The scam hinged on ten beers and a bottle of gin ordered over the phone from our regular wine shop. Being a long time customer, we had an arrangement where the bills would be paid monthly.
One month, when my mom finally sat down with the bills, the assistant who had placed the order was on vacation. The number of the wine shop was not available on mother’s phone. She found the listing on Google and called them.
‘Brother, I have your check ready. Please send someone to collect it.’
‘We no longer accept cheques, only credit card payments. We also have a plan, 40% discount on the bill for payments made before 1 PM. Give the credit card number quickly.
When he tried to explain that his credit card had recently expired, he was rudely told to stop wasting time. He then heard her calling someone, using a profanity, followed by, ‘She is pretending and not giving cards,’ before the phone was slammed.
My cousin decided to meet the shop owner over this rude exchange. The truth has finally come to the fore. The Google listing was fraudulent and my mother narrowly escaped being caught in a flurry.
Tales of alleged thug artists are published daily in the newspapers. Bengaluru-born millionaire who dated Bollywood stars and allegedly duped Ranbaxy’s Shivinder Singh’s wife of Rs 200 crore by posing as a government official. A 66-year-old man from Odisha pretended to be a doctor. Despite growing enough hair from his ears to tie in a ponytail, he managed to cheat 27 women (including a Supreme Court lawyer, a chartered accountant and a doctor) out of matrimony and their savings. To pull off a successful con, make the most of these tricks from Robert Cialdini’s Principles of Persuasion.
Reciprocity: Con artists often give you unexpected gifts or do you favors. The argument goes that with a display of generosity, there is an inherent obligation to return the kindness.
Scarcity: The less you think you’ll get something, the more you want it. A ploy used by a man posing as a salesman who offered my mother a discount, but only if she paid by 1 p.m.
Authority: We trust people who hold positions of authority. That’s why scamsters are calling themselves doctors and government officials.
Small Commitments: If you persuade someone to do a small thing for you, conversely, they are more open to doing big things for you.
Likely: Great cheaters turn you into suckers by feigning similar interests, mirroring body language, and finding your weaknesses.
To learn more about how con games are played, I recommend the following shows, books, and podcasts.
1 | Bad Blood by John Carriro
The charismatic Elizabeth Holmes, cosplaying Steve Jobs on the cover of Forbes with her black turtleneck, presented a compelling idea. A simple prick and his portable machine, Edison, could perform tests cheaper and faster than all existing laboratories. Holmes’ prototype never worked, but that didn’t stop him from fabricating the result and defrauding investors of millions. Carreiro’s book is based on his investigation that led to Elizabeth’s conviction this January.
2 | Anna’s invention
A show based on the infamous Anna Delvey who cast herself as a wealthy heiress. She’s the popular girl floating about town through New York, leaving behind a trail of bounced checks and fake wire transfers while defrauding banks, hotels, and friends.
3 | tinder thug
The documentary follows Simon Leviev, who worked as the heir to a diamond empire and spent first dates on private planes with girls he met on Tinder. The women were soon informed that he was in danger and asked to send money. The money that was received from one was spent in implicating the other. A Ponzi scheme that Charles Ponzi would have taken off his hat in praise of.
4 | scam goddess
A podcast where Lacy Mosley talks with comedy writers about ‘What’s Hot in Fraud’ about scammers like Lou Pearlman, a record producer who was behind the Backstreet Boys and then defrauded investors of nearly $1 billion Cheated.
5 | catch Me If You Can
Steven Spielberg’s film was based on the life of Frank Abagnale Jr., who pretended to be an airline pilot. A master counterfeiter, he received parole after serving a few years of a 12-year sentence so that he could help the FBI uncover other counterfeiters. Abagnale said in an interview that it was easier to overcome the opposition now than in his time because we give up too much personal information on social media sites.
For all those who think they’re too smart to get scammed, here’s some advice from Johnathan Walton who calls himself a ‘con-hunter’: ‘Con artists don’t scam you, they use your emotions to scam you. Do it to scam.
I guess this is true because the only time I was totally duped was by someone who gained my sympathy.
I was a former employee who had to sell her house to pay off her husband’s debt. He needed the money to pay the deposit on the rent. I obliged and then learned that she was living at the same address. On enquiry, he said that his distraught daughter was unwilling to leave, so he rented the same house that he had sold. This should have set off high-pitch sirens on my mental monitors, but like most suckers, I was already emotionally invested and chose to believe it.
His next round of fundraising proved to be his downfall. He asked me a huge amount for his father’s hospital bills. Eventually, I came to know that the insurance company had settled the bills. The money I gave her actually went towards the ‘medical department’, right into the pocket of the ambulance driver who turned into her boyfriend, driving her father to the hospital.
A tiny pro compared to the multitude of cons in the final tally, the experience left me with a bit of an insightful puzzle.
What do leeches and humans have in common? We are all basically suckers who once attached to someone find it hard to let go.
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