Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, April 16, 2021

Book review: Why are we so susceptible to world full of scammers?

Yeah, says who? The answer likely depends on who’s asking but the outcome is still the same: Once was, if it was a parent or teacher, you took a deep breath before replying. Now, as an adult, you still want to think before answering.

Is it you who says or, as in the new book “Hype: How Scammers, Grifters, and Con Artists Are Taking Over the Internet – And Why We’re Following” by Gabrielle Bluestone, is it someone who’s out for your money?

Who remembers Fyre Festival?

If you don’t, Fyre Festival was an exclusive, multiday celebration featuring bands, brands and fun. Attendees were told they’d be shuttled by private transportation to a lush Bahamanian island, luxurious accommodations, lavish food and drink, and elbow-rubbing with stars. Cost: up to $250,000 for the biggest, most impressive package.

Social media users went wild; who’d even think of missing a party like that?  But if anyone ever noticed for a second that it all sounded too good to be true, they were right: Ill-conceived and not-so-organized by Billy McFarland, who was later duly punished for yet another scheme he’d launched, Fyre Festival was a scam.

So why did so many people – folks who plainly knew better – fall for it?

The answer, as Bluestone shows, lies both in psychology and marketing, both of which were expertly used for Fyre Festival.

We are social creatures, and we tend to flock to where we think people are – especially if that place is online. As a species, we absolutely suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out) and from neophilia (the love of new things), and we crave the validation of belonging and the feeling we get when it’s boosted by perceived exclusivity. As addicting as they are, our smartphones are also to blame because they meet many of our psychological needs.

Moreover, we humans have been like this for centuries. So beware – but get used to it.

“Hype” is a good choice if all you want is to read something that’s very entertaining. With its focus on the Fyre Festival scam, this book is like viewing a metaphorical train wreck from the caboose: It’s a safe enough distance away, but still scary.

Mostly, it’s scary because the author, a former Vice journalist, shows how easy it is for even the savviest person to get scammed. We are imminently dupe-able; all it takes is someone who’s glib and can manipulate the system, and we’re done.

But not quite. Bluestone shows how scams hurt everyone, not just the target. Scammers get free stuff all the time, and who do you suppose pays for that eventually? Faux restaurants hurt real eateries. Folks lose their life savings. Common items are inflated with unearned importance, becoming the Thing-Of-The-Moment for big bucks and clicks.

So is this book a warning?  

Yes, but as Bluestone shows, it’ll never be enough. We’ll always be conned because we’re human and this book proves that. Forewarned, though, is forearmed, so grab “Hype” and see what it says.

Terri Schlichenmeyer’s reviews of business books are read in more than 260 publications in the U.S. and Canada.