Sunday, February 8, 2015

Any one can be conned: 5 rules of recognizing a con

One of the most frustrating aspects of being a skeptic is the utter... "faith" a victim has in his/her ability to recognize a con, i.e. "it can't be a con... I'd know if it is a con"  usually followed by "I met the owner / officer / vendors and they are sincere and smart people, and answered my questions." then even more social proof ("_____ vouched for him/her/it").

Social proof can be faked, folks. In fact, here are 5 rules of recognizing a con. I've seen the 5 rules before, but never in a single place. This may be as well a time to mention them.

Rule #1: EVERYBODY can be conned.

Sure, people who are naive are considered gullible, but the exceptionally bright are also gullible. The moment you consider yourself immune to cons, you are vulnerable. The EASIEST victims to con are the ones who considered themselves too smart and too knowledgeable to be conned. They are too proud to admit they can be conned.

"I'm sorry I said you were proud. Just stop!" / (c) 2012 Kevin Spear

Is that you, too proud to look down?

Rule #2: You will probably be conned in your area of expertise

Yes, you'll be conned in what you know. Why? Because con-men target those who "know". Your mind, being familiar with the area, automatically fill in the details, and that saved the conmen work. Furthermore, you also feel invincible in your area of knowledge, further increasing your vulnerability. The really smart people know a lot of different things and know enough to be skeptical and cautious as they can't be experts in everything. Remember, most of Bernie Madoff's victims are other money managers who thought they knew what Madoff's doing.

I am an NMR expert. To save time, let's just assume that I am never wrong. (source:

Will you have faith in your knowledge of the field, and thus, not ask the questions?

Rule #3: Con men (and women) never look like con men

If you think you can spot the scammers, you've already violated rule #1. But let's try this: ever seen Paul Burks, the singing magician? Here's a photo:

Paul Burks / AP Photo  (undated, sourced from
Doesn't look like a con man, does he? Looked like a grandpa in a suit. But he's the head of Rex Venture Group, owner of Zeek Rewards, the widest reaching US ponzi scheme that had up to a 1 million victims and involved almost 900 million dollars. And he settled with SEC by paying up $4 mil rather than fight. And there are criminal charges coming later.

Successful con men look like the most honest trustworthy people you ever run across. Those who don't aren't successful. You won't see through their disguise (in time).

Rule #4: Most of what they say will be true

The best lies are the ones surrounded by truth, so you don't know which part will be the lie. It'll be deep in the proverbial fine print. You thought you can verify some details, and you may find them to be true, but there are parts that you can't verify... and that'll be the parts that are fake.

Hiding lies among truth (source unknown)

Will you stop checking because most what you found are true, and stop short of finding the lie?

Rule #5: If it looks too good to be true, it is.

Do I really need to explain this? There is no manna falling from heaven, or riches falling into your lap. If you believe this, you probably already violated all the other rules.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. (source unknown)
Description: Man shakes hand while other hand signifies lying

If you can follow these 5 rules, you should never be conned.

Be wise out there.

(original 5 rules are from )

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