List of confidence tricks

List of confidence tricks

This list of confidence tricks and scams should not be considered complete, but covers the most common examples. Confidence tricks and scams are difficult to classify, because they change often and often contain elements of more than one type. Throughout this list, the perpetrator of the confidence trick is called the “con artist” or simply “artist”, and the intended victim is the “mark”.


Get-rich-quick schemes

Get-rich-quick schemes are extremely varied; these include fake franchises, real estate “sure things”, get-rich-quick books, wealth-building seminars, self-help gurus, sure-fire inventions, useless products, chain letters, fortune tellers, quack doctors, miracle pharmaceuticals, Nigerian money scams, charms and talismans. Variations include the pyramid scheme, the Ponzi scheme, and the Matrix sale.

Count Victor Lustig sold the “money-printing machine” which he claimed could copy $100 bills. The client, sensing huge profits, would buy the machines for a high price (usually over $30,000). Over the next twelve hours, the machine would produce just two more $100 bills, but after that it produced only blank paper, as its supply of hidden $100 bills would have become exhausted. This type of scheme is also called the “money box” scheme.


Salting or “salting the mine” are terms for a scam in which gemstones or gold ore are planted in a mine or on the landscape, duping the greedy mark into purchasing shares in a worthless or non-existent mining company.[1] During gold rushes, scammers would load shotguns with gold dust and shoot into the sides of the mine to give the appearance of a rich ore, thus “salting the mine”. Examples include the diamond hoax of 1872 and the Bre-X gold fraud of the mid-1990s. This trick was popularized in the HBO series Deadwood, when Al Swearingen and E. B. Farnum trick Brom Garret into believing gold is to be found on the claim Swearingen intends to sell him.

Spanish Prisoner

The Spanish Prisoner scam—and its modern variant, the advance-fee fraud or “Nigerian scam”—take advantage of the victim’s greed. The basic premise involves enlisting the mark to aid in retrieving some stolen money from its hiding place. The victim sometimes believes they can cheat the con artists out of their money, but anyone trying this has already fallen for the essential con by believing that the money is there to steal (see also Black money scam). Note that the classic Spanish Prisoner trick also contains an element of the romance scam (see below).

Many conmen employ extra tricks to keep the victim from going to the police. A common ploy of investment scammers is to encourage a mark to use money concealed from tax authorities. The mark cannot go to the authorities without revealing that they have committed tax fraud. Many swindles involve a minor element of crime or some other misdeed. The mark is made to think that they will gain money by helping fraudsters get huge sums out of a country (the classic advance-fee fraud/Nigerian scam); hence marks cannot go to the police without revealing that they planned to commit a crime themselves.

In a recent twist on the Nigerian fraud scheme, the mark is told they are helping someone overseas collect debts from corporate clients. Large cheques stolen from businesses are mailed to the mark. These cheques are altered to reflect the mark's name, and the mark is then asked to cash them and transfer all but a percentage of the funds (his commission) to the con artist. The cheques are often completely genuine, except that the "pay to" information has been expertly changed. This exposes the mark not only to enormous debt when the bank reclaims the money from their account, but also to criminal charges for money laundering. A more modern variation is to use laser-printed counterfeit cheques with the proper bank account numbers and payer information.

Televised infomercial

Certain infomercials feature enthusiastic hosts and highlights of satisfied customers’ testimony extolling the benefits of get-rich-quick methods such as Internet auctioneering, real estate investment and marketing, for-profit toll phone business, classified advertising and unique products of questionable value requiring active marketing by the paying customers. Infomercials which fall under the aforementioned descriptions are highly likely to be scams devised and engineered to “bamboozle” the unsuspecting viewers for the express purpose of enriching the scheme inventors who produced the infomercials which often grossly exaggerate their claims, in conjunction with the clips of satisfied customers' over-excited testimonies with the superimposed captions of the alleged profits made.

Don Lapre, creator of "Money Making Secrets", "The Ultimate Road to Success", "The Greatest Vitamin in the World" and other schemes, was reported[citation needed] by Internet customer watchdog organizations Ripoff Report, Better Business Bureau and Quackwatch, plus alternative newspaper publications such as Phoenix New Times as one of the premier confidence artists whose characteristic traits of overly positive attitude and over-enthusiastically cheerful and charismatic personality depend on the gullibility of the infomercial viewers to purchase the essentially useless products to gain substantial sums of profit by deception.

Wire game

The wire or delayed-wire game, as depicted in the movie The Sting as well as the King of the Hill episode The Substitute Spanish Prisoner, trades on the promise of insider knowledge to beat a gamble, stock trade or other monetary action. In the wire game, a "mob" composed of dozens of grifters simulates a "wire store", i.e., a place where results from horse races are received by telegram and posted on a large board, while also being read aloud by an announcer. The griftee is given secret foreknowledge of the race results minutes before the race is broadcast, and is therefore able to place a sure bet at the wire store. In reality, of course, the con artists who set up the wire store are the providers of the inside information, and the mark eventually is led to place a large bet, thinking it to be a sure win. At this point, some mistake is made, which actually makes the bet a loss. The grifters in The Sting use miscommunication about the race results to simulate a big mistake, and the bet is lost.[2]

Persuasion tricks

Persuasion fraud, when fraudsters persuade people only to target their money, is an old-fashioned type of fraud.

