Criminal Strategy: Charm

If you’re in a transition zone and encounter someone who’s overly nice for seemingly no reason, be careful.

by posted on March 11, 2024
Deering Criminal Strategy 6

These are a number of crimes where the bad guy needs you to trust him so he can get you alone, get physically close to you, or get you to go along with some plan that’s going to lead you into danger. This can include rape, date rape, kidnapping, and even muggings or assaults where the criminal needs to get into a more advantageous place or position to carry out his plans. Even con-men who do not plan to use physical violence, but who will hurt you financially or otherwise, will employ some of these methods.

These kinds of criminals use specific strategies to try to earn your trust. Author and security expert Gavin de Becker lays out a list of these strategies in his excellent book The Gift of Fear, and we’re going to take a look at each strategy to show you what it looks and sounds like and how you can guard against it.

This particular strategy is simple: it’s being nice or being charming. The bad guy needs to gain your trust, so he’s going to work hard at putting you at ease and making you comfortable.

Of course, many people are nice by nature. But if a stranger approaches you when you’re somewhat isolated or in a transition zone, and he is weirdly going-out-of-his-way nice and charming, you should be in condition orange. He knows that many people are nice by nature and that niceness will put you at ease.

“We must learn and teach our children that niceness does not equal goodness,” de Becker writes. “Niceness is a decision, a strategy of social interaction. It is not a character trait.” In other words, being a good person is an inherent attribute. Being nice or charming is something you intentionally do or put on—which means it can be faked.

A criminal seeking to gain your trust, whether it’s for violent purposes or for some kind of con, will smile and go out of his way to help you. He might seem friendly in an over-the-top way.

Now, the odds are good that the random stranger who offers to help you load groceries into your car in a dark parking lot is just trying to be helpful. But take note of the time and place: You’re in a transition zone, relatively isolated, and a stranger has approached you unsolicited and is making friendly conversation. And he’s being overly nice. Why? Is he trying to build a level of comfort with you? Be particularly wary if he’s charming in addition to using any of the other criminal strategies in this series, such as ignoring the word “no” or forced teaming.

This strategy is perhaps the hardest to recognize, because offers of help are common and relatively normal. The key is the context.

How to Defend Against Charm
The word “charm” is particularly useful if you think of it as a verb: “This guy is trying to charm me” hits your brain differently than “this guy is so charming.” And the way to defend against this strategy is the same as it is for many other strategies: Be direct and firm. Reject his offer for help clearly and precisely. Yes, you’ll probably come off as rude. But who cares? You don’t know this person.

The longer you continue a conversation with a potentially bad actor, the more information he gathers about you, and the more invested you both become, at least subconsciously. You are in the middle of the interview with a “nice guy,” and the way to fail it is to see through the charm routine and explicitly turn him away.



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