Grifters, cons, confidence men. It seems like the world is full of them and it’s hard to know who to trust sometimes.
From slimy televangelists waiting to empty your grandma’s purse to slick, well dressed property salesmen flogging timeshares that don’t exist, con-men have been around since the beginning of time and will likely be around until the end of it.
Knowledge is power, however, and knowing what some of the classic cons are is the key to safeguarding yourself against them. There’s no such thing as a new con anymore, there are just variations on the old tried and tested classics. By knowing them, you can better spot them when they re-appear in new guises.
In this list we’ll show you…..
9 Classic Cons that Will Empty Your Wallet
The Ponzi Scheme
Named after its pioneer Charles Ponzi, an Italian-American immigrant who first ran the con on a massive scale, the Ponzi scheme operates by convincing people you have found an investment opportunity with extraordinary returns and then paying them said returns several times, causing them to part with ever larger sums of money as the greed monster takes hold.
The trick with the Ponzi scheme is to keep recruiting evermore people and paying those who are at the front of the queue with the money of those who have just signed up at the back of the queue. Seeing their insanely great payouts, those who have just been paid out will likely re-join the line at the back and you can then use that money to again pay out who ever is due at the front, taking your 1% fee each and every time or eventually just running off with everyone’s money once enough suckers have been pulled in.
The Ponzi scheme still exists to this day and is likely not going anywhere, anytime soon due to its remarkable simplicity and the fact that no matter how many times we are burned by it human beings will never learn from our misadventures with greed.
In recent times Bernard Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison for pulling off a mass-scale, multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme on Wall Street.
There isn’t much value in salt itself, but the term here is not used to refer to the white stuff you sprinkle on your dinner.
Salting is a classic mining con which has been used for centuries to con would be prospectors into buying worthless land. To pull it off one simply purchases enough gold or silver nuggets, flakes and pieces and scatters them all around the land which the prospector is interested in. They can of course be buried in order to add to the effect.
During the California gold rush in the 1920’s some swindlers loaded their shotguns up with gold dust and shot into the side of mine shafts, giving would-be buyers the impression that the mine would be rich in the much coveted precious metal.
It would be harder to pull this con off today due to the advanced nature of mine-analysis, but it still deserves a place on the classic cons list due to the sheer longevity and simplicity of the con itself.
Prospectors beware! All is not always as it seems.
The Lovebird Scam
There are so many variations on the Lovebird Scam it is impossible to quantify. From conniving men and women marrying their significant others with fully engaged plans to take half of their net worth to internet dating site loves asking for money to buy a plane ticket to their partner’s home city or country to wicked schemes to seduce married men and then blackmail them for the rest of their lives with photo or video evidence, it seems that there is a particularly ruthless kind of criminal out there willing to prey on the only thing humans have to hope for in this world – love.
Romantic cons and scams have been around since the dawn of time but perhaps with the dawn of the internet and the anonymity it allows for the number and intensity of the scams has grown.
Whenever you feel your heart begin to flutter and your mind begin to run, take a step back just for a brief moment and ask yourself “Is this all it seems? Is this person too good to be true?”
They say love is blind, and the scammer is perfectly willing to exploit that.
The Pigeon Drop
There are a few versions of this con but the central theme behind all versions is that a mark will part with a certain sum of money in the belief that he can make a profit, but in fact he has been set up by a team working together to con him.
In one of the best known examples of this con a swindler dressed modestly or even shabbily will go into a restaurant and eat a meal. After he has finished he will claim he has forgotten his wallet, but will leave something as collateral while he goes to get the cash. Often this is a musical instrument such as a violin or guitar which he claims he uses to make a living.
After he leaves another person who has been eating at the same establishment will approach the server/manager and act astonished when they lay eyes on the instrument. They will claim it is a rare antique worth tens of thousands of dollars and offer to purchase it. Usually the server/manager will say no, at which point the con will give them a card and tell them to think it over.
When the “poor man” comes back the wheels will have been turning in the marks head and he will often offer to buy the instrument from the man, who reluctantly will accept a small sum for his humble instrument. The server/manager will think they have pulled the wool over his eyes and scored themselves a handsome profit, but alas the astonished diner who offered to purchase the instrument never picks up his phone and the terrible truth dawns upon the mark: the poor man and the astonished diner with the handsome offer were a team all along.
They have just fleeced him of several hundred, or perhaps thousands of dollars.
The next time an offer seems to good to be true, remember that it probably is! Such luck rarely falls into ones lap and should be viewed with a healthy dose of suspicion.
Playing the Odds
This remarkably simple scam consists of convincing a mark you can predict the future with a fair degree of accuracy.
It is most commonly perpetrated in sports where a mark may receive an email telling him that a new system has been developed which analyzes players performance and can pretty much accurately predict the results of a game in advance, allowing subscribers to place bets and make large sums of cash.
How to convince the mark to buy in? The mark receives a series of emails or letters (back in the day) with no obligation. Lo’ and behold, every single time the prediction is correct. This carries on perhaps five or six times in a row before the offer is made: If you want to keep receiving the information, you’ll have to pay a fee.