Missionary conspiracy

A missionary conspiracy is a scam that involves illegitimate missionaries who are part of a cult that converts an entire community to quasi-religious beliefs. This usually involves an authority figure like Jim Jones who then uses his authority to abuse followers or to use them for gain. Usually these communities are rural, isolated, and have no money, instead they are used for manual labor, in particular on plantations and manufacturing. This is referred to as a "conspiracy" because of the difficulty to prove and the scale of the scam. These faux missionaries tend to be the representative of these communities to and from the outside world which includes the handling of money. In addition, community members either revere the missionaries as people of their new deity or refuse to admit they had fallen victim to the scam. This scam is particularly attributed to cults with strong authority figures and has taken place in Asia, Africa, Central and South America.

Romance scam

The traditional romance scam has now moved into internet dating sites. The con actively cultivates a romantic relationship which often involves promises of marriage. However, after some time it becomes evident that this Internet "sweetheart" is stuck in his home country, lacking the money to leave the country and thus unable to be united with the mark. The scam then becomes an advance-fee fraud or a check fraud. A wide variety of reasons can be offered for the trickster's lack of cash, but rather than just borrow the money from the victim (advance fee fraud), the con man normally declares that they have checks which the victim can cash on their behalf and remit the money via a non-reversible transfer service to help facilitate the trip (check fraud). Of course, the checks are forged or stolen and the con man never makes the trip: the hapless victim ends up with a large debt and an aching heart. This scam can be seen in the movie Nights of Cabiria.

Fortune telling fraud

One traditional swindle involves fortune telling. In this scam, a fortune teller uses his or her cold reading skill to detect that a client is genuinely troubled rather than merely seeking entertainment; or is a gambler complaining of bad luck. The fortune teller informs the mark that they are the victim of a curse, and that for a fee a spell can be cast to remove the curse. In Romany, this trick is called bujo ("bag") after one traditional format: the mark is told that the curse is in their money; they bring money in a bag to have the spell cast over it, and leave with a bag of worthless paper.[3] Fear of this scam has been one justification for legislation that makes fortune telling a crime.[4]

This scam got a new lease on life in the electronic age with the virus hoax. Fake antivirus software falsely claims that your computer is infected with viruses, and renders the machine inoperable with bogus warnings unless blackmail is paid. In the Datalink Computer Services incident, a mark was fleeced of several million dollars by a firm that claimed that his computer was infected with viruses, and that the infection indicated an elaborate conspiracy against him on the Internet.[5][6][7] The alleged scam lasted from August 2004 through October 2010 and is estimated to have cost the victim $6–20 million.[5][8]

Gold brick scams

Gold brick scams involve selling a tangible item for more than it is worth; named after selling the victim an allegedly golden ingot which turns out to be gold-coated lead.

Coin collecting

The coin collecting scam is a scam preying on inexperienced collectors. The conman convinces the mark by stating that a high-priced collection is for sale at a lower amount. The coin collector then buys the entire collection, believing it is valuable.


Pig-in-a-poke originated in the late Middle Ages. The con entails a sale of a (suckling) "pig" in a "poke" (bag). The bag ostensibly contains a live healthy little pig, but actually contains a cat (not particularly prized as a source of meat). If one buys the bag without looking inside it, the person has bought something of less value than was assumed, and has learned first-hand the lesson caveat emptor. "Buying a pig in a poke" has become a colloquial expression in many European languages, including English, for when someone buys something without examining it beforehand. In Poland, Denmark, France, Belgium, Latvia, the Netherlands, Israel and Germany, the "pig" in the phrase is replaced by "cat", referring to the bag's actual content, but the saying is otherwise identical. This is also said to be where the phrase "letting the cat out of the bag" comes from, although there may be other explanations.

Thai gem

The Thai gem scam involves layers of con men and helpers who tell a tourist in Bangkok of an opportunity to earn money by buying duty-free jewelry and having it shipped back to the tourist's home country. The mark is driven around the city in a tuk-tuk operated by one of the con men, who ensures that the mark meets one helper after another, until the mark is persuaded to buy the jewelry from a store also operated by the swindlers. The gems are real but significantly overpriced. This scam has been operating for 20 years in Bangkok, and is said to be protected by Thai police and politicians. A similar scam usually runs in parallel for custom-made suits. Many tourists are hit by conmen touting both goods.

White van speaker

In the white van speaker scam, low-quality loudspeakers are sold—stereotypically from a white van—as expensive units that have been greatly discounted. The salesmen explain the ultra-low price in a number of ways; for instance, that their employer is unaware of having ordered too many speakers, so they are sneakily selling the excess behind the boss's back. The "speakermen" are ready to be haggled down to a seemingly minuscule price, because the speakers they are selling, while usually functional, actually cost only a tiny fraction of their "list price" to manufacture. The scam may extend to the creation of Web sites for the bogus brand, which usually sounds similar to that of a respected loudspeaker company. They will often place an ad for the speakers in the "For sale" Classifieds of the local newspaper, at the exorbitant price, and then show you a copy of this ad to "verify" their worth.

