Have you ever been in a situation such as the following? A person you trust is acting strange. Your mind can see the red flags, but because you have a relationship of confidence with this person, you create an exception.
“Appearances can be deceitful.”
Think of this example:
A friend tells you he’s going on vacation to another country. But one week after he left, you find someone in the distance that resembles him in a local supermarket. Could it be him?
Since he told you he will be traveling, you won’t recognize him unless you see his face. In reality, your friend hasn’t gone traveling, he’s in the supermarket, and you’re experiencing a pattern recognition trick.
This interesting idea comes from the book “How To Create A Mind” by Ray Kurzweil, a neuroscientist. It explains how AI thinking and the human brain relate to each other.
What does this have to do with confidence tricks?
Our capacity to perceive reality depends on how we recognize patterns, and connect the dots. The first pattern you find makes you think of the opposite pattern as improbable. A con man could use these tricks to disable you from detecting a trap you would otherwise see as “evident.”
It may sound confusing, especially with the many tools they use to con you. Tricksters use misinformation, self-interest, urgency, social proof, or misdirections to make you do something you never would with a clear mind.
- What Are Confidence Tricks?
- Seven Weapons Scammers Use To Manipulate Perception
- Types of Confidence Tricks: 6 Examples
- Are Confidence Tricks Avoidable?
- The Bottom Line
What Are Confidence Tricks?
Confidence tricks have nothing to do with reality and everything to do with the way your brain works. It’s not about the scam, but how you look at it. As long as you think the person follows your best interests, you will keep missing the red flags.
- When giving bad news or instructions, con men doublespeak. Many words have the same definition: some are widely used, others have connotations, and others are technical/unknown. People will say Yes either because of ignorance or hearing the words they wanted to hear.
- You want something from them, which they use as a hook to disguise their real intentions.
- Con men prefer keeping the matters in private, meaning that nobody will be there to help you spot the confidence trick. You keep the opportunity in secret because of greed or fear.
- They lure you with promises, so you take action before they do. You take risks while they wait for the best moment to run away.
- They pose as someone else, forge documents, or show fake social proof. If “others” have trusted him, you should too.
These tricks use partial truths, also known as appearances.
Because of these grey areas, the law can’t do anything to stop it. You can neither report it properly because the confused You allowed it to happen.
Once you have that skill, you can manipulate people, get what you want, and they won’t be able to do anything to fix it. It’s so hard that the only way to get your money back from this scam is to scam the one who scammed you. Highly unlikely.
Even worse, preventing confidence tricks isn’t as easy as reading some tips. It requires experience, alertness, and knowing how to make decisions. Your chances depend on who reaches out to you and what tools they use. Of course, the bigger the reward, the more elaborated the scheme will be.
Anybody can do it with practice, which means you can find confidence tricks anywhere, unfortunately.
As for the risks, the best that can happen to you is losing money. You lose, get angry, and learn, and forget about it. If you lose your identity, the effects can take longer to undo some of which could last years (credit score and debt).
Seven Weapons Scammers Use To Manipulate Perception
Gaining someone’s trust takes time and effort. Although it’s more secure to start from zero, the laziest scammers will default to imposter schemes. Because why do work someone else has already done “for you?”
Scammers visit phishing stores where they can buy fake websites from world-class brands. Also, they fake emails and pose on phone calls to supplant that identity.
The smartest people will research what verification steps you need, then forge those documents. If they trust your new identity, you could do anything that identity usually does: ask for money. IRS, debt collectors, e-com platforms, banks, “taxation offices,” and lenders are some favorites.
#2 Affinity Groups
Assumptions. Yet another effective way to skip the relationship process: make the victim believe you’re a person just like them.
You could share some attributes— age, ethnic group, beliefs, social activities, interests, political beliefs, religion— and the person could make false assumptions.
If religious people generally donate to charities, you could think a religious person is a philanthropist. You’d never believe they own a bogus charity program.
By sharing a few elements, it gives the impression everyone in the group has the same moral values and objectives.
#3 The Clock
Is time money? In a confidence scam, time is money for the scammer, the money he takes from you. Or should we say the money you gave away?
You see, on-the-spot decisions aren’t accurate. Think of your emotions, your thoughts, energy levels, and perspective. All of it affects the way you see the world.
At that moment, that decision could look like the best in the world. Give yourself 24-48hours no matter how certain. You’d be surprised to know how drastic decisions change. Even if you were right, you find ten different facts you didn’t see before.
But tricksters don’t give you that option. They want to scale fast, because speed prevents accurate thinking, also reducing their risk of getting caught.