The mark at this point is utterly convinced that this system works, for he has seen it with his own eyes after all. What he doesn’t know is that he is only one of a very large number of people who have been receiving similar letters, some of which were completely wrong and had been cut off earlier.
It works like this:
The con artists sends out 10,000 emails. He tells 5000 people Manchester United will win on Saturday, and 5000 that Chelsea will win. If Chelsea win, he simply does the same thing again with the 5000 who have received an accurate prediction and discards the rest. He now tells 2500 people that Chelsea will win again, and 2500 that this time Aston Villa will be the victors. If Villa somehow manage to beat Chelsea, he then focuses on those 2500 people. The next week he will tell 1250 of them Villa will win again, and 1250 that this time Liverpool will do it.
After a series of games he has dwindled it down to a set number of people who have received a correct prediction five or six times in a row. These people are now completely convinced that someone has developed an accurate system for predicting results and they can use it to their advantage.
A certain percentage will find the easy money irresistible and will sign the dotted line. This is often a monthly contract for a year or more and often at a hefty fee. It doesn’t matter because the mark believes he will make more than enough from the accurate bets he places.
After he has parted with his cash, however, the system begins to fail. He will now be tied into a monthly subscription to an information source that is no longer so magically accurate. There is nothing he can do except tell himself how foolish he was, if he ever figures it out at all!
A Helping Hand
A quick con that is usually done on the street, the objective of this swindle is to raise cash and raise it fast.
Most members of the public are used to change peddlers approaching them and asking for coins. Often these are homeless or visibly disheveled people and the mark will give on sympathy and compassion.
A new swindle has evolved where a smartly dressed, outwardly successful person will approach a mark and politely introduce himself. He will explain that he has either been the victim of a crime such as a pick-pocketing or has left his wallet in a taxi. He will ask for a large sum, often $20 or $50, to get a taxi home and promises to pay you back. He’ll give you a business card with his details and often a watch as collateral.
Of course the watch will be worth only a fraction of the amount borrowed and the business card will be fake. The smart, well-dressed, outwardly successful businessman was nothing more than a common swindler taking advantage of people’s generosity and kindness towards their fellow human beings who are stuck in a jam.
This con is often perpetrated by beautiful women who approach men. This only adds to the potency of the con and the success rate.
The Casting Couch
There are two variations on this con. One is for financial gain, the other is for sexual gain.
In either case the predator poses as a modelling agent and flatters the mark with compliments, convincing them that they can make large sums of money either in photo-shoots or in ads/movies.
If the aim of the game is to financially gain the con will convince the mark to pay up-front for a portfolio. After the photos are taken and the session is paid for the mark goes on their way but never hears from the agent again.
If the aim of the game is sexual gratification the agent may pose as an adult-entertainment agent. The mark may then be asked to shoot an audition video or pose for nude photos, which the agent promises will be passed on to production houses. Of course, it was all a con all along and the mark has been had…. in more ways than one.
The Auction Frenzy
At an auction frenzy a wealthy or number of wealthy marks will be convinced to attend an auction in which antiques, art or other valuables will be sold, often for charity.
What they are not aware of is the fact that there are various people in the crowd who are part of the con and are there for one sole purpose: to drive up the price of virtually worthless items and to create a bidding war in which the wealthy marks will feel that they must win a bid on something.
This con has been played since antiquity. With internet auction sites like Ebay allowing for anonymous bidding and even anonymous selling, this con has exploded and is now much more widespread.
The Nigerian Bank Scam
Perhaps the king of all cons, the Nigerian Bank Scam is so well-known it is amazing how anyone ever falls for it. Yet they do!
The scam involves the mark receiving a letter or email from a person, usually in Nigeria or another country in Africa, who claims to have laid their hands on a large sum of cash. This person will often pose as a former bank employee who knows where some long-dead families’ millions are tucked away in some forgotten bank account. They will state in the letter that if you help them get this money out of the country without being caught they will give you a large sum, often 20-30%. The amount the mark stands to gain can be millions upon millions, depending on how audacious the swindler is.
In order to get the money out, of course, the person will need some help. He will need some cash in advance to pay off a few people to overlook the transaction, to release the funds or to show “good faith”. He will also need your bank details to complete the transfer.
In the worst cases the marks bank account will be raided, the swindler having learned enough personal information throughout the course of their correspondence to clean the mark out. In the best cases, if such cases exist, the mark only loses his “good faith” money which may be tens of thousands of dollars, depending on how gullible he or she is.
Of all the cons on this list this is often the most devastating and can literally lead to a persons ruination. The sums involved are often colossal and there are cases in which victims have lost their entire life savings, often in retirement.
The Nigerian Bank Scam has taken new forms as of late with the troubled times in the Middle East. These days the swindler often poses as a desperate Iraqi or Syrian refugee begging for help to transfer their wealth out of the country so that they can start again somewhere new.
An old con in new clothes is still an old con. Never fall for this swindle, and remember that in each and every case, no matter what they deal….IF IT SOUNDS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, IT PROBABLY IS!