People shopping for pirated software, illegal pornographic images, bootleg music, drugs, firearms or other forbidden or controlled goods may be legally hindered from reporting swindles to the police. An example is the "big screen TV in the back of the truck": the TV is touted as "hot" (stolen), so it will be sold for a very low price. The TV is in fact defective or broken; it may, in fact, not even be a television at all, since some scammers have discovered that a suitably decorated oven door will suffice.[9] The buyer has no legal recourse without admitting to the attempted purchase of stolen goods. This con is also known as "The Murphy Game".

Extortion or false-injury tricks

Badger game

The badger game extortion is often perpetrated on married men. The mark is deliberately coerced into a compromising position, a supposed affair for example, then threatened with public exposure of his acts unless blackmail money is paid.

Clip joint

A clip joint or fleshpot is an establishment, usually a strip club or entertainment bar, typically one claiming to offer adult entertainment or bottle service, in which customers are tricked into paying money and receive poor, or no, goods or services in return. Typically, clip joints suggest the possibility of sex, charge excessively high prices for watered-down drinks, then eject customers when they become unwilling or unable to spend more money. The product or service may be illicit, offering the victim no recourse through official or legal channels.

Coin-matching game

Also called a coin smack or smack game, two operators trick a victim during a game where coins are matched. One operator begins the game with the victim, then the second joins in. When the second operator leaves briefly, the first colludes with the victim to cheat the second operator. After rejoining the game, the second operator, angry at "losing," threatens to call the police. The first operator convinces the victim to pitch in hush money, which the two operators later split.

Foreign object in food

This scam involves a patron ordering food in a restaurant, and then placing a bug or foreign object in the food. The patron complains loudly to the restaurant managers and threatens to sue. Sometimes the patron receives a free meal or additional compensation, or tries to blackmail the restaurant. A notable attempt to perform this scam which failed was when a woman placed a severed finger in a bowl of chili and attempted to extort money from Wendy's, a fast food burger chain.[10]

Hydrophobia lie

The hydrophobia lie was popular in the 1920s, in which the con man pretended to have been bitten by the mark's allegedly rabid dog, hydrophobia being a well-known symptom of rabies.

Insurance fraud

Insurance fraud includes a wide variety of schemes which attempt insureds to defraud their own insurance carriers, but when the victim is a private individual, the con artist tricks the mark into damaging, for example, the con artist's car, or injuring the con artist, in a manner that the con artist can later exaggerate. One relatively common scheme involves two cars, one for the con artist, and the other for the shill. The con artist will pull in front of the victim, and the shill will pull in front of the con artist before slowing down. The con artist will then slam on his brakes to "avoid" the shill, causing the victim to rear-end the con artist. The shill will accelerate away, leaving the scene. The con artist will then claim various exaggerated injuries in an attempt to collect from the victim's insurance carrier despite having intentionally caused the accident. Insurance carriers, who must spend money to fight even those claims they believe are fraudulent, frequently pay out thousands of dollars—a tiny amount to the carrier despite being a significant amount to an individual—to settle these claims instead of going to court.[11]

A variation of this scam occurs in countries where insurance premiums are generally tied to a Bonus-Malus rating: the con artist will offer to avoid an insurance claim, settling instead for a cash compensation. Thus, the con artist is able to evade a professional damage assessment, and get an untraceable payment in exchange for sparing the mark the expenses of a lowered merit class.

Melon drop

The melon drop is a scam in which the scammer will intentionally bump into the mark and drop a package containing (already broken) glass. He will blame the damage on the clumsiness of the mark, and demand money in compensation. This con arose when artists discovered that the Japanese paid large sums of money for watermelons. The scammer would go to a supermarket to buy a cheap watermelon, then bump into a Japanese tourist and set a high price.

Gambling tricks

Barred winner

Visitors to Las Vegas or other gambling towns often encounter the barred winner scam, a form of advance fee fraud performed in person. The artist will approach his mark outside a casino with a stack or bag of high-value casino chips and say that he just won big, but the casino accused him of cheating and threw him out without letting him redeem the chips. The artist asks the mark to go in and cash the chips for him. The artist will often offer a percentage of the winnings to the mark for his trouble. But, when the mark agrees, the artist feigns suspicion and asks the mark to put up something of value "for insurance". The mark agrees, hands over jewelry, a credit card or their wallet, then goes in to cash the chips. When the mark arrives at the cashier, they are informed the chips are fake. The artist, by this time, is long gone with the mark's valuables.

Fake reward

The fake reward scam involves getting the mark to believe he has won some prizes after being randomly chosen. He is then required to get to a specific location to 'collect his prizes'. Once there, he is told that he only has to sign some papers to receive the rewards. These papers can range from agreeing to financial fraud or signing up for memberships.

