Post No.: 0353
Cons, confidence tricks, scams, hustles or swindles, conducted by fraudsters who might be called con artists, grifters, scammers or swindlers, typically exploit the greed, credulity, irresponsibility, desperation, lust, vanity, insecurity or other vulnerabilities of people. Examples of scams include ‘get-rich-quick’ schemes, fake casting agents or job offers, false billings or fines, three-card Monte stalls, fortune-telling, faith healers, online phishing, rogue security software and unsolicited goods scams.
A ‘short con’ is a rapid swindle of a mark, or the intended target victim, pretty much on the spot. Choosing a mark in this situation is not usually pre-planned so it’s more of an opportunistic scam. An example is a proposition bet in a bar, where it’s highly unlikely that the mark will know how to win the bet because there’s a knack to it or it was set by a trick question.
A ‘long con’ plays the long game and involves multiple interactions with the mark over a period of time in the hope of generating a much larger payoff or continuous payoff for the scammer. These can be quite complex so are carefully planned, and the aim is to obtain more money from the mark than just what she/he has on her/his person. An example is securities or investment fraud, where investors in stocks or commodities are induced into making purchases or sales based on false information.
A con artist conducts a con by first gaining the victim’s trust – or confidence – in them. Greed is the reason why it’s sometimes said that ‘you can’t cheat an honest person’, for greed will lead a person to participate in dishonest schemes in the hope of a quick and easy buck. Here, even if the victim realises that she/he has been conned, she/he can’t exactly go to the police about it! But not all victims are greedy – some fall for scams because of their compassion to help a cause or person who was ostensibly in need, for instance. In this case, their main fuzzy fault was their naivety.
Although not alone evidence of a scam – a huge warning sign is being asked to give money to someone upfront; as is something that appears too good to be true, and something that is apparently suddenly urgent. There might also be secrecy (e.g. them telling you not to tell your bank or other people about some thing).
All kinds of people fall for scams, including otherwise highly-educated people. (Like in many other contexts, the cocky are often vulnerable precisely because of their cockiness.) All a person needs to do is simply trust a con artist. The elderly are frequent targets because of their relative cognitive impairments, they might have sizeable pensions or savings and they may live alone and not be protected by other family members who can give them a second opinion on whether they’re possibly entering a scam. (For anyone, seeking a second opinion is a good idea in this context, although people sometimes just uncritically follow members from their own peer groups due to the fear of missing out – especially adolescents or younger. So ask someone outside of one’s group.) Other people with cognitive impairments are also common targets, such as those with intellectual disabilities. (Most scammers are lowlife ****s!) Tourists are another frequently targeted group because people tend to relax their guards when on ‘holiday mode’ and they might also not be familiar with how the locals normally behave (e.g. mistaking the attention on them by con artists as simply the immense gregariousness of the locals, or assuming the street-side games they see there are just what other locals play too).
In long cons that need particular marks to work or be worth it, a roper is an accomplice who finds a suitable mark and gains her/his trust, thus roping her/him into the con; perhaps by giving the mark apparent insider information in an upcoming business deal.
Shills, who might also be called stooges, plants or confederates, are co-conspirators of the con artist but who usually pretend to be strangers to them, and they help lure in or manipulate the mark into accepting a con. They might achieve this by acting as a regular but enthusiastic member of the public who tries some ‘snake oil’ that the con artist is selling and then recommends it to the real potential customers gathered around and watching; or if the con is a rigged gambling game then a shill could apparently show that it’s possible to win in that game and walk away bagging some money or prize. Accomplices can play other roles too, such as fake authenticators of precious gemstones or people who act sceptical at first but later vouch for the con artist’s claims.
A convincer is sometimes utilised. This is when the mark receives a small payout as a demonstration that the scheme they’ve entered into is generating a return on investment in order to make the scheme appear legit and worth investing more in; or if it’s a gambling game then the marks are allowed to win a few small bets before they go big. These payouts can be real or fake (e.g. fake dividends). Long cons frequently involve a small investment or demand from a mark at first, but which gradually build up into greater investments or demands.
