Pontifications · Rants

The Importance of Understanding a Con-Artist’s Game

When I was in college I had a weird and wonderful set of older, working friends that I learned a lot from. For me, a rural girl who was fresh out of nowhere, their real world knowledge was enlightening. They impressed a need to understanding even ‘bad’ things in this world and how they worked. A lot of that was for amusement, but also as a way to stay on your toes. You can’t play the game, obviously, if you don’t know how to play. This has kept me away from some of the things I’ve seen my rural counterparts get sucked into or suckerpunched by. And sometimes in noble ways, and other times not so noble, that knowledge has kept me afloat over the years.

Our old crew, from all those years ago, often ate at a 24/7 diner that was and still is a Long Island dive at best. The strangest hours would roll around and we’d convene for antics and bullshitting — sometimes sober, sometimes… definitely not. I still miss the shenanigans although I am far too tired and busy these days to have midnight or 3am diner runs on any regular basis. The serendipity that I’d shack up and have kids with a guy whose parents own and operate a diner is also kind of amusing to me, if just personally, but I digress.

On occasion, during those diner visits, I remember looking in my wallet and my credit card would be gone, yet again. I’d deliver a slap on the shoulder-side of a friend of mine. He’d baulk and tell me he didn’t know anything; then he’d laugh and give back my card. These were the games where he’d practice his sleight of hand because, well, he was a working magician. And while he was doing it for himself, he also would prove a point about how easy it was to get your stuff jacked. This was, obviously, done in good spirits though I was a bit hot-headed about it a few times until I ‘got’ the message.

Now, I’ve never been a fan of showman magic because it was always sold to me, as a child, as real. I found that incredibly condescending, even as a kid.  For some magicians that I’d had the unfortunate ‘chance’ to engage with it was supposed to make them seem more awesome. It didn’t. It made me feel really uncomfortable — someone just lied to a group of my peers and I. While many people saw it as harmless wonder, I felt it was slimy. A lie, to the child version of me, was a lie and it made me feel helpless as a kid. Later, when I realized much of the modus operandi behind that kind of behavior was an ego thing it pissed me off more. I didn’t appreciate the attitude of ‘conartist causal’ perpetuating an industry of credulity creators that targets children. And I wasn’t enchanted by tricks.

A lot of my anger got snuffed out when my old friend turned those moments about awareness, the lack of ability to be 100% aware all the time, the need for caution, and he showed us how he did it and ways to be aware of it. I appreciated that a lot more than I might have ever let on, as it was candid. I still won’t trust him with my wallet, but I don’t blindly dislike magicians anymore.

With all those antics, I stopped carrying a regular wallet when I traveled around the city, and I learned to start paying a lot more attention when out and about — both in real life and on the internet.

Many years later, the day my actual credit card was lifted in the Yukon by a pickpocket because I’d broken that old rule in the race to get to the bar. I’d taken my card and put it in my jacket pocket instead of carrying it within my very well hidden travel wallet. It was a simple bump and grab, so I checked a few seconds after it had happened and my card was definitely gone.  I was more bemused than angry (I had a backup card and cash to get home with). I was able to call and get the card canceled while at the payphone at the bar. Thankfully, that was all they got; I still my important travel documents, cash and backup cards. So I was no worse for the wear.

Now, hiding my personal stuff on me, strategically, isn’t my only travel tactic. I do carry a wallet that could get reefed or picked otherwise. But it’s really just dud with random business cards (no personal links to me, just junk) and $5-$30 dollars in it. It’s still easy to reach but also not trying to give that one away – it’s a mugger’s wallet, a decoy if I ever were to have the misfortune of getting held up. The goal is to drop or throw the wallet, not hand it directly over, and you take off while the mugger goes to retrieve it. My actual wallet you have to find where it’s strapped onto me, under layers of clothes. That’s assuming I’m carrying much worth any effort anyway.

All of this is pretty basic prep if you’re spending any time traveling or flouncing about. But it’s only a sliver of the point I’m getting at here. There is a ton of stuff you can do in person, online, when traveling, and when at home to keep yourself and your family safe. The fraudsters are getting better each day and security is often more illusion than fact. So sometimes you need to know what bad people do to sidestep the obvious targeting or traps. Picking up the messes also doesn’t guarantee you’re going to learn anything. There are plenty of aspects in modern day life where we all need to keep growing up and being aware in order to protect our stuff and ourselves.