Fiddle game

The fiddle game uses the pigeon drop technique. A pair of con men work together, one going into an expensive restaurant in shabby clothes, eating, and claiming to have left his wallet at home, which is nearby. As collateral, the con man leaves his only worldly possession, the violin that provides his livelihood. After he leaves, the second con man swoops in, offers an outrageously large amount (for example $50,000) for such a rare instrument, then looks at his watch and runs off to an appointment, leaving his card for the mark to call him when the fiddle-owner returns. The mark's greed comes into play when the "poor man" comes back, having gotten the money to pay for his meal and redeem his violin. The mark, thinking he has an offer on the table, then buys the violin from the fiddle player who "reluctantly" agrees to sell it for a certain amount that still allows the mark to make a "profit" from the valuable violin. The result is the two conmen are richer (less the cost of the violin), and the mark is left with a cheap instrument.

This trick is used in an episode of Steptoe and Son in which Harold has a commode which he has purchased on his rounds, from a housewife. A passing antiques dealer sees the item and offers a large amount of money, but will return the next day. In the meantime the housewife's husband arrives and demands that Harold sell it back to him; instead Harold offers him a large amount of money for it, believing that he can sell it on to the dealer later that day. In the 1981 Only Fools And Horses episode "Cash and Curry", the main character, Delboy, is tricked into paying £2000 for a statue worth £17, believing it to be worth £4000.[12] In an episode of Hustle the fiddle game is acted out, using a dog instead of a fiddle. It was also detailed in the Neil Gaiman novel American Gods and is the basis for The Streets' song "Can't Con an Honest John". It's also the basis of the episode of Leverage "The Studio Job" where a fiddle game was run with a musician used as the fiddle.

Football picks

In the football picks scam the scammer sends out a tip sheet stating that a game will go one way to 100 potential victims, and the other way to another 100. The next week, the 100 who received the correct prediction are divided into two groups and fed another pick. This is repeated until a small population have (apparently) received a series of supernaturally perfect picks, then the final pick is offered for sale. Despite being well-known — it was even described completely on an episode of The Simpsons and used by Derren Brown in "The System" — this scam is run almost continuously in different forms by different operators. In Rex Stout's Novel And Be a Villain (1948) this horse race prediction scheme is described by Nero Wolfe as a sure way to make money if one was so inclined to commit a crime. The sports picks can be replaced with stock-market securities or any other "chance" event as an alternative. This scam has also been called the inverted pyramid scheme, because of the steadily decreasing population of victims at each stage.


The glim-dropper scam requires several accomplices, one of whom must be a one-eyed man. One grifter goes into a store and pretends he has lost his glass eye. Everyone looks around, but the eye cannot be found. He declares that he will pay a thousand-dollar reward for the return of his eye, leaving contact information. The next day, an accomplice enters the store and pretends to find the eye. The storekeeper (the intended griftee), thinking of the reward, offers to take it and return it to its owner. The finder insists he will return it himself, and demands the owner’s address. Thinking he will lose all chance of the reward, the storekeeper offers a hundred dollars for the eye. The finder bargains him up to $250, and departs. The one-eyed man, of course, cannot be found and does not return. (Described in A Cool Million, or, The Dismantling of Lemuel Pitkin (1934) by Nathanael West). Variants of this con have been used in movies such as The Flim-Flam Man, The Traveller (1997), Shade (2003), and Zombieland (2009), and also in books such as American Gods. Another con similar to this one is the Fiddle Game.

Lottery fraud by proxy

Lottery fraud by proxy is a particularly vicious scam, in which the scammer buys a lottery ticket with old winning numbers. He or she then alters the date on the ticket so that it appears to be from the day before, and therefore a winning ticket. He or she then sells the ticket to the mark, claiming it is a winning ticket, but for some reason, he or she is unable to collect the prize (not eligible, etc.). The particular cruelty in this scam is that if the mark attempts to collect the prize, the fraudulently altered ticket will be discovered and the mark held criminally liable. This con was featured in the movie Matchstick Men, where Nicolas Cage teaches it to his daughter. A twist on the con was shown in Great Teacher Onizuka, where the more-than-gullible Onizuka was tricked into getting a "winning ticket". The ticket wasn't altered, instead the daily newspaper reporting the day's winning numbers was rewritten with a black pen.

Three-card Monte

Three-card Monte, "find the queen", the "three-card trick", or "follow the lady", is essentially the same as the centuries-older shell game or thimblerig (except for the props). The trickster shows three playing cards to the audience, one of which is a queen (the "lady"), then places the cards face-down, shuffles them around and invites the audience to bet on which one is the queen. At first the audience is skeptical, so the shill places a bet and the scammer allows him to win. In one variation of the game, the shill will (apparently surreptitiously) peek at the lady, ensuring that the mark also sees the card. This is sometimes enough to entice the audience to place bets, but the trickster uses sleight of hand to ensure that they always lose, unless the conman decides to let them win, hoping to lure them into betting much more. The mark loses whenever the dealer chooses to make him lose. This con appears in the Eric Garcia novel Matchstick Men and is featured in the movie Edmond. The scam is also central to the Pulitzer prize-winning play "Topdog/Underdog." It also appears in episodes of White Collar, Newsradio, Everybody Hates Chris, The Simpsons, and Hustle.

