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Swindles, Confidence Tricks, Cons, and Scams
Swindles, Confidence Tricks, Cons, and Scams
A âconfidence trickâ is an attempt to defraud a person or group by gaining their confidence. A confidence artist is an individual working alone or in concert with others, who exploits characteristics of the human psyche, such as greed, both dishonesty and honesty, vanity, compassion, credulity, irresponsibility, naivety, and the thought of trying to get something of value for nothing or for something far less valuable.
The confidence trick is also (non-exhaustively) known as a con game, con, scam, grift, hustle, bunko, swindle, flim flam, gaffle, or bamboozle. The intended victim(s) are known as âmarks.â The perpetrator of a confidence trick is often referred to as a confidence man/woman, con man/woman, con artist, or grifter. When accomplices are employed, they are known as âshillsâ (someone who helps a person or organization without disclosing that he or she has a close relationship with that person or organization).
In David Mametâs film âHouse of Games,â the main con artist gives a slightly different description of the "confidence game." He explains that, in a typical swindle, the con man gives the mark his own confidence, encouraging the mark to, in turn, trust him. The con artist thus poses as a trustworthy person seeking another trustworthy person.
The first known usage of the term "confidence man" in English was in 1849. It was used by American press during the United States trial of William Thompson. Thompson chatted with strangers until he asked if they had the confidence to lend him their watches, whereupon he would walk off with the watch. He was captured when a victim recognized him on the street.
Vulnerability to Confidence Tricks
Confidence tricks exploit typical human characteristics such as greed, dishonesty, vanity, honesty, compassion, credulity, irresponsibility, desperation, and naivety. The common factor is that the victim (mark) relies on the good faith of the con artist.
Just as there is no typical profile for swindlers, neither is there one for their victims. Virtually anyone can fall prey to fraudulent crimes. Certainly victims of high-yield investment frauds may possess a level of greed which exceeds their caution as well as a willingness to believe what they want to believe. However, not all fraud victims are greedy, risk-taking, self-deceptive individuals looking to make a quick dollar, nor are all fraud victims naÃ¯ve, uneducated, or elderly.
A greedy or dishonest mark may attempt to out-cheat the con artist, only to discover that he or she has been manipulated into losing from the very beginning.
Shills, also known as accomplices, help manipulate the mark into accepting the con man's plan. In a traditional confidence trick, the mark is led to believe that he will be able to win money or some other prize by doing some task. The accomplices may pretend to be strangers who have benefited from performing the task in the past.
List of Confidence Tricks and Scams
This list of confidence tricks and scams should not be considered complete, but covers some of the most common examples. Confidence tricks and scams are difficult to classify, because they change often and often contain elements of more than one type. Throughout this list, the perpetrator of the confidence trick is called the âcon artistâ or simply âartistâ, and the intended victim is the âmark.â
Get-rich-quick schemes are extremely varied. These include fake franchises, real estate âsure things,â get-rich-quick books, wealth-building seminars, self-help gurus, sure-fire inventions, useless products, chain letters, fortune tellers, quack doctors, miracle pharmaceuticals, Nigerian money scams, charms and talismans. Variations include the pyramid scheme, the Ponzi scheme, and the Matrix sale.
Count Victor Lustig sold the âmoney-printing machine,â which he claimed could copy $100 bills. The client, sensing huge profits, would buy the machines for a high price (usually over $30,000). Over the next twelve hours, the machine would produce just two more $100 bills, but after that, it produced only blank paper, as its supply of hidden $100 bills would have become exhausted. This type of scheme is also called the âmoney boxâ scheme.
Salting, or âsalting the mine,â are terms for a scam in which gemstones or gold ore are planted in a mine or on the landscape, duping the greedy mark into purchasing shares in a worthless or non-existent mining company. During gold rushes, scammers would load shotguns with gold dust and shoot into the sides of the mine to give the appearance of a rich ore, thus âsalting the mine.â Examples include the diamond hoax of 1872 and the Bre-X gold fraud of the mid-1990s. This trick was popularized in the HBO series Deadwood, when Al Swearingen and E.B. Farnum trick Brom Garret into believing gold is to be found on the claim Swearingen intends to sell him.
