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Left Coast / Right Coast: How do you know you’re about to get conned?

Mike Gold living the dream in the Pacific Northwest. Photo credit: Frank Hammer.
Mike Gold living the dream in the Pacific Northwest. Photo credit: Frank Hammer.

By Mike Gold, A retired entrepreneur living the dream in the Pacific Northwest.

Since the beginning of the human race there have been those a little less scrupulous than others. In some cases, you may get conned even though the “conman” didn’t really mean to con you. The perpetrator may not even realize they are a conman.

However, in most of the cases, you’ve been conned based upon the deliberate work of a pure scoundrel. In the simplest terms professional conmen operate based upon the “little bit of larceny” present in all of us.

The largest “conman” in this century was Bernie Madoff. (He was the mastermind of the largest Ponzi scheme ever.)

When you examine how Madoff conceived his scheme, he mentioned to his wife (who to this day was never tied directly to the scandal) that his “marks” (in a con, the person being taken advantage of is called the “mark”) all had some responsibility for the circumstances they wound up in.

His rational was that his investment company returned outstanding returns to his clients every year, no matter how the stock market performed. He thought that his clients had to have been aware that these returns were simply “not possible” in so called normal investment techniques. Therefore, and here is the conman’s “leap of faith,” which has to be present in any con - the “marks” were complicit in them being conned due to their own belief that they were participating in a scheme that could not have been 100% on the “up and up.

Old adage – If something appears to be too good to be true, then most likely it is.

During the approximately 138 years the Brooklyn Bridge has been open, "Buying the Brooklyn Bridge" has been one of the oldest “cons” there is.

In fact, this “con” has been incorporated into a figure of speech as in: “If you believe what I’ve just told you, there is a bridge I’d like to sell you in Brooklyn.”

The conman tells his mark that once he buys the bridge, he can erect a tollbooth on what is now a free bridge and collect lots of money.

Now when you’re raised in New York City, the chances of running into a conman increase dramatically. Here are but a few examples of schemes one might run into.

The Parking Lot Con 

Most of the parking lots in Manhattan charge a very high fee (over $50 per day is not uncommon). However, on the far West Side of Manhattan, there are actually several “free” lots.

On a somewhat regular basis, conmen will erect a portable barrier at the entrance to one these lots and (wearing official looking jackets) will collect a parking fee (perhaps $20) from each driver who drives up. The driver thinks they have gotten a bargain (other than having to walk a mile or two to get into their business area), but actually they got conned.

These “cons” are typically broken up the same day they start. Then a few days later, they start it up again – using perhaps a different lot.

The Winning Lottery Ticket Con 

The day after a winning lottery number is announced (every day printed in the paper), the conman buys a new lottery ticket (the day after) with the previous day’s winning numbers. Then they manually alter the ticket by changing the date to the day before (you have to have some forgery skills to do this).

Then they approach a “gullible looking person,” say someone using the local laundromat. They tell this person that they have a winning ticket, but because of some IRS tax problems, they can’t claim the prize.

They tell the “mark” that if they will give $50 (the number they ask for is based upon the conman’s estimate of what the “mark” can come up with reasonably easily) as a show of  “good faith” (there is again, the required leap of faith) they will give the ticket to the “mark” and then “split” the proceeds after the “mark” cashes in the ticket.

See, the more plausible the story, the easier it is to “rope in the mark.”

The Playoff Ticket Con

It does not matter what the sport is, but if a local team is in the playoffs, the conman prints up a very realistic looking “playoff ticket” on their own color printer (using the appropriate weight of blank paper).

Then sometimes through several “middlemen” or other times through an on-line ad; they sell the “extra ticket” sometimes for thousands of dollars. When the poor schmuck shows up at the stadium, the great “unfrocking” takes place.

The Pump and Dump con from the movie “Boiler Room

This great film starring Ben Affleck and Giovanni Ribisi is about stock market sales hustlers who use a "pump and dump" scheme to separate the mark from his money.

Again, the mark gets “roped in” based upon their own “leap of faith” that they are getting an “inside deal” on the stock bargain of the decade.

Here is an example of the sales techniques they use: Act as if.

My advice, never forget the saying above: If something appears to be too good to be true, then most likely it is. Run, RUN as fast as you can for the closest exit. Never look back.

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