In 2005 or 2006, I fell for one of those email scams. I was working in my first job at a sports apparel company. This was sort of like the “I’m a Nigerian Prince and I need you to hold money for me,” but it was a little more sophisticated in that the scammer was ordering actual product from us. They went through all of the proper channels and ordered a few boxes of t-shirts according to our requirements. A month or two after the order was placed, we were notified by the credit card company and FedEx that there were no funds to pay for the t-shirts and that the FedEx account was fraudulent. I had been scammed.
One of my favorite quotes from book 10 of this year’s Books of Titans reading list came from Richard Feynman and is applicable here:
“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”
The Power of Persuasion by Robert Levine goes through all of the different ways that marketers, salespeople, and even cult leaders use persuasion to get you to do things that are against your best interest or that unnecessarily cost you money. The hope is that by identifying these tactics, you’ll be less susceptible to falling for them. We get glimpses into the worlds of pyramid schemes, cults, and car salesmen. Levine also writes about studies showing how most people think these things only apply to other people. Only other people could fall for these types of obvious scams. Well, as the story above shows, I’m just as susceptible as anyone else.
The best persuaders are those for whom you are not aware they are persuading you. In this, Levine offers ways to identify persuasion approaches and to think critically before acting. Written in 2003, most of the examples presented in the book were ones I had heard of before. I’m not sure if Levine did a masterful job of pulling together these stories or if this book has had such an impact that the examples are now common knowledge.
This is a helpful book, and even more so as persuaders have more data to work from in terms of our online behavior.