On talk-radio during the week, I heard a caller describe how she'd been duped into giving her credit-card details to a fraudulent website, after which a series of unauthorised payments had been made. Since then, she'd been unable to make contact with anyone through the telephone number given on the site.
By her account, there was little to be suspicious about in a well-presented website that offered tickets to international sports events, recorded an address close to Victoria Station in London and apparently counted many well-known businesses amongst its clients.
I suspect I'd have fallen for this particular deception too. All the little details seem to add up (the mention of an address close to a well-known and reputable landmark strikes me as a particularly delicious stroke).
But what astonished me in the course of the discussion was how both she and the talk-show host seemed to hold out the hope that everything would somehow work out and that it was all one big misunderstanding. The clincher seemed to be that the company behind the site was a 'family-business, which has been offering this service for over twenty years'. Even when taken amongst all of the other lies that had been pulled apart during this woman's efforts to track down the people who had taken her money, this deception had somehow remained intact. Victim and counsellor alike seemed to think that wicked deception was somehow beyond a family business.
But ask anyone who's fallen foul of a family firm that goes by the name of Borges, Corleone, Kray or Soprano about family values and you'll likely hear some very unfamily-friendly language in return.
Now there's a lesson in there for any of us who are building brands at a distance (and not only for those of us who are inveigled into handing over our financial details to plausible strangers). In telling the truth to our customers, we can learn from the lies that crooks tell as they wangle their way into our confidence.
Clearly, a sense of permanent location helps; as does some reference to a shared landmark (the old school-network seems to work particularly well in this way). But the thing that seems to reassure us most of all when we're introduced to someone for the first time is that they have ties to the community. And what stronger ties than family ties?
When we buy from someone we don't know, we must be quickly able to situate them in our own landscape. Otherwise, their 'foreign-ness' gets in the way of our building trust and we turn instead to the angel we know or devil we think we know.