A variation on this scam exists in Barcelona, Spain, but with the addition of a pickpocket.[citation needed] The dealer and shill behave in an overtly obvious manner, attracting a larger audience. When the pickpocket succeeds in stealing from a member of the audience, he signals the dealer. The dealer then shouts the word "aguas"—colloquial for "Watch Out!"—and the three split up. The audience is left believing that the police are coming, and that the performance was a failed scam.

A variant of this scam exists in Mumbai, India.[citation needed] The shill says loudly to the dealer that his cards are fake and that he wants to see them. He takes the card and folds a corner and says in a hushed voice to the audience that he has marked the card. He places a bet and wins. Then he asks the others to place bets as well. When one of the audience bets a large sum of money the cards are switched.

Herbert L. Becker is a magician and an exposer of magic tricks. He has revealed how this trick is done and is also considered the greatest master of this trick.

Online scams

Fake antivirus

Computer users unwittingly download and install malware disguised as antivirus software, by following the messages which appear on their screen. The software then pretends to find multiple viruses on the victim's computer, "removes" a few, and asks for payment in order to take care of the rest. They are then linked to con artists' websites, professionally designed to make their bogus software appear legitimate, where they must pay a fee to download the "full version" of their "antivirus software".


A modern scam in which the artist communicates with the mark, masquerading as a representative of an official organization with which the mark is doing business, in order to extract personal information which can then be used, for example, to steal money. In a typical instance, the artist sends the mark an email pretending to be from a company, such as eBay. It is formatted exactly like email from that business, and will ask the mark to "verify" some personal information at their website, to which a link is provided, in order to "reactivate" their blocked account. The website is fake but designed to look exactly like the business' website. The site contains a form asking for personal information such as credit card numbers, which the mark feels compelled to give or lose all access to the service. When the mark submits the form (without double-checking the website address), the information is sent to the swindler.

Other online scams include advance-fee fraud, bidding fee schemes, click fraud, domain slamming, various spoofing attacks, web-cramming, and online versions of employment scams and romance scams.

Other confidence tricks and scams

Art student

The art student scam is common in major Chinese cities. A small group of 'students' will start a conversation, claiming that they want to practice their English. After a short time they will change the topic to education and will claim that they are art students and they want to take you to a free exhibition. The exhibition will usually be in a small, well hidden rented office and the students will show you some pieces which they claim to be their own work and will try to sell them at a high price, despite the pieces usually being nothing more than an internet printout worth a fraction of their asking price. They will often try 'guilt tricks' on people who try to bargain the price.

Beijing tea

The Beijing tea scam is a famous scam in and around Beijing. The artists (usually female and working in pairs) will approach tourists and try to make friends. After chatting, they will suggest a trip to see a tea ceremony, claiming that they have never been to one before. The tourist is never shown a menu, but assumes that this is how things are done in China. After the ceremony, the bill is presented to the tourist, charging upwards of $100 per head. The artists will then hand over their bills, and the tourists are obliged to follow suit. Similar scams involving restaurants, coffee shops and bars also take place.

Big store

The Big Store is a technique for selling the legitimacy of a scam and typically involves a large team of con artists and elaborate sets. Often a building is rented and furnished as a legitimate and substantial business.[13]

Cell phone grab

Usually occurs outside airports or train stations at the pick-up curb, requires two cons and a getaway car. The con will approach the mark and claim that their ride isn't here due to their plane or train being late or early, and that they don't have the change to use a pay phone, or their own cell phone battery is dead. They ask the mark if they can use their cell phone to call, usually reassuring the mark by saying that the call is local and it will not cost them much. If the mark refuses, the con will try to guilt trip them. The moment the mark hands over their cell phone, the con makes a break for it, often hopping into a waiting car to make a quick getaway.

Change raising

Change raising is a common short con and involves an offer to change an amount of money with someone, while at the same time taking change or bills back and forth to confuse the person as to how much money is actually being changed. The most common form, "the Short Count", has been featured prominently in several movies about grifting, notably Nueve Reinas, The Grifters, Criminal, and Paper Moon. A con artist shopping at say, a gas station, pays for a cheap item (under a dollar) and gives the clerk a ten dollar bill. The con gets back nine ones and the change then tells the clerk he has a one and will exchange ten ones for a ten. Here's the con: get the clerk to hand over the $10 BEFORE handing over the ones. Then the con hands over nine ones and the $10. The clerk will assume a mistake and offer to swap the ten for a one. Then the con will probably just say, "Here's another one, give me a $20 and we're even". Notice that the con just swapped $10 for $20. The $10 was the store's money, not the con's. To avoid this con, keep each transaction separate and never ever permit the customer to handle the original ten before handing over the ten ones. Another variation is to flash a $20 bill to the clerk, then ask for something behind the counter. When the clerk turns away, the con artist can swap the bill they are holding to a lesser bill. The clerk might then make change for the larger bill, without noticing it has been swapped. The technique works better when bills are the same colour at a glance like, for instance, U.S. dollar bills.

