Archives January 2012

Confidence and Con Men

It’s been said that you can’t cheat an honest man. But you can, if he’s naïve enough
The term “confidence man” first came into general use about 160 years ago during the trial in New York of a crook named William Thompson, who accosted strangers and talked them into loaning him their watches, then simply walked off with the timepieces.
Thompson has been followed by a long parade of con men, as they are now known. And what makes a great con artist? I have had extensive hands-on experience investigating hundreds of fraud cases and commercial crimes over the years in my profession and I was wondering which one tops my chart for the greatest one I have run into.
What makes the great con artists, the men who sell the Brooklyn Bridge, who practice the schemes perfected by the famous Carlo Ponzi anyway? They have to be sly but unsuspecting; extraordinary yet ordinary; and very clever at finding simplicity out of complexity and to employ all these traits with their calculated moves, just to get the most out of their innocent victims, or we wouldn’t label them con men.
I have another criterion: their tricks have to be very simple and elegant in design. And to top it off, they should never get caught. By this set of criteria, I have a winner – an insurance fraudster I once investigated in Hong Kong some years ago (Read the entire column here and there).