The Spanish Prisoner scam and its modern variant, the advance-fee fraud, or âNigerian scam,â take advantage of the victimâs greed. The basic premise involves enlisting the mark to aid in retrieving some stolen money from its hiding place. The victim sometimes believes they can cheat the con artists out of their money, but anyone trying this has already fallen for the essential con by believing that the money is there to steal. Note that the classic Spanish Prisoner trick also contains an element of the romance scam (see below).
Many conmen employ extra tricks to keep the victim from going to the police. A common ploy of investment scammers is to encourage a mark to use money concealed from tax authorities. The mark cannot go to the authorities without revealing that they have committed tax fraud. Many swindles involve a minor element of crime or some other misdeed. The mark is made to think that they will gain money by helping fraudsters get huge sums out of a country (the classic advance-fee fraud/Nigerian scam); hence, marks cannot go to the police without revealing that they planned to commit a crime themselves.
In a recent twist on the Nigerian fraud scheme, the mark is told they are helping someone overseas collect debts from corporate clients. Large checks stolen from businesses are mailed to the mark. These checks are altered to reflect the mark's name, and the mark is then asked to cash them and transfer all but a percentage of the funds (his commission) to the con artist. The checks are often completely genuine, except that the "pay to" information has been expertly changed. This exposes the mark not only to enormous debt when the bank reclaims the money from their account, but also to criminal charges for money laundering. A more modern variation is to use laser-printed counterfeit checks with the proper bank account numbers and payer information.
Certain infomercials feature enthusiastic hosts and highlights of satisfied customersâ testimonies extolling the benefits of get-rich-quick methods such as Internet auctioneering, real estate investment and marketing, for-profit toll phone businesses, classified advertising, and unique products of questionable value requiring active marketing by the paying customers. Infomercials which fall under the aforementioned descriptions are highly likely to be scams devised and engineered to âbamboozleâ the unsuspecting viewers for the express purpose of enriching the scheme inventors who produced the infomercials, which often grossly exaggerate their claims, in conjunction with the clips of satisfied customers' over-excited testimonies with the superimposed captions of the alleged profits made.
Don Lapre, creator of "Money Making Secrets," "The Ultimate Road to Success,â "The Greatest Vitamin in the World," and other schemes, was reported by Internet customer watchdog organizations Ripoff Report, Better Business Bureau, and Quackwatch, plus alternative publications such as Phoenix New Times as one of the premier confidence artists whose characteristic traits of overly-positive attitude and over-enthusiastically cheerful and charismatic personality depend on the gullibility of the infomercial viewers to purchase the essentially useless products to gain substantial sums of profit by deception.
The wire or delayed-wire game, as depicted in the movie âThe Sting,â as well as the âKing of the Hillâ episode The Substitute Spanish Prisoner, trades on the promise of insider knowledge to beat a gamble, stock trade, or other monetary action. In the wire game, a "mob" composed of dozens of grafters simulates a "wire store," i.e., a place where results from horse races are received by telegram and posted on a large board, while also being read aloud by an announcer. The griftee is given secret foreknowledge of the race results minutes before the race is broadcast and is therefore able to place a sure bet at the wire store. In reality, of course, the con artists who set up the wire store are the providers of the inside information, and the mark eventually is led to place a large bet, thinking it to be a sure win. At this point, some mistake is made which actually makes the bet a loss. The grifters in âThe Stingâ use miscommunication about the race results to simulate a big mistake, and the bet is lost.
A missionary conspiracy is a scam that involves illegitimate missionaries who are part of a cult that converts an entire community to quasi-religious beliefs. This usually involves an authority figure like Jim Jones, who then uses his authority to abuse followers or to use them for gain. Usually these communities are rural, isolated, and have no money. Instead, they are used for manual labor, in particular, on plantations and manufacturing. This is referred to as a âconspiracyâ because of the difficulty to prove and the scale of the scam. These faux missionaries tend to be the representative of these communities to and from the outside world, which includes the handling of money. In addition, community members either revere the missionaries as people of their new deity or refuse to admit they had fallen victim to the scam. This scam is particularly attributed to cults with strong authority figures and has taken place in Asia, Africa, and Central and South America.
