‘My theme is alwey oon and evere was – Radix Malorum est Cupiditas’: Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale, Chaucer.
Radix Malorum est Cupiditas: Money/greed is the root of all evil.
In Chaucer’s Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale, we read that the Pardoner, (someone who received money or gifts on behalf of the Church supposedly, to hear confessions, and to pardon their sins), took pride in his bragging rights, by telling those he was travelling on a pilgrimage to Canterbury, that he is a fraudster, and a gluton. He relishes in this perverse pride as to how corrupt he is, and then almost as a competition to himself, he attempts to preach the wickedness of people, to his fellow travellers and offers his services as a pardoner there and then…for a fee of course.
It is this perverse amoral stance that I wish to consider in this blogpost. The belief of the swindle, and the confidence of the fraudster in gaining confidence with a victim, and eliciting money, gifts, or other physical gratification from a victim.
Let me start by saying that we are all potentially victims in waiting. Everyone can be manipulated or swindled. It is very much my wish that by writing this blogpost, it makes you stop and think, and that one less person is more aware, or that someone being manipulated to be conned, can wake up to the reality of their reality.
In this week’s blogpost, I examine some of the pschological profiling and aspects of a Con Man, and how to attempt to avoid them.
One might question why a Lawyer should be writing about such things. The reason is that any decent Fraud Lawyer should have a working knowledge and understanding of other fields of expertise, whether it is Computer Forensics, Psychology, etc…
A. Generally speaking:
From experience of defending Fraudsters in both Criminal and Civil Courts, as well as prosecuting private prosecutions, I have gained my own understanding of what makes a Con Man, and what makes a victim.
As a Certified Fraud Examiner with the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, such things feature when I am asked to investigate a particular suspected fraud, or to provide a Fraud Examination report as to strengths and weaknesses of a particular business.
For a Con Man, it is about control and manipulation.
For the purposes of this blogpost, I will refer to a Con Man as…a Con Man, and a victim as a Target.
A Con Man and a Target could be male or female. The term Con Man, could relate to either gender, and is by no means limited to class, race, or nationality. Anyone is capable of being a Con Man. Anyone is capable of becoming a Target.
A Con Man’s objectives are:
i. Teaching people what and how to think their way, so that the Target eventually makes a decision of their own choosing and desire, when all along they have been manipulated into taking such action
by the Con Man. The biggest success of a Con Man would be to get a Target to make the decision you want them to make, believing it to be a decision they have made for themselves.
ii. Divide and Rule: Driving a wedge between those confidentes closest to the Target, drawing the Target nearer to the Con Man, gaining more confidence;
iii. Divert attention: To divert attention from the real issue or truth of a matter; To divert attention from the Con Man by way of misidrection; To make an issue, or something more important than it is, to
avoid a legitimate complaint, or questioning by a Target of the actions taken, or being asked to take;
In order to achieve those objectives, a Con Man may seek to manipulate a Target’s perception and outlook on life: To distort the truth, and to give misinformation and disinformation.
To further the objective, a Con Man, may use a 3rd party to validate a Con Man’s representations, or perhaps to verify something of his/her background, to bring further belief to the yarn being woven, and to close the web of deceit upon a Target.
B. Character Traits of a Con Man:
Impulsive, amoral, uncontrolled and detached from normal. The essential feature of Antisocial Personality Disorder is a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others …
This pattern has also been referred to as psychopathy, sociopathy, or dissocial personality disorder…
Individuals with Antisocial Personality Disorder frequently lack empathy and tend to be callous, cynical, and contemptuous of the feelings, rights, and sufferings of others.”
Chuck Whitlock, Chuck Whitlock’s Scam School , © 1997, MACMILLAN, New York, NY, pages 20, 21; Richard H. Blum, Deceivers and Deceived: Observations on Confidence Men and Their Victims, Informants and Their Quarry, Political and Industrial Spies and Ordinary Citizens, (Springfield: Charles C. Thomas, 1972), pp 49-50.
The scammer is compulsive, exactly like a compulsive gambler or compulsive liar. It is interesting to note that although the scammer is a sharp-witted liar, his gambling skills are such that he usually loses his ill-gotten gains within hours of the take.
Swindlers irresistibly drawn to scam. It gives them an adrenaline rush when you are so enthralled with their made-up persona that you quite literally shove your money into their hands. The scam itself is an ego trip. While the swindler is stroking you with praises galore, you are actually praising his cleverness by believing everything he or she tells you. Oh joy in the morning!
The danger of the missing gene
There is no guilt associated with a scam, not even the slightest twinge. A con artist is quite simply missing that particular gene. The con artist has no inbred stops, no conscience. That’s what it means to be a sociopath. If anything, the con feels justified in taking your money, “You deserved to be taken. You asked for it.”
Why is this dangerous? Because it means that the con artist will pressure you to the end of your resources, regardless of the pain and grief it causes you. Neither children, nor the elderly, nor the fragile of health are immune from his attack. It does not matter to the con that he may be taking your last dime, nor does it matter to him that you may need the promised wealth to pay for a dire need. This criminal will take your money to the detriment of your health by selling fake cures and false hopes, even knowing that his scam may ultimately cause your death.
FraudAid: Why do Con Artists Scam?
C. Avoiding being a Target or a Victim of Confidence Fraud:
An Example: Payment Protection Insurance scams: PPI Scams
Unless you live without any means of communication, it is unlikely that you have not been approached by someone either by a phone call, letter, or text message. As you listen or read the messages being made aggressively, and at times subliminally, you wonder: Did I pay for PPI? Am I due a windfall of money? I could sure use some extra money. The fee requested to obtain a refund is not so bad. After all, I would not have gone to the trouble myself to get money back. Why not give my account details, and my bank card over. The last 3 digits on the back? yes..654. My post code? Yes its…
What went wrong? Believing in a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, you stayed engaged with the caller. You did not just hang up, or delete the text message received. The Banks will generally contact you if there is going to be a repayment. Otherwise, contact the Bank yourself. You do not need a middle-man to do this.
Stanford University has set up a Research Centre to prevent catastrophic incidents of financal fraud. There is a culmination of Lawyers, Psychologists, Computer scientists, neuroscientists, former Con Men, victims, Police, and anti-fraud organisations, piecing together and re-mapping what makes a Con Man, and how effectively to ‘Outsmart Con artists’.
The research shows that the more you create and make the public of ‘red flags’, things to look out for and to avoid, the less likely you may fall victim to confidence fraud.
Playing on emotions:
People are susceptible to a scam when their emotions are fired up, albeit positively or negatively.
Who wouldn’t want to hear that for older people, equity release would be a way of living in your home but releasing money for your grandchildren who need the money most right now..
Who wouldn’t hear for those working long hours, that a holiday or trip of a lifetime should not be a priority, because after all, it is about a healthy balance of work against living life to the full.
How about winning some money? A long-lost relative giving you an inheritance? (Wait: Did I really have a relative called Jesus or Mohammed Rosen?…from a Jewish family? Really?)
Here’s some shares and a window of opportunity to invest and get a quick return, but hurry…if you do not invest in the next few minutes, you will miss this once in a lifetime opportunity.
The real challenge is to warn people, and I hope that in some small way I get the message out there to be on the look out for Con Men, and not to fall victim or to become a Target.
Professor David Rosen is a Solicitor-Advocate, Partner, and head of Litigation specialising in Civil Fraud and Criminal Fraud. He is a Certified Fraud Examiner, Vice-President and Strategic Director of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners UK Chapter,. He is a working member of the Fraud Advisory Panel, and a member of the Society of Legal Scholars. He is an associate Professor of Law at Brunel University.
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