In the middle of a scam, you can see how the other person always repeats the same message until you take action. If they ignore your questions and rush you with their list, they may be following pressure tactics.
People think that if A=B and B=C, A=C.
Imagine you find a new program, the American Cancer Association (fake). It sounds like the American Cancer Society, which has real history and credibility.
If the ACA partners with a bunch of foundations you know that exist, you will assume that the ACA exists as well. You put the American Cancer Association in the box of “legit programs,” which inhibits you from recognizing most red flags.
Scammers use faulty relations to make you think that the information you see speaks for itself already, so there’s no need to research. You didn’t get out there and check it yourself; you verified it with (inaccurate) logic.
Example: In money laundering, criminals will use shell companies and front businesses to hide their operations. They buy local businesses to get rid of the unusable cash and generate income. Authorities or clients won’t expect a legitimate business to link to a criminal operation.
Even if they get caught, they sacrifice the front business to cover the operation.
Scammers rarely deliver what they promised to victims. They don’t mind making bold claims to gain trust if they have an exit plan. You’re trapped with wrong expectations, misstated numbers, and fake data.
Once the victim assumes their information is real and complete, they stop questioning. The scammer will never tell you what you need to know and will avoid answering your questions.
When the offer looks too good to be true, the con man makes wonderful promises to get you excited. Without a plan on paper, these words only distort your expectations.
#6 Credibility Marks
Two competitors sell you a product for the same price. People will choose the most reviewed/bought because it looks safer. “If it worked for others, it must work for me.”
Social proof helps sellers do better in the market, although it doesn’t indicate how good it will be for buyers. One can manipulate reviews, fake the ranking position, or give oneself unearned titles/certificates.
“Reputation takes time to build. Scammers don’t have time to generate rapport before someone finds out the truth. Therefore, companies with great history can’t be scammers.”
See the fallacy?
Here, the con man isn’t posing only as one legit brand. He’s controlling dozens of people’s opinions to deceive you.
#7 Need / Self Interest
You don’t like how the relationship is scaling. The con man rushes you with instructions and you don’t have time to think. But because they depend on something they have, you give them another chance. You may tell yourself: “It’s worth it in the end.”
The end we planned won’t come off. If you need something from the con man— who doesn’t need you— guess who has control.
For example, a scammer can insist on his intentions of helping you, so you don’t wonder about who he is or what he wants. Since they put their interests first, you won’t get what you want or lose first something you didn’t agree on.
Types of Confidence Tricks: 6 Examples
Why are confidence tricks so dangerous? Because they don’t look like scams. The scammer has previously thought of the red flags you would check and has built his scheme around them to become invisible.
Experience doesn’t matter. With enough distraction and confusion, scammers can make anyone think like a naive person.
#1 Advance Fee Scam
Any legit business can turn into a scam on the payment process. Upfront charges, for example. You expect these sellers to use that money to fund their service and deliver, but con men have no intention to do so.
Con men’s promises aren’t reflected on paper. Business doesn’t start until the seller offers the service. Paying upfront is like gifting stranger money, who has no obligation to give back.
- Pay a registration fee to collect your lottery winnings.
- We refund your product after you buy and leave us a five-star review.
- You will get paid for your work after this test job.
- We need an upfront payment so we know our clients are serious, not wasting our time.
- Be the first to donate to our charity program to receive a $1000 gift.
- We give you the service for free, but you have to verify that you’re a human. Enter valid credit card details.
Even after you pay, they rarely share their real contact data. No way to report and recover funds.
#2 Pigeon Drop Scams
Unlike the advance fee scam, you get your reward first, then pay immediately. The con man finds a person on the street and offers money for free: “Is this bag yours, sir?”
They will show you the bag with real money but give you a replica full of papers or fake bills. Since they gave it to you for free, it’s fair to give them one part.
You pay from your account or wallet, the con man walks away promising to come back in a moment, and you’re left with the worthless bag.
They use the same pigeon-drop trick online using fraudulent checks.
#3 Check Fraud
You’d be amazed to know the many variations to make money with fake checks. As long as the other accepts the payment method, you can use it.
These often happen with lotteries, assistant jobs, “funding” managers, e-commerce, even moving companies.
You receive a check or money order, often worth more than you asked. You should wait a few weeks for the check to clear, but the con man wants you to cash out immediately. You send him the difference.
When the check bounces back, you lose the difference and the money from the check, even if your account had $0 first.
Although the whole business model may be legit, the payment method wasn’t reliable.
#4 Loans / Debt Relief
Scammers need you to want something from them in order to con you. What better need than money? You offer it for free to those who need it, the debtors, and they will do what you say.
