Do The Fake Names Scammers Use Play A Role In Luring In Victims?

Do Names Play a Significant Role in Aiding Luring and Grooming of Scam Victims?

Primary Category: Psychology of Scams

Authors:
•  Vianey Gonzalez B.Sc(Psych) – Psychologist, Certified Deception Professional, Psychology Advisory Panel & Director of the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc.
•  Tim McGuinness, Ph.D. – Anthropologist, Scientist, Director of the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc.

About This Article

Common names make it easier for scammers to lure victims because they evoke familiarity and trust. Familiar names like “John,” “Michael,” “Sarah,” or “Emily” reduce initial skepticism and increase engagement since they are associated with real-life individuals the victim might know.

This sense of normalcy helps scammers blend in, making their fake personas appear legitimate and trustworthy. Additionally, common names are easier to remember and pronounce, which enhances communication and rapport building.

Research shows that easily pronounceable names are judged more positively, a cognitive bias scammers exploit to create an immediate sense of trust and comfort. By choosing common names, scammers facilitate smoother interactions and quicker emotional bonding, making their deception more effective and reducing the chances of suspicion. Uncommon names, on the other hand, may prompt victims to scrutinize more closely, increasing the likelihood of detecting the scam. Thus, common names significantly enhance scammers’ success.

Do The Fake Names Scammers Use Play A Role In Luring In Victims? 2024 - on SCARS ScamsNOW.com

Do the Names that Scammers Use in their Fake Profiles and Impersonations Matter? Do they Lure Victims More Effectively and Influence Victims More during Manipulation?

An Analysis of Scammer Fake Scammer Names

We all know that names do matter. Criminals choose their fake names on fake profiles for a reason. Though, ironically, they themselves may not understand this at all.

Obviously, if criminals use names that are foreign to their intended victims they would be less successful. Trying to convince a victim that an oil rig worker from Texas has an African name would not work. So clearly names have an impact, if for no other reason than to not raise red flags at the very beginning of the crime.

However, science suggests that names may play a bigger role in luring in and then grooming victims than we knew.

Names can significantly influence emotional bonding during relationship scams, as they often carry cultural, personal, and psychological connotations that can impact a victim’s perception and trust. The choice of a name by scammers is typically strategic, aiming to enhance credibility and foster a sense of intimacy. Here’s how names play a role and whether certain names might have more power over victims.

Names Must Be Consistent

In relationship scams, the names used by scammers must align with the storyline they present to their victims to maintain credibility and establish trust.

Consistency in names and storylines is necessary for several reasons:

  • First, it helps create a coherent and believable persona. For instance, if a scammer is pretending to be a middle-aged professional from a Western country, they are likely to choose a name that is common and culturally appropriate for that background, such as “John” or “Emily.” This cultural consistency reassures the victim and makes the scammer’s fabricated identity seem more authentic.
  • Second, a name that fits the narrative helps in building a deeper emotional connection. Victims are more likely to believe and emotionally invest in a person whose name matches their story, as it reduces cognitive dissonance and reinforces the plausibility of the scammer’s tale. For example, if the scammer’s storyline involves being a military officer, names like “James” or “Sarah” might be chosen to resonate with typical names in that context. This careful alignment between the name and the story enhances the overall believability of the scam.
  • Lastly, inconsistency between the name and the storyline can raise red flags and alert the victim to the possibility of deceit. A name that seems out of place can create suspicion and undermine the scammer’s efforts to build trust. Therefore, scammers meticulously select names that not only sound trustworthy but also fit seamlessly into the narrative they craft, thereby increasing the likelihood of successfully deceiving their victims​ (Oxford University Press)​​ (JSTOR)​.

But here is the thing – they mostly did this through dumb luck and trial and error!

Scammers do not know much, if anything, about real psychology, but they have an advantage, they can use trial and error to build up a ‘sense’ of what works and what does not. Their failures inform their successes.

The amateurs and untrained still use the same naming conventions that they did a decade ago. When you see a fake profile or identity with two first names or a man’s first name and a woman’s first name, these are convenient for scammers and have no special design. They do that because it allows them to use the profiles and pivot when needed, such as because of discovery.

However, in the more professional organizations in Africa and Southeast Asia, we see something different, where the criminals are more aware of the power of names and are choosing them more carefully.

We see the following characteristics emerge based on 10 years of data collected by SCARS:

  • Fake first names tend to be very common in the storyline’s place of origin – this helps to make them more difficult to search for, but also to lend more credibility to the story.
  • Fake first names tend to be 2 syllables – this makes them easier to say and remember.
  • Names tend to be consistent with the Fluency Effect cognitive bias.

