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4 Ways to Spot a Con Man

Author: Jason Snyman
Date: 2017-09-19
Numerous confidence tricks and scams have been around since the middle ages, here’s how to spot them today.

In the classical sense of trust, confidence scams are the attempt to deceive a person or group after gaining their confidence. These cons aim to exploit certain characteristics of the human consciousness.

These include greed, vanity, desperation, compassion or naïveté. For instance, the smoothest con artist to ever live, Victor Lustig, once sold the Eiffel Tower to a French scrap-metal dealer.

How Confidence Scams Work

You get two kinds of cons – long and short – both ending in you, the mark, finding yourself on the losing side. Short cons are designed to be quick. They rob you of everything you have on your person. The long games could take months to unfold and aim to rob you of larger sums of money or valuables.

First, preparations are made in advance, such as acquiring any assistants or props which might be required. Next, contact is made with you, the potential victim. Then you’re presented with an opportunity to profit. Your greed is encouraged to the point that any rational judgment you may have possessed is impaired. Now, you receive a small payout – to convince you of the scheme's effectiveness. We all know how a gambling hustle works. Game after game – you thrash some barfly in pool, winning small amounts in bets or drinks.

Finally, the tables a ludicrously big bet. Why wouldn’t you take it? You’ve just beaten him forty times in a row. Plus, he seems pretty drunk. Once you accept, he suddenly turns into the Christiano Ronaldo of snooker and takes you for all you’ve got. Get-rich-quick schemes, persuasion tricks, extortion, gold-brick scams or even false injuries.

The con artist has a large arsenal of moves, all ready to ensnare you. The worst part is that these scams have been around since the middle ages.

Even with all our advanced knowledge and technology we have today, they still work. We took a look at some classic confidence tricks and how they’ve evolved over the years.

The Spanish Prisoner

This scam originated late in the 18th century. The con man tells the victim that he is (or is in correspondence with) a wealthy person who has been imprisoned in Spain under a false identity. Supposedly, the prisoner can’t reveal his true identity without the risk of the Spanish finding out what a rich man they’ve imprisoned and thereafter holding him for a much higher ransom.

He needs to raise a moderate amount money in order to secure his release, as soon as possible. The con man then offers to let the mark put up some of the funds. In return, they promise greater compensation once the wealthy prisoner has been released.

Once the mark has handed over the money, they’re informed that further difficulties have arisen and more money is needed. The trickster then continues to press for more and more money until the victim is cleaned out, or suddenly grows a brain and declines to put up any more funds. Some versions of this con may present the imprisoned person as a remote, long-lost relative to the victim.

Now – who among us haven’t gotten that email? In one of the many modern variations, an estranged relative (who may or may not be a Nigerian Prince) sharing your last name sends you an email offering to transfer a ton of blood-money or a lost inheritance into your bank account. All they need is a small payment from your side to cover bribes and other expenses. In exchange for transporting this ill-gotten fortune out of Nigeria, you get to keep a large percentage. T

he reason why this scam works is precisely because of how ludicrous it is. It would repel all but the most gullible – and those are precisely the kind of people con artists like.

The Melon Drop

Any person with half an ounce of decency will pay for something they’ve broken. The melon drop scam gets its name from con men who originally used melons at a time when melon prices were considerably expensive. The con would bump into tourists and drop the melon they’ve been carrying. The mark would then feel responsible enough to pay inflated prices to make amends. The modern version of this trick involves filling a box with worthless, broken glass and wrapping it up to look expensive.

The con artist waits for somebody inattentive to come along and bumps into them, making it seem as if it was all the mark’s fault. They then explain that the box contained something really expensive. It could be a vase – usually a gift for their mother or dying grandma. They may even produce a fabricated receipt to prove its value.

Most people, of course, feel so incredibly guilty that they immediately pay up.

The Romance Scam

This one is similar to other advance-fee scams or cheque fraud. The scam involves the con artist cultivating a romantic relationship with somebody via (today’s times) an internet dating site or email. Promises of marriage and ever-lasting love are a hit with lonely people. After some time, however, it turns out that this ‘sweetheart’ is stranded in some other country. They lack the money to leave and thus, are unable to be blissfully united with the love-struck victim. The con-artist might declare that he has cheques, which the mark can cash on his behalf and remit the money via a non-reversible transfer service to help facilitate the trip. Of course, the cheques are forged or stolen and the con-man never makes the trip. The victim ends up with large debt and a broken heart. In some cases, an online dating site is itself engaged in fraud. They often create profiles of fictional people – which the operator knows are not currently looking for a date in the advertised locality.

The Fortune-Teller

One classic swindle involves fortune telling. In this trick, a soothsayer proficient in cold reading detects that a client might be genuinely troubled.

Perhaps they're a gambler on the wrong end of luck. The fortune teller then informs the superstitious mark that he is the victim of a dark and mysterious curse. For a fee, a spell can be cast to remove it. The scam manifested in the electronic age with the virus hoax.

Fake anti-virus software pops up and claims that your computer is infected with viruses or malware – rendering your PC inoperable with warnings until a fee is paid. Alternatively, software is downloaded and later discovered to only work once you purchase the ‘full version.’

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