Wednesday, August 26, 2015


... or phishing.
One thing every predatory criminal needs is privacy. The quality of privacy depends on the type of crime. Beating a member of your gang that you suspect of breaking the rules might go better if the other members can watch, but you'll certainly limit civilian and police witnesses. The quantity of privacy varies as well. Rape and torture murders can take days, muggers may only need privacy for a few seconds.

There are only a handful of general strategies to get some one to a private place. You can intimidate them, trick them, lure them, follow them or wait for them.

Following and intimidation rely on assessing the victim, but very little intelligence gathering is needed. You want someone smaller, weaker, less confident to intimidate, someone oblivious to follow. Those are instantly obvious. The other strategies, usually, will have an element of intelligence gathering.

Not always. Just like fishing you can try to match the lure to the specific fish you want or you can cast a wide net. In "Think like a Freak" the authors pointed out that it might seem stupid that the Nigerian scam emails you get actually say they're from Nigeria. Everyone's heard of the Nigerian scam, right? But when you cast a net that wide, sending thousands of e-mails, you want to weed out the bad prospects as early as possible. If I send 1000 emails saying I need help getting millions out of the Nigerian bank, the 995 who recognize the scheme and don't answer have allowed me to concentrate on the five that might fall for it. Efficient use of time.

One personal version. "Hey, you from America? I love America. You know, there's a shrine that's not on the tourist map. It's a little far..." Which, could be targeted to the person trying to go native and be different from the other tourists, but works just as well if you ask every tourist you see.

When the isolation strategy is targeted, there will be some element of intelligence gathering. Surveillance is a possibility, but following someone for days to figure out his or her routine should be rare. Very labor intensive, far more evidence of premeditation, and I can't speak for other people, but I always thought the Hollywood cliche of the target who has the same meal at the same restaurant at the same time every day pretty damn unlikely.

Most intel gathering comes in a simple conversation-- the phone call claiming to be from the IRS is a big one now. Ted Bundy would strike up a conversation with a woman in the library on campus. In any first conversation at a university, three things come up: "Where are you from?" "What's your major?" and "Which dorm are you in?"

It's rapport building. Knowing your hometown tells me about background we have in common. Your major is a big clue both to the possibility of common interests and how you see your future. Where you live on campus tells me your socio-economic background and how social you are. But Bundy used the routine questions for something simpler.

If you ask a target at the library where the target lives, you can scout the loneliest place between the library and the home.

It can be hard to spot someone gathering intel. Like many long-term crimes (e.g. creating a relationship so the predator gets the victims home and access to bank accounts and can groom a victim), the criminal excels at imitating the steps of a normal relationship. Ted Bundy used the normal conversation scripts to extract the information he wanted. There are a finite number of tools, good guys and bad guys use the exact same tools.

The best exercise, from my point of view, is to practice it from the other end. Strike up conversations with the intent of finding out as much as you can about the other person while giving up as little as possible about yourself. Don't lie, just focus the conversation back on the other. Not only will very few people notice you aren't answering, they'll be flattered to be the center of attention. And they'll spill their guts.
Seeing how easy this is will help you recognize when you are on the receiving end. It will also teach you how rarely it is necessary to share. And, weirdly, the focus on others can even make you more popular.


Kai Jones said...

I have used this tactic on many first dates, and also with new co-workers. Very effective.

Tiff said...

Essential technique for cops. :)

Tammy said...

The interviewing behavior is a skill young women should be exposed to and practice. As most sexual assaults are committed by a threat known to the victim, this is dead-on accurate. This is one way predators escalate the relationship. Unfortunately, it works.

Jim said...

As you said -- if you turn the conversation back to the other person at just about every opportunity, they'll almost never stop answering. We all like to talk about ourselves... It's important to recognize when this is going on, and then determine why. Maybe it's an innocent case of someone trying to strike up an acquaintance, maybe it's "just" a salesman trying to size up targets... or it can be more sinister. And the lines can be very blurry...

Lisa said...

The sad part about all of this is that while it's true, and you're absolutely right that interviewing is a useful technique for predators, you also have to contend with the fact that most likely, the majority of people that "interview" you in your life are actually going to be (as noted above) new coworkers, first dates, and people trying to get to know you and put you at ease for completely benign (or at least, not malicious) reasons.

The positive predictive value of being able to recognize the interviewing technique, therefore, still isn't very high. There have to be other considerations; for instance, this person is interviewing me and now I have to walk home alone... this person is interviewing me and he/she is also checking out everyone on the street behind us... etc.

People aren't keyed in to the possibility that it could be bad because they've been interviewed a thousand times in their life and it has always turned out fine. If we all lived in a less social society (this person is interviewing me and rode 15 miles out to my house where I live all alone...?) we'd be inherently more suspicious and it would work less well.

If every time someone interviews you eye them suspiciously and tell them to go away, you're probably going to be alone a lot. So I like the idea of teaching people how to do their own interviewing: not just because it teaches them how to do it, but then if you turn the tables and interview your interviewer, get nowhere or else get bad vibes, then you've actually learned something. And if you do it well, you learn to make friends.

Of course, if they're smart, they'll feed you lies right back. And this too is sad, and reminds me of The Princess Bride: "Clearly, it can't be the wine in front of you!"

Maija said...

I'm with Lisa. Most people are indeed nice, well meaning folk, and though 'interviewing' can be used for ill, it would be a shame to see the answer to this turning into making people clam up and become afraid of talking to anyone.

I love the idea of teaching folks how to turn the tables ... perhaps as a side effect even creating better conversationalists in the process! People who actually show interest, ask questions, listen, instead of talking about themselves all the time!

Anonymous said...

I've actually always found it unsettling-not flattering-when someone tried to ask me multiple questions about myself while not giving anything away about themself.

Jim said...

I think there can be one simple guide for sorting the relatively innocuous interviews from the more sinister ones... Once you recognize that it's going on -- not always easy! -- simply ask yourself "Why is this person interested?" If you can figure out why they're interested... you can decide for yourself how long to let the interview go on, or how much of an interview of your own you want to do.

And if you can't figure out what they're after? Well, that's probably a sign that you might not want to let that one go on much longer...

Anonymous said...

I would love to learn more about the tactics this kind of people, including crooks, use.
I'm pretty sure these techniques can befound in pickup artistry, NLP, hypnosis, etc.

Ymar Sakar said...

I'm pretty sure these techniques can befound in pickup artistry, NLP, hypnosis, etc.

Same as NLP more or less. More casual, less about conditioning.

Can be used to re integrate a person who has been cast out of a party's social group too, or to make shy people talk about themselves or loosen up.