(By Joe Koletar) We usually find it both normal and charming for a young child to make up an imaginary friend they may play with and even talk to. There comes a time, however, when little boys discard their “super-hero” costumes, and little girls discard their tin-foil “princess” tiaras.
Such behavior can frequently carry over into adulthood, especially among women, who use chemicals to alter the natural color of their hair or contours and complexion of their face. (In fairness to women, men seem to be catching up, especially in the realm of elective cosmetic surgery.) Women actually call such products “make up,” and many are quite skilled at using these techniques.
All of this is, within reason, well and good, but its character changes when we enter the realm of fraud. Those inclined toward unethical behavior seem to have a habit of “making up” an alternate persona – usually that of the kind, honest, giving, and trustworthy person. Consideration of such behavior brings us to an interesting point of analysis.
Is the new “persona” merely an artificial lure to draw in more victims, or is it deeper in terms of the individual psychology of the perpetrator? It is merely useful, or is it necessary? (The two options may actually be quite closely related.)
The fraudulent person often is generous in supporting good and worthy causes, but they rarely do so in private. (No anonymous donors here.) They get public recognition, media attention and, down the line, “character” references when they come up for sentencing. (Now, the fact that they did these good deeds with stolen money seems to be frequently overlooked, but that is another story.) Charity fraud and affinity fraud are pretty common, because the victims are emotionally vulnerable and therefore gullible. It’s been written that “A funny thing happens when a person with money meets a person with experience: The person with the experience ends up with all the money and the person with the money ends up with all the experience.”
But, what psychology drives such behavior? Is it purely utilitarian (“bait,”) or is there another element at play? One might wish to consider the worth of Leon Festinger regarding what he termed “cognitive dissonance” theory. The concept is somewhat simple. People who do bad things often have a psychological need to try to “balance” such actions with good actions, so they feel better about themselves. (Think of Robin Hood, and you may be getting close.) Colleague Daven Morrison points out that narcissism (a maladaptive need to make oneself the center of attention) may be involved. Or the “As-If” personality, where it’s hard to find the real person because of the illusions created by airs and affectations. Both types of issues can be found in damaged people who are insecure in themselves.
For those with an interest in fraudulent behavior, it is a challenging, and often murky, road to explore. Recognize the road surface, but take time to examine the murky psychological road-bed beneath it. That road-bed can be explored in A.B.C.s of Behavioral Forensics (Wiley, 2013).
Copyright – 2015
Joseph W. Koletar
Join us for more insights into behavioral forensics (behind fraud and similar white collar crimes) from the authors of A.B.C.s of Behavioral Forensics (Wiley, 2013): Sri Ramamoorti, Ph. D., Daven Morrison, M.D., and Joe Koletar, D.P.A., along with Vic Hartman, J.D. These distinguished experts come from the disciplines of psychology, medicine, accounting, law, and law enforcement to explain and prevent fraud. Because we are inspired to bring to light and address the fraud problems in today’s headlines, we encourage our readers to come back and revisit us regularly at BringingFreudtoFraud.com.