The traditional romance scam has now moved into Internet dating sites. The con actively cultivates a romantic relationship, which often involves promises of marriage. However, after some time, it becomes evident that this Internet "sweetheart" is stuck in his home country, lacking the money to leave the country and thus unable to be united with the mark. The scam then becomes an advance-fee fraud or a check fraud. A wide variety of reasons can be offered for the trickster's lack of cash, but rather than just borrow the money from the victim (advance fee fraud), the con man normally declares that they have checks which the victim can cash on their behalf and remit the money via a non-reversible transfer service to help facilitate the trip (check fraud). Of course, the checks are forged or stolen, and the con man never makes the trip. The hapless victim ends up with a large debt and an aching heart. This scam can be seen in the movie âNights of Cabiria.â
Fortune telling fraud
One traditional swindle involves fortune telling. In this scam, a fortune teller uses his or her cold reading skill to detect that a client is genuinely troubled rather than merely seeking entertainment, or is a gambler complaining of bad luck. The fortune teller informs the mark that they are the victim of a curse, and that for a fee, a spell can be cast to remove the curse. In Romany, this trick is called bujo ("bag"), after one traditional format. The mark is told that the curse is in their money. They bring money in a bag to have the spell cast over it, and leave with a bag of worthless paper. Fear of this scam has been one justification for legislation that makes fortune telling a crime.
This scam got a new lease on life in the electronic age, with the virus hoax. Fake antivirus software falsely claims that your computer is infected with viruses and renders the machine inoperable with bogus warnings, unless blackmail is paid. In the Datalink Computer Services Incident, a mark was fleeced of several million dollars by a firm that claimed that his computer was infected with viruses and that the infection indicated an elaborate conspiracy against him on the Internet. The alleged scam lasted from August 2004 through October 2010 and is estimated to have cost the victim $6â20 million.
Pig-in-a-poke originated in the late Middle Ages. The con entails a sale of a (suckling) "pig" in a "poke" (bag). The bag ostensibly contains a live healthy little pig, but actually contains a cat (not particularly prized as a source of meat). If one buys the bag without looking inside it, the person has bought something of less value than was assumed and has learned first-hand the lesson caveat emptor (let the buyer beware). "Buying a pig in a poke" has become a colloquial expression in many European languages, including English, for when someone buys something without examining it beforehand. In Poland, Denmark, France, Belgium, Latvia, the Netherlands, Israel and Germany, the "pig" in the phrase is replaced by "cat," referring to the bag's actual content, but the saying is otherwise identical. This is also said to be where the phrase "letting the cat out of the bag" comes from, although there may be other explanations.
The Thai gem scam involves layers of con men and helpers who tell a tourist in Bangkok of an opportunity to earn money by buying duty-free jewelry and having it shipped back to the tourist's home country. The mark is driven around the city in a tuk-tuk operated by one of the con men, who ensures that the mark meets one helper after another, until the mark is persuaded to buy the jewelry from a store also operated by the swindlers. The gems are real but significantly overpriced. This scam has been operating for 20 years in Bangkok and is said to be protected by Thai police and politicians. A similar scam usually runs in parallel for custom-made suits. Many tourists are hit by conmen touting both goods.
White Van Speaker
In the white van speaker scam, low-quality loudspeakers are sold, stereotypically from a white van, as expensive units that have been greatly discounted. The salesmen explain the ultra-low price in a number of ways; for instance, that their employer is unaware of having ordered too many speakers, so they are sneakily selling the excess behind the boss's back. The "speakermen" are ready to be haggled down to a seemingly minuscule price, because the speakers they are selling, while usually functional, actually cost only a tiny fraction of their "list price" to manufacture. The scam may extend to the creation of Web sites for the bogus brand, which usually sounds similar to that of a respected loudspeaker company. They will often place an ad for the speakers in the "For sale" Classifieds of the local newspaper, at the exorbitant price, and then show you a copy of this ad to "verify" their worth.