- A lender uses fake money orders for borrowers
- The borrower pays entry fees/interests before getting the loan
- The lender offers the exact loan the debtor wants, no approval conditions.
- The lender calls the borrower, not the other way around.
Other agents offer to fix your credit score and negotiate your debt. They’ll ask for upfront payments and offer “phantom help.” The same “rescuer” appears in mortgage scams.
#5 Institution Scams
Scammers will pose as the government to get the right to demand your money. Anybody would pay the IRS to avoid law enforcement.
However, not even collectors can demand your funds. They send you mail warnings for you to take responsibility; they can’t impose.
A con man who disguises himself as an institution will threaten to impose fear, which prevents rational thinking and secures the confidence trick. You’ll find these on the phone, rushing you to do what they say.
#6 Accounting Fraud
If a company has been doing well recently, investors will put more money confidently. But some brands can fake their numbers if that means getting more financing.
The logic behind it is if you need money to make money, you can fool investors to create a positive return. The help you get allows you to produce the results you promised to deliver.
But investors aren’t that stupid. If the economy goes through hard times and your company does overly well, they may suspect you’re misstating revenue.
It’s all about making others believe the stock will take a certain direction. Take a look at these schemes: pump-and-dump, and short-and-distort, and securities fraud.
Are Confidence Tricks Avoidable?
Confidence tricks can be difficult to detect because of how scammers hide the evidence. Sometimes, you can notice it right on the first contact; in general, you won’t recognize it unless you’re far in the scheme. In the payment part, for example.
You can still check four red flags to know what to expect from them:
“Buy this product. We guarantee it will solve all your problems.”
“Join our affiliate program. All beginners make +4K within 30 days.”
“Work with me to solve your debt problems. I can negotiate and secure a 20% lower price.”
The world works with probabilities, not determined outcomes. Those who don’t mind lying about their results are more interested in getting your trust than solving your problem.
Pay closer attention to the promises you can’t find anywhere on the paper. The sales pitch has nothing to do with service quality.
#2 No Background
- You can’t find any past client to share their experience
- They just created their website last week, or no-one on the Internet knows about them.
- You can’t find social proof, or all the reviews come from one source.
- You don’t know any other companies that created good results with that description.
Yet, these questionable dealers want to make you believe they’re your best choice. Really? You can bait because they have a better offer, but that won’t hide who they are. If they have produced no results, don’t expect they can help you.
Tricksters are reachable when they need you but run away once the show’s over. Until then, they will message daily, follow up with questions, and make you feel comfortable. They seem to agree on everything you say, and you see them as likable people.
Before the deal, you’ll have a hard time not talking to them. After you pay, getting their responses is impossible.
#4 Rigid Procedure
Professionals know what their services are worth. As an ideal client, they want your money no matter how you send it. They answer your questions to improve the experience and make you come back.
But fraudsters don’t like third options. You either do what they say or you stop wasting their time. If they weren’t using persuasion skills, you could say they reply as if they were following some plan.
You need to use this payment method this way at this time. They will send you X amount, then you send back the difference via X method. Oh, and you need to report every time you do something.
Stay away from agents who try to control the deal.
Also, check our guide about escrow fraud. Scammers fake payment companies to make you feel more secure.
#5 Think Broadly
Scammers say what you want to hear, never the whole story. Thus, never assume a person does something only for the reason they told you. A scammer always looks for multiple targets once.
Con men filter their words to align with your needs and desires. If you want to learn about the truth, you must research it yourself.
Imagine a mover charges 20% upfront to come to your home for an audit. Are they using it for upfront costs, or are they pulling the advance fee scam? Then, you research the industry to find out what prices should be.
Good thinkers ask questions:
- When does it make sense to pay upfront?
- Does this deal absolutely need a wire transfer?
- What am I losing if something goes wrong?
#6 Minimize Risk
Do you expect the other to give back your money on a payment mistake? Not if you deal with a scammer. Some propose high-risk methods on purpose so you make a transaction you didn’t intend.
MoneyGram, Western Union, checks, or cash. All of them have their place, and none are risky when you know what you’re doing. Imagine buying with no protection. Send the money, and you lose it forever. The seller can do what he wants.
Scammers maximize risk to take control and prevent you from undoing their work. If you follow the best practices, you can’t fall for payment scams.
The Bottom Line
Trust but verify. No matter how brilliant, confidence tricksters can’t force one thing to be something it’s not. Red flags show up everywhere, but they’ve designed those tricks to dissuade you from looking at the evidence.
You’ll never question a person you trust. That’s why you should assume every promise is fake until proven right, and get a 100% chance of being right. It’s not about what you want, but who offers it and how.