Fool Me Once…

Not all crimes involve a dead body. Robbery, assault, and fraud are as criminal as murder and can be as destructive to victims and families. Fraud, especially, fascinates me. How can someone trick other competent adults (I omit children and incompetent adults because people who prey on them are a special class of evil) into giving them money, property, love, and trust? I’m on the cynical end of the spectrum, so that last one, trust, in particular confuses me.

Some frauds are easy to understand. The con artist plays on people’s greed, sympathy, or fear/confusion. Take greed. Face it, if you fall for a con who tells you, up front, he/she needs you to help them launder money—and that’s what helping some deposed royal or disgraced official or surviving spouse smuggle their “inheritance” or other shady fortune out of their country is—then you’re greedy enough to agree to an illegal act for the promise of a cut and shame on you. Shame on the con artist who takes advantage of a tender-hearted person’s desire to help or to rescue someone. Crooks who run charity scams and ransom scams are bottom-feeders and deserve a special place in hell. Cons who ape legitimate businesses—banks, ISPs, credit card companies, mortgage companies, computer repair shops—to prey on people’s fears of someone hacking their account or stealing their identity or, worse, to trick unsuspecting, unsavvy senior citizens into believing they’ll lose their home, savings, or health care if they don’t go along with the con, are more despicable than those who target the kind-hearted. What kind of low-life cheats old people?

The only thing about those types of fraud that interest me is the news report of the criminal being sentenced to a few hundred years in prison. But another type of fraud, the complex, elaborate, time-consuming, and (in a twisted way) often beautiful scams—the “long cons,” the 2003 movie, Matchstick Men, called them—perplex and intrigue me. Why bother? If the con artists put half as much effort into an honest job as they did into creating bogus music festivals, fake rare wines, sham diagnostic devices, and phony romances, they’d be wealthy and not facing lengthy prison terms. Long cons must be about more than money.

What do you think? Why do some con artists put so much time and energy into their schemes? What’s in it for the perpetrator of the long con? Power, revenge, self-esteem? How do they choose their targets? Comment here or join the discussion on Facebook.

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