People shopping for pirated software, illegal pornographic images, bootleg music, drugs, firearms, or other forbidden or controlled goods may be legally hindered from reporting swindles to the police. An example is the "big screen TV in the back of the truck." The TV is touted as "hot" (stolen), so it will be sold for a very low price. The TV is, in fact, defective or broken. It may, in fact, not even be a television at all, since some scammers have discovered that a suitably decorated oven door will suffice. The buyer has no legal recourse without admitting to the attempted purchase of stolen goods. This con is also known as "The Murphy Game."
The badger game extortion is often perpetrated on married men. The mark is deliberately coerced into a compromising position, a supposed affair, for example, then threatened with public exposure of his acts unless blackmail money is paid.
A clip joint, or fleshpot, is an establishment, usually a strip club or entertainment bar, typically one claiming to offer adult entertainment or bottle service, in which customers are tricked into paying money and receive poor, or no, goods or services in return. Typically, clip joints suggest the possibility of sex, charge excessively high prices for watered-down drinks, then eject customers when they become unwilling or unable to spend more money. The product or service may be illicit, offering the victim no recourse through official or legal channels.
Foreign Object in Food
This scam involves a patron ordering food in a restaurant and then placing a bug or foreign object in the food. The patron complains loudly to the restaurant managers and threatens to sue. Sometimes the patron receives a free meal or additional compensation, or tries to blackmail the restaurant. A notable attempt to perform this scam which failed was when a woman placed a severed finger in a bowl of chili and attempted to extort money from Wendy's, a fast food burger chain.
Insurance fraud includes a wide variety of schemes which attempt insureds to defraud their own insurance carriers, but when the victim is a private individual, the con artist tricks the mark into damaging, for example, the con artist's car, or injuring the con artist, in a manner that the con artist can later exaggerate. One relatively common scheme involves two cars, one for the con artist, and the other for the shill. The con artist will pull in front of the victim, and the shill will pull in front of the con artist before slowing down. The con artist will then slam on his brakes to "avoid" the shill, causing the victim to rear-end the con artist. The shill will accelerate away, leaving the scene. The con artist will then claim various exaggerated injuries in an attempt to collect from the victim's insurance carrier despite having intentionally caused the accident. Insurance carriers, who must spend money to fight even those claims they believe are fraudulent, frequently pay out thousands of dollars -- a tiny amount to the carrier, despite being a significant amount to an individual -- to settle these claims instead of going to court.
A variation of this scam occurs in countries where insurance premiums are generally tied to a Bonus-Malus rating. The con artist will offer to avoid an insurance claim, settling instead for a cash compensation. Thus, the con artist is able to evade a professional damage assessment and will get an untraceable payment in exchange for sparing the mark the expenses of a lowered merit class.
The melon drop is a scam in which the scammer will intentionally bump into the mark and drop a package containing (already broken) glass. He will blame the damage on the clumsiness of the mark and demand money in compensation. This con arose when artists discovered that the Japanese paid large sums of money for watermelons. The scammer would go to a supermarket to buy a cheap watermelon and then bump into a Japanese tourist and set a high price.
Visitors to Las Vegas or other gambling towns often encounter the barred winner scam, a form of advance fee fraud performed in person. The artist will approach his mark outside a casino with a stack or bag of high-value casino chips and say that he just won big, but the casino accused him of cheating and threw him out without letting him redeem the chips. The artist asks the mark to go in and cash the chips for him. The artist will often offer a percentage of the winnings to the mark for his trouble. But when the mark agrees, the artist feigns suspicion and asks the mark to put up something of value "for insurance.â The mark agrees, hands over jewelry, a credit card, or their wallet, then goes in to cash the chips. When the mark arrives at the cashier, they are informed the chips are fake. The artist, by this time, is long gone with the mark's valuables.
The fake reward scam involves getting the mark to believe he has won some prizes after being randomly chosen. He is then required to get to a specific location to 'collect his prizes.' Once there, he is told that he only has to sign some papers to receive the rewards. These papers can range from agreeing to financial fraud or signing up for memberships.