A typical con involves some preparation work, which might mean research, getting hold of the required personnel, props, location and getting in some practice or rehearsals. An appropriate mark is identified and approached or contacted. The victim is lured into partaking in the scheme. Their greed is encouraged and a convincer might be applied in some cases. Then perhaps suddenly, a manufactured change of events is raised, and the victim must apparently act urgently, such as hurry up with a decision to invest a large sum that’ll generate a huge return on investment for them otherwise they’ll miss out on this ‘amazing opportunity’ forever; or if it’s a romance scam, there might suddenly be a manufactured crisis where the ‘romantic partner’ needs a large amount of money to pay off some healthcare costs or something for a family member. This time pressure is to ultimately bypass any critical-thinking time and therefore rational judgement. Shills might also put money in the same scheme as a social proof to reassure the mark that she/he is not acting (uniquely) gullibly.
A blow-off is any method used to get rid of the victim as quickly as possible after the scam is complete – the con artists have got the money they want and now don’t want to see or hear from the victim ever again. If the victim was aware that the ‘easy moneymaking scheme’ they entered into was dodgy, this might mean making it appear like the police have busted them thus everyone must cut their losses and hide. In some cases there might be an opportunity for an exit scam, such as receiving one last order and payment for a product that the scammers have no intention of fulfilling before they close their operation.
Or money may continue to be extracted from the victim because of the ‘sunk cost fallacy’, where people invest more and more into a scheme with a sort of ‘double or nothing’ mindset – they’ve put in so much already and they’re not willing to give any of that up, and that will include putting in more money in order to keep the dream alive, as it were. Like some casino games, the feeling of ‘nearly winning’ makes this more likely because every little bit more invested feels like ‘a final push to the finish line’, when in reality, the finish line is nowhere in sight and will never be in sight.
Although both are crimes, the difference between a straightforward theft and a con is that the transactions are consensual with a con – the victim voluntarily gives the con artist her/his own money. A grifter is said to use a skilled hand and/or a sharp wit rather than violence or force to separate the victim from her/his money. Law enforcement therefore needs to ascertain whether the victim was truly a victim of a crime or merely a victim of her/his own gullibility or greed.
Victims can find it very difficult to admit to being a victim of fraud to even those close to them, and this can lead to isolation and mental health problems. Some may not even want to personally believe that they’ve been defrauded at all. For victims of costly cons, it can leave them becoming immensely cautious about trusting anyone ever again. (This is an example of a ‘knee-jerk 180° flip’ reaction as I’d like to call it, where people behave in one extreme way, realise it was wrong, so start to behave in directly the opposite extreme way – in this case, going from being highly trusting to not being trusting at all, when somewhere in the middle or a refined case-by-case basis is best.) This can have a negative impact on them creating and maintaining new relationships.
There are far too many types of scams to mention here (you can check out this list of confidence tricks). New types of scams are being conjured up all of the time. There’s now even a ‘romance recovery fraud’, where a person finds out they’ve been scammed in a romance scam by someone who lives abroad, then private detectives from that country apparently claim that they’ve caught that scammer – but need the victim to send them some money upfront to pay barristers and officials in order to complete the conviction before the victim can recover the money from the original scammer, hence the victim gets hit twice(!)
In general, people who’ve been scammed before might get put on a ‘suckers list’ because those who’ve fallen for scams already are more likely to fall for more. They might even be contacted by those telling them to carry out or buy measures to protect themselves from future scams – but they’re also scammers too.
New technologies and new uses of technologies, such as online social media platforms, facilitate the creation of new scams or help make the ‘work’ of scammers easier, such as hiding behind stolen identities, using them as marketplaces for their scams, allowing them to operate in any jurisdiction yet giving them a global reach, and the sheer number of victims they can simultaneously target. (Some scams are a numbers game – they generate only a little money from each victim but they snare tens of thousands of victims, and then the operation goes dark. ‘Repeat business’ comes in the form of starting another ‘business’ that appears to be independent from the last but have the same people behind them.) Sometimes social media apps or websites aren’t being hijacked – some are set up to defraud customers from the very outset, such as some dating sites.
If a con works out absolutely perfectly for the con artist, the victim will never realise that she/he was ever even conned – the victim will just think that she/he was involved in a regular investment or dream that failed. Read Post No.: 0107 to see how this blurs the line with the tricks that legitimate businesses use when they advertise and price the products they sell to us!
Meow. Furrywisepuppy and I hope that you stay alert and safe so that you don’t fall victim to a major con. Open up to each other to get some second opinions before money is transferred to a potential con artist, and help each other out by keeping each other abreast of new types of scams. Please use the Twitter comment button below if you have any other advice to help everyone stay safe against scams. Thanks.