At a recent fraud conference I was exchanging contact with new business acquaintances and colleagues and it occurred to me how much trust that we place in people when we can see them face-to-face.
Not once did I find myself looking at a card and wondering: "Is that really this person's name?" or "Do they truly work for the company that they claim?"
So why is that? Perhaps it is because many of us consider that we are a good judge of people when we can see them, how they look and how they behave. Perhaps it is also because of the safety of numbers: in a crowd of like-minded professionals it might be easy to fool a few but it is high risk trying to dupe everybody in terms of who you are and what you do.
Organizations that specialize in penetration testing, however, will tell you how people and businesses can be duped. Often this is down to an inherent level of trust, or the leveraging of normal or expected behaviour.
Say you dressed in the colours and style of a well-known pizza delivery firm and showed up at a big business front gate or Reception at lunch time on a Friday, quoting the name of a senior person in the building and carrying a stack of warm pizzas. It is highly likely that you would be allowed through perimeter security. Who would want to stop the food getting to the bosses?
Individuals and businesses need to be on their guard against confidence tricks of this nature. The same is true of misrepresented credentials.
If you’ve ever seen The Apprentice (the UK version, not the one with Donald Trump!), you will have seen Lord Alan Sugar and his advisors interrogate contestants about their CVs, which often turn out to be exaggerated. It may play like typical overblown TV, but recruitment firms will reveal that the vast majority of candidates will, to some extent, either over-state some aspect of their capabilities, experience, qualifications, tenure or reason for leaving a prior job, or will omit negative elements.
So if people are habitually lying about themselves and their background, why do we still take new acquaintances and colleagues at face value?
It may be asserted - and many recruitment firms bear this out - that people are less likely to misrepresent themselves in person than over the telephone or in writing. But that’s information criminals use against us. They leverage our trust.
Should we therefore view everybody we meet with an unhealthy dose of scepticism? I certainly hope not, but we should bear in mind the risks and prevalence of misrepresentation. Most of us would not dream of divulging personal or financial information to someone we had just met on a plane or a train, for example, and equally we should apply similar restraint to somebody who suddenly appears at our front door or whose contact arrives unexpectedly through digital media.
As for those new acquaintances and colleagues I meet along the way at conferences and meetings, I do often check a little into their background and their other connections before adding them to my list of contacts. A few times I have been surprised, and disappointed, to find that someone has not been all they seem.