How Predators Fool Even the Smartest Agents

Getting people to say “yes” is the ultimate goal of any salesperson. Many sales trainers will recommend that you ask for a small “yes” and then build on that by getting more small “yes”.

You can start with a simple request, perhaps by filling out a simple questionnaire. By getting people to make a simple decision or take a small action, you can quite easily establish a new psychological “commitment”.

Implement the “foot-in-the-door method”

Once you have that initial commitment, no matter how small, it’s surprisingly easy to build on that foundation and make ever-increasing demands. It’s called the “foot in the door method,” an approach based on trust and consistency, and it works.

To prove this point, a group of researchers in the 1960s called on a group of housewives, asking if they could answer a few simple questions about household products. Then, a few days later, I called to ask if they could send five employees to inspect the contents of their kitchen cupboards. Research found that twice as many people answered “yes” if they answered these simple questions on the first call.

We also find it much easier to say yes to those we have good feelings for and who are like us. In other words, we love them! That’s why it’s almost impossible to refuse to buy Tupperware from a friend or relative!

Guess what? Predators use these same tactics

Predators and sex offenders in particular, work very hard to be sympathetic and use the same “foot in the door” techniques to search for their next victim.

Much like sales professionals, the predator seeks out those little yeses, but this time to test and probe, looking for clues as to your willingness to be directed and controlled.

“The man in the underground car park who approaches a woman as she puts groceries in the trunk of her car and offers to help her, may be a gentleman or he may be conducting an interview,” suggests Gavin De Becker, in his book The gift of fear. “The woman whose shoulders tense slightly, who looks intimidated and says shyly, ‘No, thank you, I think I understand’ may be his victim.”

De Becker then suggests: “Conversely, the woman who turns to him, raises her hands in a stop position and says directly, ‘I don’t want your help’, is less likely to be his victim.

You may not be able to spot their deception

Offenders are also professional liars, really good at what they do because they’ve had a lot of practice over the years. They lied to themselves and everyone else in their lives. According to most experts who work with sex offenders, their lying is not only difficult to detect, but often very convincing.

“Even the guilty liar probably won’t look away much, because liars know that everyone expects to be able to detect deception in this way,” observed Paul Ekman, an American psychologist who pioneered the study of emotions. “Amazingly, people continue to be misled by liars clever enough not to look away.”

“’Refusing to hear no’ is a signal that someone is trying to control or refusing to give it up. With strangers, even those with the best intentions; never, ever give in on the issue of no, because that sets the stage for more policing efforts,” De Becker said. “If you let someone talk you out of saying no, you might as well be carrying a sign that said: You are in charge.”

When using this, be aware of potential issues:

Predators who harm you will seek to control the narrative. They will make positive statements and look for small yeses to ultimately get what they want – to get you to a place where they feel safe enough to mug or rob you.

Obviously, not all conversations will happen like this next example, but that said, let’s look at this scenario:

A potential predator calls you from a cell phone and the conversation goes like this:

  • From the street, I like the house at 123 Main Street. Do you know the neighborhood?
  • Are you available to show me this house?
  • I am pre-approved by XYZ bank. Bring you the papers, because I might want to make an offer.
  • Then the last question: I’m actually here in the neighborhood. Can we meet now?

If you’ve made it this far and found yourself answering with a series of small yeses, you better be ready to redirect and take control, or it might not look pretty.

The agent responds in kind:

  • Sure, I’d like to show you the house, but first I have to go through my office to get the keys, okay?
  • Could you please bring your pre-approval letter?
  • I’d like to meet you at the office first so we can review your pre-approval, okay?
  • Then the last question: Before we can meet, please send me a copy of your photo ID – management likes to know who we are with and where we will be, for the safety of everyone involved, in case something goes wrong.

A prospect’s reaction to this request is important. If the final question is met with a lot of bluster and outrage, that could be a big red flag.

Take steps to protect yourself in the field

The “foot in the door” is a well-known and effective sales tool, unless misdirected by someone who means you harm. Never let a strange perspective take over. Keep in mind that most predators are accomplished and very convincing liars.

Always take precautions. Do not encounter strange prospects at the property. Always meet at your desk or somewhere neutral like Starbucks.

Always ask for and verify photo ID of odd prospects, preferably before you meet – that way you have a chance to review relevant information.

Remember that many of those arrested and charged this year with assaulting real estate agents were convicted sex offenders who managed to insert themselves into the lives of real estate agents.

All of the measures we’ve discussed here are preventative, so take proper precautions when encountering strange leads. Here are some suggestions.

Does your broker have a security policy for its agents? If not, why not? Visit the NAR site for more information on safety courses and safety.

Disclosure: The author is the founder of Verify Photo ID, an app that verifies prospects’ IDs and compares them to a national database of sex offenders.

James G. Williams