scam n : a fraudulent business scheme [syn: cozenage] v : deprive of by deceit; "He swindled me out of my inheritance"; "She defrauded the customers who trusted her"; "the cashier gypped me when he gave me too little change" [syn: victimize, swindle, rook, goldbrick, nobble, diddle, bunco, defraud, mulct, gyp, con]
- Rhymes: -æm
A confidence trick or confidence game, more often known as a con, scam, swindle, grift, bunko, flim flam, or scheme, is an attempt to swindle a person or people (known as the "mark" or sometimes "griftee") which involves gaining his or her confidence. (For confidence tricks dealing with information theft or computers see social engineering.)
HistoryThe first known usage of the term "confidence man" was in 1849; it was used by the press during the 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 tricksPersons of any level of intelligence are vulnerable to deception by experienced con artists. Confidence tricks exploit human weaknesses like greed, dishonesty, vanity, but also virtues like honesty, compassion, or a naïve expectation of good faith on the part 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 naive, uneducated, or elderly.
Confidence tricksters often rely on the greed and dishonesty of the mark, who may attempt to out-cheat the con artist, only to discover that he or she has been manipulated into losing from the very beginning. This is such a general principle in confidence tricks that there is a saying among con men that "you can't cheat an honest man."
Nevertheless, some tricks depend on the honesty of the victim. In a common scam, as part of an apparently legitimate transaction, the victim is sent a worthless check, which the victim then deposits. The victim is then urged to forward the apparent value of the check to the trickster as cash, possibly keeping a small portion of the money as a commission, which they may do before discovering the check bounces. Another fashionable scenario (as of 2006) has the victim recruited as a "financial agent" to collect "business debts". Paper checks are not always involved: funds may be transferred electronically from another victim.
Sometimes con men rely on naive individuals who put their confidence in get-rich-quick schemes, such as "too good to be true" investments. It may take years for the wider community to discover that such investment schemes are bogus. By the time they are discovered, many people may have lost their life savings to something in which they have been persuaded to invest.
The confidence trickster often works with one or more accomplices called shills, who 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 random strangers who have benefited from successfully performing the task.
Notable con artists
Born in the 18th century
- Gregor MacGregor (1786-1845) – Scottish conman who tried to attract investment and settlers for a non-existent country of Poyais
Born/active in the 19th century
- William Thompson (active in 1840-1849) – US criminal whose deceptions caused the term "confidence man" to be coined
- Lou Blonger (1849-1924) – organized massive ring of con men in Denver in early 1900s
- Soapy Smith (1860-1898) – confidence gang boss, who operated in Denver, Colorado; Creede, Colorado; and Skagway, Alaska
- George C. Parker (1870-1936) – US con man who sold New York monuments to tourists
- Scotty (1872-1954) a prospector, performer, and con man, who was made famous by his many scams involving gold mining and the iconic mansion in Death Valley, popularly known as Scotty's Castle
- Joseph Weil (1875-1976) – one of the most famous American con men of his era
- Horace de Vere Cole (1881-1936)
- Charles Ponzi (1882-1949) – Italian immigrant into the US; "Ponzi scheme" is a "get rich fast" fraud named after him
- Victor Lustig (1890-1947) – born in Bohemia (today's Czech Republic) and known as "the man who sold the Eiffel Tower"
- Canada Bill Jones – riverboat gambler and card shark
Born/active in the 20th century
- Clifford Irving (1930) – US writer, best known for an "authorized autobiography" of Howard Hughes that turned out to be a hoax
- Frank Abagnale (1948) – former US con artist, check forger and impostor; his autobiography, Catch Me If You Can, was made into a movie
- James Arthur Hogue (1959) – US impostor who most famously entered Princeton University by posing as a self-taught orphan
- Robert Hendy-Freegard (1971) – British con artist who kidnapped people impersonating as an MI5 agent and conned them out of money; he was convicted in 2005
- Gert Postel (1958) – German medicine con, a simple postman who for decades pretended to be a medical doctor, worked from 1995 for almost 2 years as a psychiatrist in a small province hospital in Saxony
Notable confidence tricks in movies and television
- The Lady Eve (1941) – directed by Preston Sturges; the main character, Jean Harrington (Barbara Stanwyck), is a con artist.
- Racket Squad (1951–1953) – TV series in the style of Dragnet with all episodes focused on confidence crimes.
- The Rainmaker (1956) – directed by Joseph Anthony; the main character, Bill Starbuck (Burt Lancaster), is a con artist.
- Witness for the Prosecution (1957) – directed by Billy Wilder
- The Music Man (1962) – produced and directed by Morton DaCosta; the main character, Harold Hill (Robert Preston), is a con artist.
- Mission: Impossible (1966–73 TV series) – the IMF team's adventures usually take the form of an elaborate con game in which the villain is the mark. Series writer William Read Woodfield was a self-professed confidence enthusiast.
