Basic human psychology in fraud: ‘The confidence game’

Supported By:

Net Patrol International Inc.  Data Investigation and Forensic Services
Bankruptcy and Insolvency Trustees

There is a reason why sometimes fraudsters are called ‘scam artists’. Their schemes can be brilliant and will fool even the smartest people into giving away their money. One of the most important steps in scamming someone is gaining their trust, and exactly thát is what fraudsters have mastered.

The origin of the word ‘con’, often used instead of scammer or fraudster, is the term ‘confidence man’. In 1849 the New York Herald published a story about the arrest of William Thompson. The man was famous for gaining the trust of strangers on the streets. After talking with them he would ask if they had the confidence to trust him with their watch until the day after. Because of this whiz tactic he was called the ‘confidence man’ (read more).


The best deceivers of our own mind

Confidence and trust are important in a fraud scheme, but there is more. Although different names or terms can be used for the process, a lot of fraud cases fit the characteristics ‘The confidence game’. Basically in every step of this game more material is collected. The manipulated victim becomes more and more committed and involved.

This article uses the game explained by Maria Konnikova in her book The confidence game: why we all fall for it… every time (read more). She mentions the very true saying: ‘we are the best deceivers of our own mind’. The con will let the victim think he or she is making their own decisions but their believes will be manipulated in the scammers favor.

The book sums up the following steps of the game:

  1. The put-up
    Identifying the victim: who is he, what does he want, and how to play on that desire to achieve the goal.
  2. The play
    Creation of empathy and rapport: an emotional foundation before any game set in motion.
  3. The rope
    Move to logic and persuasion.
  4. The tale
    Scheme that is proposed.
  5. The convincer
    Evidence and way it will work on fraudsters benefit, show of actual profits.
  6. The breakdown
    The more the victim struggles, the less able to extricate.
  7. The send
    Victim gets so invested, emotionally and physically, that they are persuaded to go through with it, even as things go south. Sometimes they even choose to go up in the involvement.
  8. The touch
    By this stage the victim is completely fleeced; they don’t know what hit them.
  9. The blow-off and fi
    The fraudster may not even need to convince his victim to stay quiet, because they are so embarrassed that they fell for the scam.

This last step of the game is the reason why a lot of fraud cases are never reported to the police. Victims often feel foolish for being taken in by the game. Sometimes they even feel bad for the scammer because they believe the pitiful tales. Or the scammer makes sure that there will be consequences if the victim reports the fraud, like embarrassing pictures.

As a victim, make sure to consult your case with someone. You are definitely not the first person that has fallen for a scam. Some scammers truly are artist of manipulation and they fool éveryone.