafu.
The FOB is primarily used to redirect your attention, and it is here that cons and scams are most vulnerable to interruption. Why should we blame bankers...why should we quietly allow the elderly to be beaten...?
Consequences fall into one of two categories.
- Negative Reinforcement, when something is removed from you, like a burden, or a problem is presumably going to be eliminated by the scammer removing something, in this case, the burden of helping a stranger-in-distress, or...
- Positive Reinforcement, when the scammer is going to give you something as a reward.
In the "Nigerian Prince" scam, perpetuity was achieved by constantly reinforcing the victim with messages about how the scammer needed even more money. At first, he only needed $500. But now, those bankers have upped the amount that he has to pay....so, $500 becomes $1,000, $1,000 becomes $2,000. And continuity for the poor victim here is necessary, or they risk facing the bitter truth. They are, at that point: blackmailed.
The originator of the scam, which I used as an example, inserts continuity by preying on the love GRANDMOTHERS have for their DAUGHTERS and GRANDDAUGHTERS. "Share this as a warning to all the women and young girls..." is part and parcel to either the avoidance of an unpleasant consequence, or the prevention of one, or more of them, altogether.
The Nigerian Prince scam has graduated officially from scam to sociological phenomenon. This is because it is famous, the most famous internet, and possibly general scam, of all time. And even though little children can explain this scam, and despite its level of fame, it is happening, somewhere in America, in some form, right now.
The reasons could be many, but it may boil down to, "Sacrifice to St. Jude". This is the name for the human belief that giving a stranger money shall result in the return of some spiritual reward: healing a loved one's cancer, for instance, or perhaps their own "luck" will change.
But it is a scam, and conforms, in some manner, to all four of these characteristics for identifying a scam.