Doug Shadel and Karla Pak


The Psychology of Consumer Fraud.

Doug Shadel and Karla Pak worked together on this research project. The dissertation studies financial exploitation of older consumers through the lens of social construction by scrutinizing the relationship between the sender of the message (con man) and the receiver of the message (victim) and by studying the differences between victims and non-victims. 

This inquiry asked two questions:

  • What kinds of dialogue tactics do con men use to construct a social environment that causes victims to turn over their money to con men?
  • How do victims of investment and lottery fraud, the two biggest kinds of fraud impacting older consumers, differ psychologically, demographically and experientially from non-victims?

To address the first question, the dissertation analyzed hundreds of undercover audiotapes secured by 12 different law enforcement agencies. Dialogue tactics used in this interaction between the con man and the victim was coded and logged to determine which appear most frequently and to identify the variety of tactics employed in particular fraud schemes. The analysis revealed the forces at work that shape the relationship between the con and the victim in order to develop better tools in the marketplace to warn consumers how to avoid fraud.

To address the second question, an extensive survey instrument was administered to over 300 individuals, roughly half of whom had been victimized by investment or lottery fraud and the other half of whom have not been victimized at all. The survey results were analyzed to determine how victims differ from non-victims on a range of important psychological and experiential questions. It is hoped that such data can move us in the direction of developing some kind of early warning system for friends and family members of potential victims to protect them from future exploitation.