The Fiddle game uses the pigeon drop technique. A pair of con men work together, one going into an expensive restaurant in shabby clothes, eating, and claiming to have left his wallet at home, which is nearby. As collateral, the con man leaves his only worldly possession, the violin that provides his livelihood. After he leaves, the second con man swoops in, offers an outrageously large amount (for example $50,000) for such a rare instrument, then looks at his watch and runs off to an appointment, leaving his card for the mark to call him when the fiddle-owner returns. The mark's greed comes into play when the "poor man" comes back, having gotten the money to pay for his meal and redeem his violin. The mark, thinking he has an offer on the table, then buys the violin from the fiddle player, who "reluctantly" agrees to sell it for a certain amount that still allows the mark to make a "profit" from the valuable violin. The result is the two conmen are richer (less the cost of the violin), and the mark is left with a cheap instrument.
This trick is used in an episode of Steptoe and Son, in which Harold has a commode which he has purchased on his rounds, from a housewife. A passing antiques dealer sees the item and offers a large amount of money, but will return the next day. In the meantime, the housewife's husband arrives and demands that Harold sell it back to him; instead Harold offers him a large amount of money for it, believing that he can sell it on to the dealer later that day. In the 1981 Only Fools and Horses episode âCash and Curry,â the main character, Delboy, is tricked into paying Â£2000 for a statue worth Â£17, believing it to be worth Â£4000. In an episode of Hustle, the fiddle game is acted out, using a dog instead of a fiddle. It was also detailed in the Neil Gaiman novel American Gods and is the basis for The Streetsâ song "Can't Con an Honest John."
The glim-dropper scam, which is similar to the Fiddle Game, requires several accomplices, one of whom must be a one-eyed man. One grifter goes into a store and pretends he has lost his glass eye. Everyone looks around, but the eye cannot be found. He declares that he will pay a thousand-dollar reward for the return of his eye, leaving contact information. The next day, an accomplice enters the store and pretends to find the eye. The storekeeper (the intended griftee), thinking of the reward, offers to take it and return it to its owner. The finder insists he will return it himself, and demands the ownerâs address. Thinking he will lose all chance of the reward, the storekeeper offers a hundred dollars for the eye. The finder bargains him up to $250, and departs. The one-eyed man, of course, cannot be found and does not return.
Lottery Fraud by Proxy
Lottery fraud by proxy is a particularly vicious scam in which the scammer buys a lottery ticket with old winning numbers. He or she then alters the date on the ticket so that it appears to be from the day before, and therefore a winning ticket. He or she then sells the ticket to the mark, claiming it is a winning ticket, but for some reason, he or she is unable to collect the prize (not eligible, etc.). The particular cruelty in this scam is that if the mark attempts to collect the prize, the fraudulently altered ticket will be discovered and the mark held criminally liable. This con was featured in the movie âMatchstick Men, where Nicolas Cage teaches it to his daughter. A twist on the con was shown in âGreat Teacher Onizuka, where the more-than-gullible Onizuka was tricked into getting a "winning ticket." The ticket wasn't altered. Instead, the daily newspaper reporting the day's winning numbers was rewritten with a black pen.
Three-card Monte, "find the queen," the "three-card trick," or "follow the lady," is essentially the same as the centuries-older shell game, or thimblerig, except for the props). The trickster shows three playing cards to the audience, one of which is a queen (the "lady"), then places the cards face-down, shuffles them around and invites the audience to bet on which one is the queen. At first, the audience is skeptical, so the shill places a bet, and the scammer allows him to win. In one variation of the game, the shill will (apparently surreptitiously) peek at the lady, ensuring that the mark also sees the card. This is sometimes enough to entice the audience to place bets, but the trickster uses sleight of hand to ensure that they always lose, unless the conman decides to let them win, hoping to lure them into betting much more. The mark loses whenever the dealer chooses to make him lose. This con appears in the Eric Garcia novel Matchstick Men and is featured in the movie âEdmond.â The scam is also central to the Pulitzer prize-winning play "Topdog/Underdog." It also appears in episodes of White Collar, Newsradio, Everybody Hates Chris, The Simpsons, and Hustle.