- The Flim-Flam Man (1967) – directed by Irvin Kershner; the main character, Mordecai Jones (George C. Scott), is a con artist.
- The Producers (1968) – written and directed by Mel Brooks; the main characters, Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) and Leopold Bloom (Gene Wilder), are con artists.
- Midnight Cowboy - directed by John Schlesinger; the main character, Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman) is a small-time con artist.
- Skin Game (1971) – directed by Paul Bogart; the main characters, Quincy Drew (James Garner) and Jason O'Rourke (Louis Gossett Jr.), con people.
- The Sting (1973) – directed by George Roy Hill; two professional grifters, Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) and Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) try to con a mob boss
- The A-Team (1983–1986, TV) - created by Frank Lupo and Stephen J. Cannell; con tricks are performed mostly by team member Tempelton Peck (played by Dirk Benedict)
- House of Games (1987) – directed by David Mamet; features con artists as main characters
- The Vanishing (1988) – directed by George Sluizer; directed by Frank Oz the main character is a victim of a confidence trick; a remake was released in 1993
- Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988) – directed by Frank Oz; main characters, Freddy Benson (Steve Martin) and Lawrence Jamieson (Michael Caine), are con artists
- The Grifters (1990) – directed by Stephen Frears; the story of Lilly Dillon (Anjelica Huston), a con artist
- Diggstown (1992) – directed by Michael Ritchie; the main character, Gabriel Caine (James Woods), is a con man
- Six Degrees of Separation (1993) – directed by Fred Schepisi; the plot was inspired by the real-life story of David Hampton, a con man
- The Usual Suspects (1995) – directed by Bryan Singer; the main character, Roger 'Verbal' Kint (Kevin Spacey), is a con man
- Traveller (1997) – Bokky (Bill Paxton) is a confidence man
- The Spanish Prisoner (1997) – directed by David Mamet; named after the confidence game "Spanish Prisoner"
- Boiler Room (2000) – directed by Ben Younger. Giovanni Ribisi plays entry-level investment broker in Microcap Stock Fraud, with Ben Affleck and Vin Diesel.
- Nine Queens (Nueve Reinas) (2000) – directed by Fabián Bielinsky; tells the story of two con artists who meet by chance and decide to cooperate in a scam; remade as Criminal (2004)
- The Prime Gig (2000) – directed by Gregory Mosher; Pendelton "Penny" Wise (Vince Vaughn) is a con artist
- Birthday Girl (2001) – directed by Jez Butterworth; the main character, John Buckingham (Ben Chaplin), is a victim of a scam based on the con
- Heist (2001) – directed by David Mamet; the plot is based on a confidence game
- Heartbreakers (2001) – directed by David Mirkin; Max (mother) and Page Conners (daughter) con women
- Ocean's Eleven (2001) (remake of the 1960 film by Lewis Milestone) and sequels Ocean's Twelve (2004) and Ocean's Thirteen (2007) – directed by Steven Soderbergh; films about con artists and the con
- The Score (2001) – directed by Frank Oz; the main characters try to con one another
- Catch Me If You Can (2002) – directed by Steven Spielberg; story about a real-life con artist and impostor Frank Abagnale
- Confidence (2003) – directed by James Foley; a group of con artists attempt to rip off a corrupt bank president
- Matchstick Men (2003) – directed by Ridley Scott; the main characters are con artists
- Shade (2003) – directed by Damian Nieman; story about poker hustlers who try to con other players
- Hustle (2004 - present) – a BBC series about a team of con artists
- Lost (2004), TV series, two characters, James "Sawyer" Ford and Anthony Cooper, are both con-artists.
