Do you believe in psychics? Many people turn to psychics and mediums for advice or to communicate with dead loved ones. Others view psychics as just another form of entertainment. Whatever the case, psychics are very skilled at making people believe what they say. This is done by applying a method called cold reading. By now you may be guessing what the psychic and the social engineer have in common. Both use techniques such as using social cues, making broad statements, and using probability to create the illusion of credibility. There are many overlapping skills used by psychics and social engineers; in this article, we’ll consider the most common tactics.

The Psychic and the Social Engineer

Sell It With Conviction

Whatever your pretext is, sell it with conviction. You’ll never see a psychic who seems uncertain of their abilities. By displaying confidence, they instill confidence in others. Even when they guess something incorrectly, they dismiss it as the other person having a “suppressed memory” or something that hasn’t happened yet. Cold reading expert Ian Rowland, says “cold reading is a win-win Game’…psychics are right even when they’re wrong.”

Similarly, a professional social engineer must exhibit confidence and never break pretext. Professional social engineers encounter many instances when they are questioned by their targets to the point it seems that they will not get any of the flags, or information, that they’re after. However by having conviction and sticking with their pretext, they have often found that in the end the target gives up some valuable information.

General Statements and Probability

Instead of asking questions, make general and probable statements. For example, a psychic may say: “I see an indication of a health problem, you’ve taken steps to address it but you’re still not happy with the results.” At this point the person is allowed a chance to respond and give more details about their condition. The chances are that the person may have had some type of health problem. If they say they have not been dealing with a health problem, then the psychic can ask if they know a friend or family member who has. There is a great probability that the answer to that question is ‘yes,’ then they will be asked for further details. The point is to elicit information which can then be used to the psychic’s advantage.

Similarly, a professional social engineer sounds more convincing when making a statement rather than asking a question. While delivering an IT-based pretext, instead of asking the question: “Are you having problems with your computer?” It is more convincing if it’s delivered as statement: “We’re calling because your computer has not been backed up.” Using general statements relatable to the target enables the social engineer to elicit valuable information casually.

Active Listening and Observation

Cold reading also requires you to be an excellent listener. Any piece of information provided can be extremely helpful. It can either help you progress to the next step or be saved for an extra “hit” later on. In order to extract and remember valuable pieces of information, you have to be involved in active listening. Meaning, you listen with the intent to understand rather than to respond. By not thinking of what you’re going to say next as the person speaks, you allow yourself to be fully immersed in what they’re saying. This allows you to pick up on what experts call “hook points” which can be used later in the conversation. As James C. Collins said, “Don’t be interesting, be interested.”

Observation is a key component of cold reading as well as social engineering. When psychics or fortune tellers do a cold reading, they’re on the lookout for details about the individual. Are they wearing a wedding ring? What does their clothing reveal about what they value? Do they seem extroverted or introverted? They also look at their subject’s body language and verbal cues during the reading to evaluate how they respond to certain questions. While it sounds simple, being a good listener and attentive observer that can discreetly gather information are very powerful tools. You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn from subtle facial expressions or changes in body language. Even the subject’s clothes and accessories can give you much insight.


You don’t have to be born with super intuitive powers to be able to perform a cold reading and be pretty accurate in your guesses. Human psychology and tried-and-true techniques can turn you into an expert. Like any other skill, it takes knowledge and practice. Next time you’re in a public place, look around and observe people. Look at the small details, what they wear, their facial expressions, posture, etc. Guess if they’re married and what they do for a living. You can even engage in a friendly conversation and ask for their permission to do a quick 2-minute cold read to see how successful you are. The more you practice the better you’ll become.

For the sake of time, only a few cold reading and influence techniques were mentioned in the article. If you’re fascinated by these kinds of topics and want to learn more about rapport building, elicitation and body language you should attend our Advance Practical Social Engineering course. This specialized course immerses you in the world of social engineering using proven methods and interactive exercises that will give you an opportunity to master the skills learned.

Be Ethical

Whether you’re interested in becoming a professional social engineer or a mentalist, be ethical. Sadly, many use cold reading techniques and psychology to tap into their subject’s emotions and take advantage of their vulnerability. At the end of your engagement, the person may not remember how smart or insightful you were. However, they will remember how you made them feel and that you treated them with empathy and compassion. Always remember, knowledge and skill have the best results when used ethically.

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