The Con Man Is Free!

I can do what no one has been able to do before!

These are the words you would normally hear from a three year old you are trying to convince that Batman on the movie screen is NOT jumping three stories to the ground without permanent injury.

These are also the words of the veritable con man.

The confidence man, Ponzi, scammer, The grifter or flim-flan man are all terms that have been used to describe this person.

I use only one: Criminal.

You can always count on them to show up when things are to his/her advantage. They always come with a flowery resume that, upon face value, looks compatible with what they are ‘selling’. The con man is skilled at personal skills because they are sociopaths. They have the ability to use our sub-conscious body language cues to get us to believe their product. They are quick with an answer. Faster even with blame when it doesn’t work and very guarded with the method they will use to accomplish what science, Wall Street or even God Himself can’t achieve.

They will boast of bona fides that will include name dropping that cannot be verified because, “they (the well known people) don’t want to be flooded with phone calls.”

It turns out that the first “con man” was a William Thompson who was finally arrested in 1849 in New York City. As crazy as it sounds, he would dress very well and approach another will dressed person and ask for the loan of their watch until the next day. Thompson would actually use the word “confidence” in his theft: “… would you have the confidence in me to lend me your watch until tomorrow?” I could not find any record of his sentence but I am sure it was severe by today’s standards. Thompson had all the lines used by the modern con man with the new addition of the need for the ‘mark’ to be greedy.

“If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” This seems so simple but with some amazing success stories abounding in the last century there is always a reference that the con man can fall back on. “Can you imagine what it would be like to get in on the ground floor of Microsoft?” Most of us can.

A con man will have the trappings of wealth with a matching back-story and probably even a picture with President Obama. They are universally charismatic. They can be a male or female but all are very believable.

A Ponzi scheme may not have much too much to complain about if you are one of the first ‘marks’ but as the scheme goes on there can be some signs of a break in the chain that holds the scheme together. The one person that can quickly find that chain is a forensic accountant. Now, before you get the idea that all accountants are book nerds think again.

When the forte of the FBI was busting armed criminal gangs before World War II, J. Edgar Hoover knew the adage “follow the money”. At that time the only men who could become FBI Agents were lawyers or accountants. Alfonse Capone was sent to jail because of accounting not murder. The good news is that Capone died of a venereal disease in prison. Most con men get off a lot easier and if they are caught they spend their prison sentences in the White Collar prisons and not the hard core prisons. Myself, and most victims would not agree with this privilege, given the fact that these recreants steal money from people who can ill afford the loss.

Most modern con men or women can be discovered with forensic accounting and/or close and aggressive scrutiny. The con man will closely guard his back-story with various side exits that make up his labyrinth of lies. Investigators can make quick work out of closing all those paths to the truth: He’s a con man.

The con man knows that people are basically trusting (unless you are a veteran street cop) who will believe even an incredible lie given there is enough math or techno-babble to back it up. They may send you a P&L statement but where did they get the numbers. A third party is the best to pick apart their numbers. The science part can also be brought to ground by an investigator, using contacts in the academic world who are glad to help.

These people have studied emotional triggers. They have a great sense of timing, knowing when to press and when to back off. Their only ally is their personality. All have a pat history full of tragedy and sadness. They are totally sociopathic and have no shame at all. They are like the character on Star Wars in that they can play on anyone’s emotion. No one is immune to them, even Federal Judges.

The day before Christmas Eve an FBI rookie came to me (I was FBI at the time working Bank Robberies and extortions) as the office was empty, with a fugitive lead. He asked me to read the file and airtel (what we now call an Email) from the case agent back east. The guy had scammed senior citizens and had taken off with their money to start a company on the west coast to legitimize his current medical scheme. I went with the agent to the place of business. The company of about 20 employees was having a Christmas party. The president of the company was in front of everyone giving a Christmas speech. It was him! I was thrilled! I pushed my way to the front of the group and said the man’s name.

He froze, which by the way is far more normal for humans than the ‘fight or flight’. He stammered that we had the wrong guy. The rookie started to cuff him in the front and I pushed him against the wall, searched him then cuffed him in the back. His wife was beet red!

We took the buttwipe to the US Marshalls for safe keeping until his court time. Bottom line, the Federal Judge bought his line of BS and released him on bond “for Christmas”. You all know the rest. I hope the FBI Agent that finally caught him waited until 4PM on Friday so the creep would have to spend the weekend in County Jail and get to “meet” some real hard cases!

I fail to see the ‘victimless’ part of a confidence game. Those people in Florida lost everything. Just because they don’t use violence it is OK to some. Not me.

If you are approached by a deal that sounds too good to be true and the guy is referred to you by someone else you know. Be polite. Excuse yourself. Then call a Private Investigator.

Since the person has not committed a crime, the police will not be interested in investigating. They will take the report but that will probably be as far as they take it.

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