A similar technique exists when a con comes to a gas station with a young clerk, buying something cheap, showing then an uncommonly huge bill while not giving it and telling the clerk to prepare the change. While he's busy counting the change, the con would ask many questions in order to disturb the young clerk. When change is counted and ready the con is acting as if he had given the huge bill. If the clerk does not remember having received the bill, the con will say he gave him the money. If the clerk is weak or disturbed enough, he could let the con go away with the change.

Counterfeit cashier's check

In this scam the victim is sent a cashier's check or money order for payment on an item for sale on the internet. When this document is taken to the bank it may not be detected as counterfeit for 10 business days or more, but the bank will deposit the money into the victim's account and tell you that it has been "verified" or is "clear" in about 24 hours. This gives the victim a false feeling of security that the document is real, so they proceed with the transaction. When the bank does find that the check is counterfeit, they will come back to the customer for the entire amount of the check.

Empty car lot

The scammers find a vacant lot that is essentially used as free car parking and then start to charge people at the entrance, saying that the building is under new management and now chargeable.

Fake raffle

The con artist sells tickets for a non-existent raffle, often either door-to-door or at a stall in a densely populated commercial space (i.e. a large shopping mall), to dozens of individual marks, making a sizeable profit in the process. Because the marks never expected to win the raffle, they generally never realise they've been stung; and may not even think about it at all after the fact, because they only parted with a small amount of money (several dollars, for example).

False charity

A con artist will go door-to-door saying that the mark's donation will help build better playgrounds, help starving children, etc.; thus the mark will pay the con artist. Sometimes the con artist will even print out fake papers explaining the good that they will be doing.

Gas can

The gas can scam happens on the street or in a parking lot, usually near a big-box store or mall. Traditionally, the con artist is well-dressed, and carrying a gas can – though these confidence-enhancing elements are by no means necessary to the con. A false "sob story" is told to the potential mark, usually involving a wife and/or teenage (or infant) children waiting in the stranded car, or occasionally, teenage offspring home alone (the variations are numerous). Occasionally, the false story involves the need to make a trip to a doctor's office or hospital. The story inevitably leads to a request for ten to twenty dollars for gas. Often, the con artist will ask for your address to "return" your money.

Just as with the alleged wife and/or children, the purportedly out-of-gas car might or might not be present; if questioned, the con artist might vaguely gesture in the direction of a parked car or cars.

A variation of this scam has the con artist claiming that his car was towed, and he needs money to retrieve it from the towing company.

Jaywalking Scam

This is a USA based scam which takes place in areas with a high volume of foreign tourists such as the Embarcadero in San Francisco. The con artist will wait for a mark to cross the road then approach them, usually flashing a fake police badge or similar and explain that they have illegally crossed the road and are liable for an on the spot fine. This scam plays on the fact that few people outside of the US are familiar with the concept of jaywalking.


The landlord scam advertises an apartment for rent at an attractive price. The con artist, usually someone who is house-sitting or has a short-term sublet at the unit, takes a deposit and first/last month's rent from every person who views the suite. When move-in day arrives, the con artist is of course gone, and the apartment belongs to none of the angry people carrying boxes.

Money exchange

This scam occurs when exchanging foreign currency. If a large amount of cash is exchanged the victim will be told to hide the money away quickly before counting it ("You can't trust the locals"). A substantial amount will be missing.

Neighbor's false friend

In the neighbor's false friend scam, the con artist rings the mark's door bell claiming to be a friend of a neighbor or someone who lives nearby and asks to borrow money for gas since they've left their wallet with all their money at their friend's house and now there's nobody home. The con artist is gambling that the mark knows the name of the "friend" and perhaps is an acquaintance so that it would be embarrassing to refuse assistance, but that the mark doesn't know very much else about the "friend", making verification difficult. Of course the con artist has just read the "friend's" name on a mailbox or a door bell.


The paranoia scam is a scam involving the conman telling the mark various lies about different scams and instigating false attempts so that the mark, by now feeling worried and with no place to hide their money from fraud, turns to the conman (of all people) for help. A notable example of this scam is shown in "Mr. Monk Is Up All Night", an episode of the television series Monk, where Adrian Monk has his wallet pickpocketed through this method.

Pigeon drop

The pigeon drop, also featured early in the film The Sting, involves the mark or pigeon assisting an elderly, weak or infirm stranger to keep their money safe for them. In the process, the stranger (actually a confidence trickster) puts their money with the mark's money (in an envelope, briefcase or sack) which the mark is then entrusted with. The money is actually not put into the sack or envelope, but is switched for a bag full of newspaper (etc). The mark is enticed to make off with the con artist's money through the greed element and various theatrics, but in actuality, the mark is fleeing from their own money, which the con artist still has (or has handed off to an accomplice). In Lost this was Sawyer's preferred way of conning people out of money.

