Amygdala Hijack Scams | How to Defend Your Portfolio

The Amygdala is the part of the brain responsible for dealing with emotional regulation, learning, memory, and sexual arousal.

The amygdala’s response can help us to react quickly when we perceive physical danger, contributing to our overall safety.

Unfortunately, while a fast response is designed to protect us from dangers, this defense mechanism can be hijacked to induce hasty responses that are not in our best interest.

In this regard, scammers are adept at exploiting our emotions to manipulate our decisions through a powerful tactic known as the “Amygdala Hijack” or “Emotional Hijack”

Amygdala hijack

In his book “Emotional Intelligence” the psychologist Daniel Goleman states:

” The architecture of the brain gives the amygdala a privileged position as an emotional sentinel, able to hijack the brain”

” The hijacking occurs in an instant, triggering this reaction crucial moments before the neocortex, the thinking brain, has had a chance to glimpse fully what is happening, let alone decide if it is a good idea.”

Fortunately, by reading about Amygdala Hijacks you are already aware of how this tactic can be used by scammers against you. So the probability for you to fall for an amygdala hijack has already decreased.

Still, there are some other steps you can take to shield yourself and your portfolio from malicious emotional hijack attempts.

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Amygdala Hijack Sequence

During an amygdala hijack the following sequence of events occurs:

Triggering Stimulus (Emotional Tripwire) An external or internal stimulus is perceived as a potential threat or a source of strong emotion. The scammers will use emails (the most common way), text messages or even direct calls to trigger this first step of the sequence. 

Not to make it too complicated to understand, we will focus here in how the amygdala reacts to potential threats. But note that the amygdala hijacks take place in other contexts, like romance scams.

Amygdala Activation: When the amygdala detects a potential threat, it rapidly evaluates the situation and assesses whether it’s safe, dangerous or urgent. If it interprets the stimulus as a threat, it sends out a distress signal to various parts of the brain. 

Autonomic Nervous System Response: The amygdala’s distress signal triggers the release of stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, into the bloodstream. This activates the body’s fight-or-flight response, causing physiological changes, such as increased heart rate, heightened alertness, and heightened emotional arousal. 

Cognitive Impairment: The amygdala hijack can disrupt the brain’s normal cognitive processes, specifically in the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for rational decision-making and impulse control. This impairment can lead to impulsive, emotional, and often irrational reactions.

Strong Emotional Response: As a result of the amygdala’s influence, the individual may experience intense emotions, such as fear, anger, or panic, which can override rational thought and decision-making. This can lead to impulsive actions or outbursts that are driven by the emotional response rather than thoughtful consideration.

Now that you know about the amygdala hijack sequence, you need to learn about the methods used by the scammer to trigger the stimulus, that is the first step of the sequence.

Amygdala Hijack Scam Types

There are three main types of amygdala hijack types that the scammers use to take advantage of unsuspecting victims: Scarcity, Authority and Credibility.

In most cases Scarcity are used together with Authority and Credibility emotional tripwires to get an impulsive and irrational response from the victim.

Scarcity Scams

When using scarcity as an amygdala hijack, in most cases the scammers do try to induce a sense of urgency and scarcity of time to induce an fast and irrational response. 

For example: 

– You will lose permanent access to your cryptocurrency wallet unless you do this or that immediately!

– Thanks for your X thousand Euros payment. The amount will be credited in short. For any questions please contact number 123 456 789

Trust Wallet Scam

Note in the example above the 2-day limit to verify the cryptocurrency wallet.

And the ‘Go to verification’ link will lead the victim to: 

– A website where the victim is prompted to enter the cryptocurrency wallet seed phrase.

– Or to a website with a malicious payload that will be used to install malware to the victim’s computer or to trigger a Man-in-the-middle attack.

These scammers send thousands of similar emails because they know that eventually the amygdala hijack will work and someone will fall for it.

Man-in-Middle Attack
Learn how MitM attacks are used to steal your login and 2FA credentials
MEDIUM

Authority Scams

Authority scams specifically target the perception of power and official status and might involve threats or coercion based on the scammer’s claimed position.

Authority scams exploit the human tendency to trust and respect figures of authority.

For example: 

– Your request to open a PayPal Business account has been processed. If you haven’t signed up, call immediately to number 987 654 321 

Paypal scam

Note that in the example above, the scammer uses both authority (PayPal) and scarcity (48 hours) to try to induce fear and a fast response. 

A fast response is very beneficial for the scammer because the less time we have to asses the situation, the bigger the chance they will have to push the victim to give away personal or financial information.

Credibility Scams

Credibility scams often rely on the victim’s willingness to trust seemingly reputable sources.

For example: 

– Tweet from fake profile for famous person Z: We are giving away X amount of cryptocurrency to celebrate event ABC. First come, first serve

– YouTube direct message from fake profile from famous content creator U: As a log time subscriber and follower, I have decided to give your the opportunity to invest in this new product that I have launched…

Vitalik Buterin impersonation

Unfortunately, there are far too many people falling for this kind of credibility scam.

Before the scam is reported to the social platform, tens if not hundreds of people fall for the scam, click on the link, and become a victim.

How to Prevent Amygdala Hijack Scams

Fortunately, the more we know the lower the probability that we fall for an amygdala hijack scam.

– Education: Learn about common scammer tactics. Understand that scammers use fear, urgency, and emotional triggers to make you act without thinking.

– Stay Calm: When you receive a message, call, or email that induces panic or fear, take a moment to breathe and calm yourself. Scammers want you to act impulsively.

– Verify Requests: Scammers often create a sense of urgency. Before taking any action, independently verify the request. Do some research on the internet because it is quite probable that someone else has already gone through the same situation and has posted the experience.

– Trust Your Gut: If something doesn’t feel right or if you have doubts about a message or caller, trust your instincts. Does it feel too good to be true? Does it feel suspicious in any way? 

– Don’t Share Personal Information: Be cautious about sharing personal information, especially in response to unsolicited requests. Scammers often pose as trusted entities to steal your data. 

→ If a website or someone does ask for cryptocurrency wallet private keys or seed phrases, it is a scam. 

→ If a website or someone does ask for your ID, social number, or credit card details, triple-verify that it is a valid request. 

→ By default, say NO and politely explain that you need to do some verifications before providing any personal information. 

→ Nobody has the right to push you to provide information in a hurry.

Additionally, consider the following:

– Stay Informed: Keep up to date with the latest scam tactics. Scammers are constantly evolving their methods, so staying informed is crucial.

– Share with Others: Warn friends and family about the latest scams. Sometimes, a simple heads-up can prevent someone from falling for a scam.

Amygdala Hijack Scams Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, enabling 2FA adds an extra layer of security to your online accounts, making it more difficult for scammers to access them, even if they obtain your password during an amygdala hijack attempt.

Report the suspicious activity to relevant authorities or organizations. It’s also a good practice to share your experience with friends and family to raise awareness.

Yes, individuals can train themselves to recognize emotional manipulation and respond more rationally in high-pressure situations. Education and awareness are key.

While there are no specific technologies for identifying amygdala hijacks, general cybersecurity tools, awareness training, and common-sense precautions can help detect and prevent scam attempts.

If you suspect you’ve been scammed, act quickly. Change your passwords, contact your financial institution to stop any unauthorized transactions, and report the incident to your local authorities and relevant online platforms.

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