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How Do I Spot a Con Man?

By Tara Barnett
Updated May 16, 2024
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A great con man is almost impossible to spot, which is the key to his or her success. Lesser con men, on the other hand, are often tripped up by their own lies. Certain con strategies are well known and can therefore be spotted easily. Problematically, con men are usually fairly good at determining if a person is susceptible to his or her con, which means that if someone might spot the con, that person will not be the victim of the con. Often, someone must balance being trusting and kind with self-preservation when dealing with a person she believes might be a con man.

Spotting a con man relies on thinking critically about all situations. Any situation might be a con, although those explicitly involving money are the most likely to be used. A specific type of con, sometimes called love fraud, involves gaining a person's trust by creating an intimate relationship with that person in order to achieve financial gain. Other types of cons are often faster and may involve providing an offer of cash in order to ensure a reciprocal offer. A con man must make the situation seem reasonable and socially compelling in order for the con to be effective.

One way to spot a con man is to catch him or her in a lie that he or she cannot explain. Often, a con will rely on a fabricated back story, which can sometimes backfire if the con artist is inexperienced. When asked to explain the conflicting information, the person in question may accuse the victim of paranoia or distrust. If a person is repeatedly caught lying about basic information, he or she may be a con man.

Another great way to spot a con man is to look out for signs that the predator is isolating a victim from any support network. Psychologically, humans are more susceptible to being conned when other people cannot provide contrasting accounts of the con artist's character. Isolation makes small changes to subjective reality possible, making quite irrational actions seem logical. It is hard, particularly when dealing with experienced scammers, to differentiate between true affection and isolation tactics. For this reason, people should always maintain a network of trusted friendships.

When a con artist is truly inexperienced, he or she may attempt a well-known con or a classic strategy. These tricks are often marked by telltale events or conditions, like urgency, fake professional qualifications, or even investment plans that make no logical sense. Reading up on classic cons can help protect a person from current con artists, even if the specifics of the con change slightly.

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Discussion Comments
By Cageybird — On Sep 26, 2014

A really good con man usually picks his victims carefully. Elderly people often fall for telemarketing scams, because the caller will speak faster or softer than usual. All a telemarketer has to do is get the victim to say "yes" to an offer and it can be considered a legal agreement. It doesn't matter if the victim realizes later that he or she didn't fully understand the terms, or if a concerned relative calls the telemarketers to complain. The damage has already been done, and the telemarketer will often have recorded evidence of the verbal contract.

By mrwormy — On Sep 25, 2014

Every so often, there are stories in my local paper about people getting ripped off by a con man, and sometimes I can't believe how obvious those con man games appear to be. I can't see how anyone with any sense could fall for these things, but they do.

One woman fell for an old con where a father and son team tell her they had enough left over material from a job to pave her driveway at a deep discount. She gave them some cash and they proceeded to spray a thin layer of oil and asphalt on the existing driveway and then left, never to be seen again. I'd say anyone who offers an incredibly good deal on home repairs is probably a grifter or con man.

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