Pseudoscience and snake oil

In pseudoscience and snake oil scams, popular psychology confidence tricksters make money by falsely claiming to improve reading speed and comprehension using speed reading courses by fooling the consumer with inappropriate skimming and general knowledge tests. These popular psychology tricksters often employ popular assumptions about the brain and the cerebral hemispheres which are scientifically wrong, but attractive and sound plausible to the ignorant mark. A common myth is that we use only 10% of our brain.[14][15]

Psychic surgery

Psychic surgery is a con game in which the trickster uses sleight of hand to apparently remove malignant growths from the mark's body. A common form of medical fraud in underdeveloped countries, it imperils victims who may fail to seek competent medical attention. The movie Man on the Moon depicts comedian Andy Kaufman undergoing psychic surgery, and it can also be seen in an episode of Jonathan Creek as well as an episode of Lost in which the character Rose travels to Australia in a last ditch effort to cure her cancer.


The con artist (a "rainmaker") convinces the mark to pay them to make something happen. If it happens, then the mark is convinced it is because they paid the rainmaker; if not, the rainmaker can say they need more money to do it. There is an example of this in the Quantum Leap episode "A Single Drop of Rain" from Season 4.

Real estate

The real estate scam may vary according to the type of real estate, but the common goal is that the con artist tricks the seller into thinking that they are going to buy or rent the property and make monthly payments. In reality, the con artist has no intention of paying anything. This will usually continue until they are caught or evicted, but the catch here is this is hard to prove in a criminal court; the only legal recourse the seller has is to file a lawsuit against the person responsible. However, the con artist will usually scam the seller for an amount below the cost of its recovery through litigation.

Recovery room

A recovery room scam is a form of advance-fee fraud where the scammer (sometimes posing as a law enforcement officer or attorney) calls investors who have been sold worthless shares (for example in a boiler-room scam), and offers to buy them, to allow the investors to recover their investments.[16] The scam involves requiring an advance fee before the payment can take place, for example a "court fee".[17]

Rip deal

The Rip Deal is a swindle very popular in Europe and is essentially a pigeon drop confidence trick. In a typical variation scammers will target, say, a jeweler, and offer to buy some substantial amount of his wares at a large markup provided he perform some type of under-the-table cash deal, originally exchanging Swiss francs for euros. This exchange goes through flawlessly, at considerable profit for the mark. Some time later the scammers approach the mark with a similar proposition, but for a larger amount of money (and thus a larger return for the mark). His confidence and greed inspired by the previous deal, the merchant agrees—only to have his money and goods taken, by sleight-of-hand or violence, at the point of exchange.[citation needed] This scam was depicted in the movie Matchstick Men.

The same term is used to describe a crime where a vendor (especially a drug dealer) is killed to avoid paying for goods.[18]

Robbed traveler

The robbed traveler scam usually takes place at airports and train stations. A person smartly dressed in suit and tie appears in distress and looks around bewildered, making sure the mark has noticed them. Then they approach and tell the story that their wallet or jacket has been stolen with all their money. They then appeal for help and ask if they can borrow a small amount of money for a taxi to their friend's house or a hotel where they're booked in, promising to pay it back as soon as they get access to their money. Experts at this game may even trick their mark into giving them the money (as opposed to merely lending it) in the belief that they are helping an upstanding member of society in genuine distress.

Stranded traveler scam

This type of scam usually appears as an email message coming from the target's friend or acquaintance. In the appeal the victim claims to be out of the country and has lost their passport, credit card, plane tickets, or had them stolen. The con claims he/she cannot get home because they have no identification, or cannot pay their hotel bill or replace airline tickets.

The con usually gains access to the friend's email account, cell phone, or social network account (e.g., Facebook). The con uses information about the target by reading old email messages or information on the social network. The tell is that the message usually contains spelling errors or uses language that the target's friend would not write.

All foreign countries host embassies or consulates that will help travelers who are stranded abroad. Credit card issuers can be called collect to obtain an emergency replacement or assistance settling a hotel bill.

Street mechanic

The con artist approaches the mark's car and says something is wrong with it - usually something the mark cannot immediately see - the bumper is turning into the wheel, for example. The con artist tells the mark that it is a very expensive fix, but that they are a mechanic and will fix it. Really, the con artist is creating an illusion, perhaps by sitting on the bumper. They "fix" the problem in minutes. They may ask for only a ride at first, but then pretend to call their boss and pretend that they are late for work and their boss is angry, and tell the mark they have lost a customer. The mark is made to feel guilty and grateful, and believe that they have been helped by a kind mechanic who has charged less than the normal hourly rate (albeit plus a hefty tip) to replace the customer they lost. This scam has been found in the streets of downtown Baltimore.

Subway attendant

An individual dressed to resemble a subway attendant stands near a subway ticket machine at a downtown stop. The individual approaches people who appear to be out-of-towners headed back to the airport, and asks if they need directions, how their stay was, etc. They offer to sell a ticket to the airport directly from a handful they are carrying; however, these are merely used-up tickets collected from the trash. This has been seen on MARTA in Atlanta. The scammer is imitating legitimate attendants at the airport who show travelers how to use the vending machines but don't accept cash or give you tickets themselves.

