Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 160, Issue 3, pp 641–656 | Cite as

How Could You be so Gullible? Scams and Over-Trust in Organizations

  • Hervé LarocheEmail author
  • Véronique Steyer
  • Christelle Théron
Original Paper


Trust is a key ingredient of business activities. Scams are spectacular betrayals of trust. When the victim is a powerful organization that does not look vulnerable at first sight, we can suspect that this organization has developed an excessive trust, or over-trust. In this article, we take over-trust as the result of the intentional production of gullibility by the scammer. The analysis of a historically famous scam case, the Elf “Great Sniffer Hoax,” suggests that the victim is made gullible by the scammer through a range of seduction and protection maneuvers that prevent the victim from developing doubts and suspicions. An integrated framework of the production of gullibility in organizations is proposed in order to further our understanding of over-trust. We discuss how these insights might be extended, beyond the case of scams, to more ordinary contexts of business activities.


Case study Gullibility Scams Secrecy Trust 



No funding was used for this research.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

All authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed Consent

No informed consent was needed for this research.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hervé Laroche
    • 1
    Email author
  • Véronique Steyer
    • 2
  • Christelle Théron
    • 3
  1. 1.ESCP EuropeParis Cedex 11France
  2. 2.i3 - CRG, Ecole Polytechnique, CNRSPalaiseauFrance
  3. 3.TSM-Research, Université Toulouse Capitole, CNRSToulouse Cedex 9France

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