Why They Use Common Names

Common names make it easier for scammers to lure in victims because they inherently carry a sense of familiarity and trust. When a victim encounters a name that is well-known or frequently encountered in their social or cultural context, it reduces initial skepticism and increases the likelihood of engagement. Familiar names like “John,” “Michael,” “Sarah,” or “Emily” do not raise red flags as they are associated with numerous real-life individuals who the victim might know or have positive associations with. This sense of normalcy helps scammers to blend in seamlessly, making their fake personas appear more legitimate and trustworthy​ (Oxford University Press)​​ (JSTOR)​.

Furthermore, common names are easier to remember and pronounce, which enhances the ease of communication and rapport building. This aligns with psychological findings that people tend to feel more comfortable and at ease when interacting with individuals whose names are easy to recall and say. A study by Newman et al. (2018) indicated that people with easily pronounceable names are often judged more positively. Scammers exploit this cognitive bias by using common names to create an immediate and subconscious sense of trust and comfort. By lowering the cognitive load on the victim, common names facilitate smoother interactions and faster emotional bonding, making the scam more effective and reducing the chances of the victim becoming suspicious​ (Oxford University Press)​​ (JSTOR)​.

In contrast, uncommon names might prompt the victim to pause and consider the authenticity of the person they are communicating with. Unusual names can evoke curiosity but also skepticism, as they stand out and may seem less genuine, especially if they don’t align with the scammer’s fabricated background story. This increased scrutiny can lead to the victim conducting further checks or questioning the scammer more rigorously, thereby decreasing the likelihood of successful manipulation. Hence, by choosing common names, scammers minimize these risks and enhance their ability to deceive their victims effectively.

The specific cognitive bias mentioned is the fluency effect or “processing fluency”. This bias refers to the ease with which information is processed and how this ease positively influences our perceptions and judgments. When we encounter names that are easy to remember and pronounce, our brains process this information more smoothly, which in turn makes us more likely to view these names, and by extension the individuals who bear them, more positively.

Research in cognitive psychology supports this idea. For instance, a study by Laham, Koval, and Alter (2012) demonstrated that names which are easier to pronounce are judged more positively than those that are harder to pronounce. This effect is attributed to the positive feelings that arise from the reduced cognitive effort required to process fluent names.

Similarly, another study by Newman et al. (2018) found that people with easily pronounceable names tend to be judged more favorably, supporting the notion that fluency influences our social evaluations. This phenomenon is leveraged by scammers who choose common, easily pronounceable names to create an immediate and subconscious sense of trust and comfort, thereby facilitating smoother interactions and quicker emotional connections with their victims.

The Role of Names in Emotional Bonding

  1. Familiarity and Trust: Scammers often choose names that are common or familiar within the cultural context of the victim. Familiar names can evoke a sense of safety and trust, making the scammer appear more relatable and less threatening.
  2. Cultural and Ethnic Connotations: Names that resonate with the victim’s cultural or ethnic background can create a stronger connection. This can lead to a perceived shared identity or common ground, facilitating deeper emotional bonding.
  3. Positive Associations: Names that have positive associations, such as those linked to admired public figures, historical heroes, or loved ones, can evoke favorable emotions. These positive feelings can be transferred to the scammer, making the victim more likely to form an emotional attachment.
  4. Perceived Character Traits: Certain names carry implicit character traits. For example, a name like “Michael” might be perceived as strong and reliable, while “Emily” might be seen as caring and friendly. These perceived traits can influence how the victim views the scammer and the relationship.
  5. Gender and Romantic Appeal: Gender-specific names that align with the victim’s romantic or sexual preferences can enhance attraction and attachment. Romantic-sounding names might be used to evoke a sense of passion or allure.

Do Certain Names Have Greater Power?

While the power of a name can vary based on individual experiences and cultural contexts, some general patterns can be observed:

  1. Common and Relatable Names: Names that are common within the victim’s cultural or social group tend to be more effective. They create an illusion of normalcy and trustworthiness, reducing suspicion.
  2. Names with Strong Positive Connotations: Names associated with positive emotions or significant personal experiences (such as those of loved ones) can have a greater impact. Victims may unconsciously transfer the positive feelings associated with these names to the scammer.
  3. Names with Aspirational Qualities: Names that evoke qualities the victim admires or aspires to (e.g., names that sound prestigious, exotic, or successful) can also be powerful. They can create a sense of desirability and admiration.
  4. Romantic or Attractive Names: For relationship scams specifically, names that sound romantic or attractive can enhance the perceived emotional and physical appeal of the scammer, deepening the emotional bond.

Scammers often research their targets to choose names that are likely to resonate most effectively. This personalized approach increases the chances of forming a strong emotional connection, which is essential for manipulating the victim.