Ticket inspector

Con dressed as a ticket inspector asks a foreigner for a ticket, then claims that the ticket is "invalid" for some reason (validated too long ago, not usable for this type of transport etc.). The fake inspector then collects the fine. Alternatively, con waits for the victim to pull out the wallet and steals it.

Tow-truck scam

Similar to the gas can scam, the scammer will explain that his or her car broke down and that he needs money for the tow truck. The scammer might flash a wad of cash and ask the mark for "just a few dollars more" to have his car towed.

Undercover cop

The undercover cop scam is a scam where a con artist masquerades as an undercover police officer, usually by stopping the mark's vehicle and showing a fake badge, and tells the mark about a case they are investigating, and that the mark is a suspect. The conman asks for money to be checked, and when the mark is out of the vehicle, the con artist gets into the mark's car and drives away, having made sure there was more time to escape than it would take for the mark to get back to their vehicle. This scam is usually done to tourists, variations include their whole luggage being transferred to the conman's trunk "to be checked at a police station", or a fake immigration agent, asking for papers and then for money to clear up the problem.

Newspaper swindle

The con artist pretends to be a newspaper vendor in an area where many out-of-towners are likely to pass and also likely to want newspapers, such as a train station or airport. The papers the con artist is selling, however, are local newspapers that can be picked up for free. As the out-of-towners might not be aware of what papers are free in a particular city, they may end up paying for a paper unnecessarily. This trick has been observed in downtown Chicago using a local free paper, The Reader.

Wedding planner scam

Wedding planner scams prey on the vulnerability of young couples, during a time when they are most distracted and trusting, to embezzle funds for the planner's personal use. In the first type of fraud, the wedding planner company may offer a free wedding in a tie-up with a media station for a couple in need of charity, and collect the donations from the public that were meant for the wedding. In a second type of fraud, the planner asks couples to write checks to vendors (tents, food, cakes) but leave the name field empty, which the planner promises to fill in. As most vendors were never hired nor paid, the scam would then be exposed on the day of the wedding. A real life example is a Kansas TV station story of a wedding planner, Caitlin Hershberger Theis, who scammed three couples through her wedding planner consultancy, Live, Love and be Married using these two schemes. [19]

See also


  1. ^ Dan Plazak A Hole in the Ground with a Liar at the Top (Salt Lake: Univ. of Utah Press, 2006) ISBN 978-0-87480-840-7.
  2. ^ The Sting. Motion picture. Written by David S. Ward. 1973. Script:,-The.html
  3. ^ W. W. Zellner, William M. Kephart, Extraordinary groups: an examination of unconventional lifestyles (Macmillan, 2000; ISBN 1-57259-953-7), pp. 121-122
  4. ^ Spiritual Psychic Science Church v. City of Azusa (1985) 39 Cal.3d 501 , 217 Cal.Rptr. 225; 703 P.2d 1119
  5. ^ a b "Heir to schlumberger OILfield services fortune fleeced of at least six million dollars". Press Release. Westchester County District Attorney. 11-08-2010. Retrieved 10 November 2010. 
  6. ^ EL-GHOBASHY, TAMER (November 9, 2010.). "Virus Leads to $20 Million Scam -". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 10 November 2010. 
  7. ^ Fernandez, Manny (9 November 2010). "Man Held in Defrauding Roger Davidson, Musician". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 November 2010. 
  8. ^ Zetter, Kim (November 9, 2010). "Computer Virus Leads to $20 Million Scam Targeting Pianist Composer". Wired News. Retrieved 10 November 2010. 
  9. ^ Danny Allen (August 14, 2009). "Cops Bust Guy Selling Oven Door Disguised as HDTV". Retrieved 2011-02-14. 
  10. ^ "Jail for Wendy's Finger Scam Couple". CBS News. 18 January 2006. Retrieved 14 August 2009. 
  11. ^ "What factors impact auto insurance rates?". Retrieved 25 August 2010. 
  12. ^ Cash and Curry, episode synopsis,, accessed 1 August 2010
  13. ^ Maurer, David W. (1940). The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man and the Confidence Game. Bobbs Merrill. ISBN 0-7869-1850-8 
  14. ^ Do We Use Only 10% of Our Brain? online
  15. ^ Snopes: The Ten-Percent Myth online
  16. ^ Wang, Wallace (2006). Steal This Computer Book 4.0 : What They Won't Tell You About the Internet. San Francisco: No Starch Press. ISBN 1-59327-105-0. 
  17. ^ Weinberg, Michael C. (2008). Careers in Crime: An Applicant's Guide. Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel Publishing. ISBN 0-7407-5708-3. 
  18. ^ Florence Bruce; Hagell, Ann; Renuka Yeyarajah-dent (2006). Children Who Commit Acts of Serious Interpersonal Violence: Messages for Best Practice. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. ISBN 1-84310-384-2. 
  19. ^ Wedding Planner Scams"Newlyweds Say Wedding Planner Scammed Them". Jun 30, 2011. Retrieved July 1, 2011. 

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