A variation on this scam exists in Barcelona, Spain, but with the addition of a pickpocket. The dealer and shill behave in an overtly obvious manner, attracting a larger audience. When the pickpocket succeeds in stealing from a member of the audience, he signals the dealer. The dealer then shouts the word "aguas" (colloquial for "Watch Out!"), and the three split up. The audience is left believing that the police are coming, and that the performance was a failed scam. A variant of this scam exists in Mumbai, India. The shill says loudly to the dealer that his cards are fake and that he wants to see them. He takes the card and folds a corner and says in a hushed voice to the audience that he has marked the card. He places a bet and wins. Then he asks the others to place bets as well. When one of the audience bets a large sum of money, the cards are switched. Herbert L. Becker is a magician and an exposer of magic tricks. He has revealed how this trick is done and is also considered the greatest master of this trick.
Cell Phone Grab
Usually occurs outside airports or train stations at the pick-up curb, requires two cons and a getaway car. The con will approach the mark and claim that their ride isn't here, due to their plane or train being late or early, and that they don't have the change to use a pay phone, or their own cell phone battery is dead. They ask the mark if they can use their cell phone to call, usually reassuring the mark by saying that the call is local and it will not cost them much. If the mark refuses, the con will try to guilt trip them. The moment the mark hands over their cell phone, the con makes a break for it, often hopping into a waiting car to make a quick getaway.
Change raising is a common short con and involves an offer to change an amount of money with someone, while at the same time taking change or bills back and forth to confuse the person as to how much money is actually being changed. The most common form, "the Short Count," has been featured prominently in several movies about grifting, notably, Nueve Reinas, The Grifters, Criminal, and Paper Moon. A con artist shopping at say, a gas station, pays for a cheap item (under a dollar) and gives the clerk a ten dollar bill. The con gets back nine ones and the change then tells the clerk he has a one and will exchange ten ones for a ten. Here's the con: get the clerk to hand over the $10 BEFORE handing over the ones. Then the con hands over nine ones and the $10. The clerk will assume a mistake and offer to swap the ten for a one. Then the con will probably just say, "Here's another one, give me a $20 and we're even." Notice that the con just swapped $10 for $20. The $10 was the store's money, not the con's.
To avoid this con, keep each transaction separate and never ever permit the customer to handle the original ten before handing over the ten ones. Another variation is to flash a $20 bill to the clerk, then ask for something behind the counter. When the clerk turns away, the con artist can swap the bill they are holding to a lesser bill. The clerk might then make change for the larger bill, without noticing it has been swapped. The technique works better when bills are the same color at a glance like, for instance, U.S. dollar bills.
A similar technique exists when a con comes to a gas station with a young clerk, buying something cheap, showing then an uncommonly huge bill while not giving it and telling the clerk to prepare the change. While he's busy counting the change, the con would ask many questions in order to disturb the young clerk. When change is counted and ready, the con is acting as if he had given the huge bill. If the clerk does not remember having received the bill, the con will say he gave him the money. If the clerk is weak or disturbed enough, he could let the con go away with the change.
Empty Car Lot
The scammers find a vacant lot that is essentially used as free car parking and then start to charge people at the entrance, saying that the building is under new management and now chargeable.
The con artist sells tickets for a non-existent raffle, often either door-to-door or at a stall in a densely-populated commercial space (i.e. a large shopping mall), to dozens of individual marks, making a sizeable profit in the process. Because the marks never expected to win the raffle, they generally never realize they've been stung, and may not even think about it at all afterwards, because they only parted with a small amount of money (several dollars, for example).
A con artist will go door-to-door saying that the mark's donation will help build better playgrounds, help starving children, et cetera; thus, the mark will pay the con artist. Sometimes the con artist will even print out fake papers explaining the good that they will be doing.
The gas can scam happens on the street or in a parking lot, usually near a big-box store or mall. Traditionally, the con artist is well-dressed and carrying a gas can, though these confidence enhancing elements are by no means necessary to the con. A false "sob story" is told to the potential mark, usually involving a wife and/or teenage (or infant) children waiting in the stranded car, or occasionally teenage offspring home alone (the variations are numerous). Occasionally, the false story involves the need to make a trip to a doctor's office or hospital. The story inevitably leads to a request for ten to twenty dollars for gas. Often, the con artist will ask for your address to "return" your money.
Just as with the alleged wife and/or children, the purportedly out-of-gas car might or might not be present. If questioned, the con artist might vaguely gesture in the direction of a parked car or cars.
A variation of this scam has the con artist claiming that his car was towed and he needs money to retrieve it from the towing company.