Power of Names to Lure in Victims

The impact of names in luring victims and enhancing the success of relationship scams, while not extensively studied, is supported by broader research in psychology and social science that examines the influence of names on perception and behavior. Here are some relevant points and studies that indirectly support the idea:

Influence of Names on Perception

  1. Name Stereotypes: Research has shown that names carry stereotypes and can influence first impressions. A study by Mehrabian and Piercy (1993) found that certain names evoke specific traits and perceptions. For example, names perceived as attractive, successful, or trustworthy can create positive first impressions, which scammers can exploit to build trust quickly.
  2. Name-Value Effect: A study by Christenfeld, Phillips, and Glynn (1999) demonstrated that names associated with high-status individuals or positive cultural references are often rated more favorably. This suggests that scammers using names with positive associations might be perceived more favorably, aiding their manipulation efforts.

Social and Cultural Influence

  1. Cultural Relevance: Names that resonate within a particular cultural or social context can enhance relatability and trust. A study by Erwin and Calev (1984) highlighted that culturally familiar names tend to be more positively received and remembered. Scammers who choose culturally relevant names can create a stronger sense of connection with their victims.
  2. Interpersonal Attraction: The “similarity-attraction” hypothesis suggests that people are more likely to be attracted to others who they perceive as similar to themselves. Byrne (1971) found that similarity in names can foster a sense of shared identity and connection. Scammers can leverage this by selecting names that align with the victim’s cultural or social background, enhancing the perceived similarity and emotional bond.

Implicit Bias and Trust

  1. Implicit Associations: Studies on implicit bias, such as those using the Implicit Association Test (IAT), have shown that names can trigger automatic associations and biases (Greenwald et al., 1998). Names that activate positive implicit associations can make the scammer seem more trustworthy and appealing, facilitating manipulation.

Practical Applications and Observations

  1. Criminal Psychology: Practical observations in criminal psychology suggest that scammers and fraudsters often use names strategically to build rapport and trust. While specific studies on names in scams are limited, the broader understanding of social engineering tactics supports the idea that name choice is a deliberate and impactful tool in the scammer’s arsenal.

The Science Behind the Power of Names

While there are no direct studies on the specific impact of names used by scammers, broader research in psychology and social science provides insights into how names can influence perception and emotional bonding, indirectly supporting the idea that scammers strategically choose names to enhance their manipulation efforts.

  1. Name Stereotypes: Research indicates that names carry stereotypes and influence first impressions. For example, Mehrabian and Piercy (1993) found that certain names evoke specific traits and perceptions, such as attractiveness or trustworthiness. Scammers can exploit these stereotypes by using names that are perceived positively, making it easier to build trust and rapport with their victims.
  2. Name-Value Effect: The study by Christenfeld, Phillips, and Glynn (1999) demonstrated that names associated with high-status individuals or positive cultural references are rated more favorably. This suggests that scammers using names with positive associations can create a more favorable impression, aiding their deception.
  3. Cultural Relevance: Names that resonate within a particular cultural or social context can enhance relatability and trust. Erwin and Calev (1984) highlighted that culturally familiar names tend to be more positively received and remembered, suggesting that scammers who choose culturally relevant names can create a stronger sense of connection with their victims.
  4. Similarity-Attraction Hypothesis: Byrne’s (1971) research on the similarity-attraction hypothesis posits that people are more likely to be attracted to others who are similar to themselves. This can be extended to name similarity, where scammers may choose names that are culturally or socially similar to the victim’s background to foster a sense of shared identity and connection​ (Encyclopedia.com)​​ (Oxford University Press)​.

While specific studies directly linking names to the success of scams are limited, these related findings suggest that the strategic use of names can significantly enhance a scammer’s ability to manipulate and deceive their victims by creating positive first impressions, fostering trust, and enhancing emotional bonding.

Summary

In relationship scams, names play a crucial role in building emotional bonds. Scammers leverage names to create familiarity, trust, and attraction, carefully selecting them based on cultural relevance, positive associations, and perceived character traits. While the specific power of a name can vary, the strategic use of names significantly enhances the effectiveness of the scam by fostering a deeper and more trusting connection with the victim.

While direct studies on the impact of names in relationship scams are scarce, there is substantial evidence from related fields indicating that names significantly influence perception, trust, and emotional bonding. These findings support the idea that scammers can successfully manipulate victims by carefully choosing names that evoke positive associations and cultural relevance, thereby enhancing their credibility and effectiveness.

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Some of our articles discuss various aspects of victims. This is both about better understanding victims (the science of victimology) and their behaviors and psychology. This helps us to educate victims/survivors about why these crimes happened and to not blame themselves, better develop recovery programs, and to help victims avoid scams in the future. At times this may sound like blaming the victim, but it does not blame scam victims, we are simply explaining the hows and whys of the experience victims have.

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