How to Avoid Being Taken for a Sucker

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We've all been there. Every bone in our body is telling us that it's a bad idea. We should say "no" and walk out. But we don't. We sign up, click that suspicious link, and pay our money. Sometimes we don't even know what happened.
What happened is that we were on auto-pilot. Our behavior was controlled by someone else creating an automatic response. Is it ethical to use such tactics? That's a question for another post. This posts going to look at some of the ways we get suckered into doing things we don't (or shouldn't) want to do. And once we know how this happens we can learn how to say "no".

Tactic #1: The lowball. This is a particularly dirty trick. It's used at car dealerships all over the country and other places of ill-repute. What happens is a purchase incentive is promised to the "mark". This could be a lower than normal price, an additional guarantee, or something else that seems almost too good to be true.

Once the deal is made - but before the official signing of the papers - the original incentive that stimulated the purchase is removed. The salesperson says something like, "That price was a mistake, the actual price is... " By this time you have committed to the sale. To be consistent you (must) go through with the purchase.

Tactic #2: The small promise. If I can get you to agree to something small, later on you will be more inclined to comply with a much larger request. One example of this is how certain door-to-door sales tactics work. In a personal account by Dr. Robert Cialdini he recalls one such implementation.

Basically a scantily clad attractive woman knocks on his door. She asks him if he can take a short survey. He agrees. She then launches into questions about his entertainment choices, what restaurants he eats at, what movies and theater he sees, etc... He embellishes his story a bit to appear more attractive to the woman. At the end of the survey she launches into her presentation, "Since you enjoy all these activities you should know that with ***** you could save $100's." By this time what can he do? To say no would mean telling her he was lying, or at least break his level of consistency. He couldn't help it. He signed up.

Tactic #3: The scarcity approach. Here is one that even the most prepared person can't help but fall for. People tend to want something more if it is rare. Not really news to anyone who collects baseball cards, coins, or antiques. This is especially true if the item has just recently become more scarce.

Another story from Robert Cialdini recounts how his brother paid his way through college. His brother would buy a used car from the paper one weekend, and the next sell the same car for a profit. He used a very tricky tactic here. His advertisements were very well worded and generated some responses. Instead of arranging to meet the prospective buyers at different times, he would schedule them all for the same time and day.

The first buyer on the scene would look over the car, asking about this or that. But when the second buyer showed up - the pressure was on. If buyer 1 didn't purchase right now, he would lose the opportunity forever, because buyer 2 was already here and would take it if he didn't. Once buyer 3 was present the car was all but sold. The fear of loss, losing out on the object of desire (the car), was too much for the buyers to resist. The car usually sold by the time buyer 2 had his chance.

So how are you going to combat these tactics of influence?

When I am faced with the scarcity approach, the best thing I do is realize 1 of 2 things. 1-Almost nothing is a one time offer. If I can get it here and now, I can probably get it somewhere else at another time. And 2-I ask why I want this item. Is it just because it's rare, or is it because I really need it.

With the consistency tactics I choose to refuse to play. This is hard to do, especially in a society that values consistency and looks down on people who change their mind frequently or are indecisive. But what works the best, and completely turns the tables on those using this tactic is to simply refuse. Tell them to their face you do not accept what they are trying to do, and walk away. If they try to lowball you, refuse to sign until the original incentive is back.

Now you know 3 ways that certain immoral people will try to take advantage of you. They are trying to turn you into a "sucker." Now you can fight back.

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