The gift of the gab: Are rental scammers skilled at the art of persuasion?

by   Sophie van der Zee, et al.

Rental scams are a type of advance fee fraud, in which the scammer tries to get a victim to pay a deposit to rent an apartment of which the scammer pretends to be the landlord. We specifically focused on fraudulent long-term rentals advertised in the UK on Craigslist. After a victim responds to the scammer's advertisement, the scammer attempts to persuade them to transfer money without having seen the property. We were interested in which persuasion techniques scammers use, and in assessing their skill at the art of persuasion. During a period of three weeks, we scraped 2112 letting advertisements, identified the fraudulent advertisements and had 44 conversations of around 4 or 5 emails each with the scammers. Our analysis indicates that Cialdini`s marketing-based social persuasion strategies, such as liking, appeal to authority, and the need for commitment and consistency are extensively implemented by rental scammers. Of Stajano and Wilson's scam-based persuasion strategies, an appeal to sympathy (i.e., kindness) and need for greed were commonly used. We identified two further social persuasion strategies: establishing credibility and removing objections. At a superficial level, rental scammers seem skilled at their job, because they mimic genuine landlords and use a range of effective persuasion techniques. However, when examining their emails more closely, we see they often use pre-scripted emails, their mimicry is often incompetent, and they have a lack of language skills and cultural knowledge that may tip people off. They appear to be the criminal equivalent of a boilerhouse sales operation, a modus operandi that has not previously been studied by cybercrime researchers.


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