This is a USA-based scam which takes place in areas with a high volume of foreign tourists, such as the Embarcadero, in San Francisco. The con artist will wait for a mark to cross the road, then approach them, usually flashing a fake police badge or similar, and explain that they have illegally crossed the road and are liable for an on-the-spot fine. This scam plays on the fact that few people outside of the US are familiar with the concept of jaywalking.
Neighborâs False Friend
In the neighbor's false friend scam, the con artist rings the mark's doorbell, claiming to be a friend of a neighbor or someone who lives nearby, and asks to borrow money for gas, since they've left their wallet with all their money at their friend's house, and now there's nobody home. The con artist is gambling that the mark knows the name of the "friend" and perhaps is an acquaintance so that it would be embarrassing to refuse assistance, but that the mark doesn't know very much else about the "friend," making verification difficult. Of course, the con artist has just read the "friend's" name on a mailbox or a doorbell.
The pigeon drop, also featured early in the film âThe Sting,â involves the mark, or pigeon, assisting an elderly, weak, or infirm stranger to keep their money safe for them. In the process, the stranger (actually a confidence trickster) puts their money with the mark's money (in an envelope, briefcase or sack), which the mark is then entrusted with. The money is actually not put into the sack or envelope, but is switched for a bag full of newspaper, et cetera. The mark is enticed to make off with the con artist's money through the greed element and various theatrics, but in actuality, the mark is fleeing from their own money, which the con artist still has (or has handed off to an accomplice). In âLost,â this was Sawyerâs preferred way of conning people out of money.
Pseudoscience and Snake Oil
In pseudoscience and snake oil scams, popular psychology confidence tricksters make money by falsely claiming to improve reading speed and comprehension using speed reading courses by fooling the consumer with inappropriate skimming and general knowledge tests. These popular psychology tricksters often employ popular assumptions about the brain and the cerebral hemispheres which are scientifically wrong, but attractive, and sound plausible to the ignorant mark. A common myth is that we use only 10% of our brain.
The robbed traveler scam usually takes place at airports and train stations. A person smartly dressed in suit and tie appears in distress and looks around bewildered, making sure the mark has noticed them. Then they approach and tell the story that their wallet or jacket has been stolen with all their money. They then appeal for help and ask if they can borrow a small amount of money for a taxi to their friend's house or a hotel where they're booked in, promising to pay it back as soon as they get access to their money. Experts at this game may even trick their mark into giving them the money (as opposed to merely lending it), in the belief that they are helping an upstanding member of society in genuine distress.
An individual dressed to resemble a subway attendant stands near a subway ticket machine at a downtown stop. The individual approaches people who appear to be out-of-towners headed back to the airport, and asks if they need directions, how their stay was, et cetera. They offer to sell a ticket to the airport directly from a handful they are carrying; however, these are merely used-up tickets collected from the trash. This has been seen on MARTA, in Atlanta. The scammer is imitating legitimate attendants at the airport who show travelers how to use the vending machines but don't accept cash or give you tickets themselves.
The undercover cop scam is a scam where a con artist masquerades as an undercover police officer, usually by stopping the mark's vehicle and showing a fake badge, and tells the mark about a case they are investigating, and that the mark is a suspect. The conman asks for money to be checked, and when the mark is out of the vehicle, the con artist gets into the mark's car and drives away, having made sure there was more time to escape than it would take for the mark to get back to their vehicle. This scam is usually done to tourists. Variations include their whole luggage being transferred to the conman's trunk "to be checked at a police station,â or a fake immigration agent, asking for papers and then for money to clear up the problem.
The con artist pretends to be a newspaper vendor in an area where many out-of-towners are likely to pass and also likely to want newspapers, such as a train station or airport. The papers the con artist is selling, however, are local newspapers that can be picked up for free. As the out-of-towners might not be aware of what papers are free in a particular city, they may end up paying for a paper unnecessarily. This trick has been observed in downtown Chicago using a local free paper, âThe Reader.â
Get-rich-quick schemes are extremely varied; these include fake franchises, real estate "sure things", get-rich-quick books, wealth-building seminars, self-help gurus, sure-fire inventions, useless products,