Five Tricks of a Con Artist

If you fell for a scam, chances are it was because a skillful salesperson pushed all the right buttons. Here are five ways that smart sales people - and scam artists - can get you to part with your hard-earned money against your better judgment.

They give you something for nothing

When someone you don't know well gives you something for nothing, be alert. Be aware of the feeling of obligation that the other person has created in you. Is that person manipulating you into buying or doing something that is not in your best interests?

The offer of a sumptuous dinner or a "free gift" sets you up for a high-pressure sales pitch. Many consumers part with large sums of money that they had not planned because they had accepted something up front.

He makes you like him

Smooth operators spend time up front making themselves likeable to their intended victims. They are often quite heartless in selecting individuals who live alone, cultivating their trust and affection.

Con artists are often attractive. They may use flattery, making their intended victims feel appreciated, listened to, and cared about. These people are often quite good at picking up on people's interests, beliefs and preferences solely for the purpose of pretending to have these things in common.

If someone is trying to sell you something, or trying to get you to do something, stop and ask yourself how much you like this person. Don't let it cloud your judgment about the deal. Be aware that the person may have created a good impression very deliberately in order to take advantage of you.

They make you think it's now or never

This is just about the oldest trick in the book. The seller tells you that an offer is good for a limited time only - it's the chance of a lifetime, and supplies are limited. Every high-pressure sale is made in an atmosphere of urgency: hurry, don't wait, don't think, it's a golden opportunity, and you would be a fool to miss it. Your natural impulse is to grab the opportunity.

Of course, there are golden opportunities in life, but they are rare, whereas high-pressure sales are depressingly common. Be aware that the appearance of fleeting availability in and of itself will make you feel compelled to buy. Try not to be driven by that feeling. Recognize it for what it is: a feeling deliberately (and easily!) caused by a common sales tactic. The offer is hardly ever the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity the salesperson would like you to think it is.

He says he's going to make you rich

It is impossible to be prepared for all the different stories cons will make up to explain how you are going to come into a fortune. Lotteries, sweepstakes, investments, business opportunities, government grants and long lost inheritances - we have heard it all. The main thing is, a perfect stranger tempts you with a promise of riches that will make all your problems go away and set your family up on Easy Street forever. He may even ask whether you want cash or a direct deposit in your bank account.

You really, really wish it were true. But the hard reality is that you are going to be the first one to write a check. You will find you need to pay a fee, a cost of wire transfer, insurance, tax or some such thing in advance. Don't do it! You did not win the contest or the lottery (which, when you think about it, you never even entered), and you are not going to get rich. You are the intended victim of a cruel and costly hoax. And by the way: don't give him your bank account number "so he can deposit the money." That's not really why he wants it.

They make you believe it worked for other people

Word of mouth is an excellent source of information for any consumer. We always recommend that anyone hiring a contractor, for example, should ask for the names of other customers to call for references. However it is important to note that testimonials are only useful if they are from other real, unbiased consumers who can be contacted independently.

A collection of written testimonials provided by the seller (even if it includes real-looking names, addresses and photographs) is another matter. It could be real, but it could be fake. Testimonials and references only count if you can talk to real people independently of the seller.

Also be aware that when you see that other people have accepted something, there is a natural tendency to relax and simply trust their judgment. But if everybody just believes everybody else, you could all be duped together. This often happens with investment frauds.

Pyramid schemes (or "gifting clubs") are a special case: other "customers" may want you to believe, not because the investment is a good one, but because they need you to join so they can recoup their own investments. They are looking out for themselves, not for you!

The bottom line: he makes you trust him. "Con" is short for confidence. The con artist's art is making you feel confidence - in him and what he tells you. Con artists get what they want from you by winning your trust and establishing their own credibility in your eyes. They are experts at using your natural impulses and reactions against you.

 

Revised: May 06 2010