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A confidence trick or confidence game (also known as a bunko, con, flim flam, gaffle, grift, hustle, scam, scheme, swindle or bamboozle) is an attempt to defraud a person or group by gaining their confidence. The victim is known as the mark, the trickster is called a confidence man, con man, confidence trickster, grifter, or con artist, and any accomplices are known as shills. Confidence men or women exploit characteristics of the human psyche such as greed, both dishonesty and honesty, vanity, compassion, credulity, irresponsibility, and naïveté. Confidence men or women have victimized individuals from all walks of life.
The first known usage of the term "confidence man" in English was in 1849; it was used by American press during the United States 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 tricks
Confidence tricks exploit typical human qualities such as greed, dishonesty, vanity, honesty, compassion, credulity, irresponsibility and naïveté. The common factor is that the victim (mark) relies on the good faith 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 naïve, uneducated, or elderly.
A greedy or dishonest mark 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."
Shills, also known as accomplices, 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 strangers who have benefited from performing the task in the past.
Real-life con artists
Fictional con artists
- Franchise fraud
- List of confidence tricks
- Malignant narcissism
- Moving scam
- Ponzi scheme
- Psychological manipulation
- Pyramid scheme
- Scad (scam ad)
- Scam baiting
- Scams in intellectual property
- Social engineering
- Spanish Prisoner
- Sting operation
- Swampland in Florida
- UK Plot Based Land Banking
- White-collar crime
- Ball, J. Bowyer; Whaley, Barton (1982). Cheating and Deception (reprint 1991). New Brunswick (USA), London (UK): Transaction Publishers. ISBN 0-88738-868-X.
- Blundell, Nigel (1984) . The World's Greatest Crooks and Conmen and other mischievous malefactors. London: Octopus Books. ISBN 0-7064-2144-2.
- Dillon, Eamon (2008) . The Fraudsters: Sharks and Charlatans - How Con Artists Make Their Money. Merlin Publishing. ISBN 978-1-903582-82-4.
- Ford, Charles V. (1999) . Lies! Lies!! Lies!!!: The Psychology of Deceit. American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc.. ISBN 978-0-880489-97-3.
- Henderson, Les (2000). Crimes of Persuasion: Schemes, scams, frauds. Coyote Ridge Publishing. ISBN 0-9687133-0-0.
- Kaminski, Marek M. (2004). Games Prisoners Play. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-11721-7.
- Maurer, David W. (1999) . The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man and the Confidence Game (reprinted). New York: Bobbs Merrill / Anchor Books. ISBN 0-385-49538-2.
- Maurer, David W. (1974). The American Confidence Man. Springfield: Charles C. Thomas, Publisher. ISBN 0-398-02974-1.
- Sutherland, Edwin Hardin (1937). The Professional Thief (reprint 1989). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-78051-1.
- "Arrest of the Confidence Man" New York Herald, 1849
- Dateline NBC investigation 'To Catch a Con Man'