- A Con (2005) – created by a con artist Skyler Stone, who reveals the secrets of his profession by performing confidence tricks, scams, and hoaxes
- Revolver (2005) – directed by Guy Ritchie; one of the main characters, Jake Green (Jason Statham), is a con artist, and the premise of the film is a con
- Bluffmaster (2005) – directed by Rohan Sippy; the main character, Roy, is a professional conman
- Colour Me Kubrick (2006) – directed by Brian W. Cook; based on a true story of Alan Conway, who posed as director Stanley Kubrick
- Lucky Number Slevin (2006) – directed by Paul McGuigan; main character, Slevin Kelevra (Josh Hartnett) performs an elaborate con as a revenge
- The Real Hustle (2006 - present) – BBC series; actors playing a team of ex-grifters explain the secrets of the con to the public
- Kurosagi (2006)-Japanese drama that reflects on the art of different cons and swindling methods.Starring Yamashita Tomohisa
- Believe (2007) - directed by Loki Mulholland; a mockumentary about multi-level marketing
- The Riches (2007), FX series about a nomadic, drifter family
Notable confidence tricks in literature
- The Confidence-Man (1857) – novel by Herman Melville; the main character tests confidence of other people
- Les Misérables (1862) - novel by Victor Hugo; the Thénardiers, two of the primary villains, scam money from people
- Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) – novel by Mark Twain; two characters, The Duke and the Dauphin are grifters
- "The Red-Headed League" (1891) – Sherlock Holmes story by Arthur Conan Doyle, which involves a sort of confidence trick used to enable a bank robbery
- The Twelve Chairs (1928) and The Little Golden Calf (1931) – satirical novels by Ilf and Petrov; the main character, Ostap Bender, is a con man, who has carried out most of the tricks listed below, and The Little Golden Calf contains a fictional secret society of con men called Children of Lieutenant Schmidt
- The Space Merchants (1953) – sci-fi novel by Frederik Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth is replete with con games practiced by corporations
- Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man: The Early Years (1954) – Thomas Mann's unfinished novel about a German con man
- The Stainless Steel Rat (1961 – present) – series of sci-fi novels by Harry Harrison; the protagonist, James Bolivar diGriz ("Slippery Jim"), is a con man and uses abundant schemes and frauds
- The Golden Egg (1984) – psychological thriller novel by Tim Krabbé features a chemistry teacher who employs con for the purpose of kidnapping
- If Tomorrow Comes (1985) – novel by Sidney Sheldon, which has a con artist as the main character and is mostly based on trickery and deception
- Hellblazer (1988 – present) – ongoing horror comic book series by Alan Moore; the main character, John Constantine, uses confidence scams, trickery and magick
- The Brethren (2000) – novel by John Grisham features a con run by three incarcerated judges
- Matchstick Men (2002) – novel by Eric Garcia; the main characters are con artists
- American Gods (2001) – novel by Neil Gaiman uses a two-man con as a major plot element
- Going Postal (2004) – Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel features a convicted and condemned con artist Moist von Lipwig, who applies the principles of the con in his new job as Postmaster General
- The Lies of Locke Lamora (2006) – fantasy novel by Scott Lynch follows the adventures of a group of con artists known as the Gentlemen Bastards
- Many of the crime novels by Jim Thompson involve confidence artists
- The novel The Lost Kings incorporates a character living in hell who is often involved in both single and large group confidence schemes.
- Travis McGee, fictional character in John D. MacDonald's series of novels, frequently uses con games or has them tried against him
- Simon Templar, also known as "The Saint", in Leslie Charteris' novels and stories is often involved in scams and cons
- Repairman Jack, fictional character in F. Paul Wilson's series of novels, often runs scams on other con artists.
- Ralph Trilipush in Arthur Phillips' novel The Egyptologist, a brilliant con who eventually cons himself.
- Advance fee fraud (also known as 'Nigerian scam' or '419 scam')
- Bogus escrow – straightforward confidence trick in which a scammer operates a bogus escrow service
- Get-rich-quick schemes – plan to acquire high rates of return for a small investment
- Pyramid scheme – non-sustainable business model that involves the exchange of money primarily for enrolling other people into the scheme, usually without any product or service being delivered
- Quackery – term used to describe questionable medical practices
- Romance scam
- Scam baiting — deliberately seeking out scammers to expose them or waste their time
- Scams in intellectual property
- Social engineering - Techniques used to manipulate people into performing actions or divulging confidential information.
- Spam - Most, if not all spam is nothing more than a scam, such as the "You WON the $1,000,000 Grand Prize", then to "claim" the (non-existent) prize, the scammer needs your personal information which is in turn used to effect all manner of crime against you, including ID Theft.
- Sting operation - confidence tricks used for the purpose of law enforcement
- Totse - See the "Bad Ideas" section on the Totse website. It includes scam examples and how to pull them off on unsuspecting people, Wal-Mart, other commercial enterprises; and how to protect yourself from such scams..
- White-collar crime – crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation
- White van speakers – scam sales technique in which a salesman makes a buyer believe he is getting a good price on audio merchandise
- Marek M. Kaminski (2004) Games Prisoners Play. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-11721-7
- "Arrest of the Confidence Man" New York Herald, 1849
- House of Deception bibliography and art gallery of confidence crime
- Dateline NBC investigation 'To Catch a Con Man'
- Looks too good to be true.com Types of fraud, etc.
- The Encyclopedia of Scam An encyclopaedia of confidence tricks
- Famous pranks (Sniggle.net)
scam in Danish: Bondefanger
scam in German: Bauernfängerei
scam in Spanish: Estafa
scam in Galician: Scam
scam in Ido: Eskroko
scam in Indonesian: Scam
scam in Italian: Scam
scam in Hebrew: תרגיל עוקץ
scam in Dutch: Oplichting
scam in Norwegian: Lurendreieri
scam in Polish: Scam
scam in Swedish: Lurendrejeri
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