I’m not trying to breed fear, I hate that. What I want is to tell you that while the world isn’t bad, per se, it has some rotten eggs and the probability stands that you’ll meet one or hear their siren song compelling to you do something you wouldn’t if you knew the full story or weren’t somehow cornered and unprepared. It almost doesn’t matter how tight your personal bubble is, you have to be conscious of what goes on around you and be aware of it or risk getting played because the reality is that we are all at risk, in some way-shape-or-form. Not everyone is your friendly neighborhood magic-man trying to make the right impression.

Being aware of how bad people work when it comes to getting swindled, fooled, or otherwise taken advantage of is incredibly important. It means teaching yourself, your loved ones, and your kids that even innocent things can be lies built by profiteers or idiots. I mean, look at that chain-letter pyramid scheme with the good intentioned 36 free-books that circulates on my newsfeed ever so often. It’s a traditional pyramid scheme innocent people get sucked into. Teachers have handed it out to kids in their classrooms. I had several math and science teachers posting about involving themselves and their families in their newsfeed posts; completely unaware they got suckered.

This is about being critical and analytical in the real world. I mean, I’ve seen kids get upset about TV commercial charities. You could be feeding conartist groups like HSUS because you get sucked in by emotion and need to ‘help’. But what are you helping? Where are the numbers? (Those digits are public, by the way).

How many of your older kids or teens can look at a pyramid scheme and understand its too-good-to-be-true flaws? Do they even know why those things, even when dealing in books or cheap costume jewelry, are legally punishable crimes?
How many of you can out-talk a salesman? Better yet, how do you identify a good vs. bad salesman?

Lately I see plenty of people on Facebook page selling business products based off, at least at face value, legal multi-level or network marketing schemes – but I hesitate to assume any of those people understand why these structures rarely, if ever, work despite their legality or how much of your soul you sell to get people to buy stuff. Are they selling products or a business at the bottom line of it all? (Follow where the money comes from and goes to — it makes a difference.)
Do they understand why these things cultivate a high failure rate and are the shady cousin to the illegal schemes they borrow traits from?
I see affiliates sharing woo products based out of fear and no expertise.
I see people pandering to get-rich-quick plans and eBook sales that are not worth a dime since the content is free with a simple google search.

And it makes me jaded because I want people to think for themselves and I see very little of that at times. Partially because reality doesn’t sneak up on you until it steals your wallet or something bad happens. I know, I was that person a few times and, I realise with the right con artist, I could still be victimized, too. This isn’t about ego, it’s about breeding a scrutinizing eye.

The world has tricky schemers and sticky fingers at times and we’ve all fallen for something at some time. While that is a pride bruiser, the problem, rather, is how little we learn from it and the mistakes we, or other people we know, make. I see people, time and again, making the same mistakes and becoming the same targets they were…  How often do you have to lose your ass to realize you were running a bad gambit?

Many people don’t want to see how these things function and I find that logic faulty. Much of that type of information is a valuable way to see the world from a different perspective, one I hope to pass onto my kids in order to protect them from the wilds out there and on the internet. It makes you able to be tougher, more picky, and less susceptible as a target.

These things aren’t learned overnight, and I will grant that. But basic caution doesn’t cost a damn thing and good knowledge comes through the google machine quite readily. Implementing good strategies if you’re in love with traveling, or just trying to keep your head about you in business, take time to learn about the business venture you’re getting into and the marketing structures involved, or the places you’re going to visit.

This won’t come to you via osmosis – you have to engage and want to learn and dig and prep a little bit. It’s like picking scabs at times. Why is a swindler a fast-talker? Why is urgency so important in economics? Why is the friend-propping, over-sharing, market scheme a favorite these days? Why and how can your emotions be used to manipulate you? How do market strategies you create for your own business become a tool on other people? And, if you’re in business, are you being fresh with your consumer basis or are you another person pandering on pander to sell your shit like a shill?

You have to want to protect yourself from the gullibility  and bad situations that can come from ‘just being a good person’ by listening to how bad people do bad things. And, on the flipside, you have to be a good person to really want to protect people you do business with by not becoming the problem. Not all cons are born bad people and that, sometimes, is the saddest bit out of all this.

This is can be an edgy and gritty way of looking at the world. It can be anything but comfortable, but it’s wildly eye opening…

And it might save you some trouble.
If you’re paying attention.



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