Three Card Monte, The Three-Card Trick, Follow The Lady or Find the Lady, which is (except for the props) essentially the same as the probably centuries-older shell game or thimblerig. 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 are skeptical, so the shill places a bet and the scammer allows him to win. 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 con man decides to let them win to lure them into betting even more. The ‘mark’ loses whenever the dealer chooses to make him or her lose.
The Spanish Prisoner scam, and its modern variant the Nigerian money transfer fraud, takes 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 goes in figuring he can cheat the con artists out of their money: anyone trying this has already fallen for the essential con, by believing that the money is there to steal. Closely related is the Fake Lottery, in which the victim is told he or she has won a large lottery prize in another country, and that, in order to collect the funds, legal or other fees of several thousand dollars are required in advance. The victim pays the fees, but never sees the supposed winnings.
The early-20th century favorite The Big Store, around which scam the plot of the film The Sting revolves. Big store scams are described in detail in David W. Maurer’s The Big Con (see references), on which the film was loosely based. They often involved teams of dozens of con artists working together with elaborate sets and costumes.
The Protection Scheme takes advantage of the fact that there are con artists out there. The con man tells the mark that there is a web site you can put your credit card number in to keep it safe from stolen identity, the mark then willingly gives the con man their credit card number. The con man is then never seen again.
In the trust scheme, a con artist teams with another con artist or shill to lead the mark to trusting them; the con artist will convince the mark to scam people with him, but after the crime spree is over, the con artist takes the mark’s share of the money and disappears.
The Pigeon drop, also featured early in the film The Sting, wherein the ‘mark’ or ‘pigeon’ “assists” an elderly, weak or infirm stranger to keep their money safe for them. In the process, the stranger (actually a confidence trickster) “puts his money with” the pigeon’s money, i.e., in an envelope, briefcase, or sack, which the pigeon 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 pigeon is enticed to “make off with” the con man’s money through the greed element and various theatrics, but in actuality, the pigeon is fleeing from his own money, which the con man still has (or has handed off to an accomplice).
Coin collecting scam*is a scam that preys on unexperianced coin collecters. The con man convinses the mark that a low priced collection of jewlery is worth a greater amount. The coin collecter, that is clearly unaxperianced at coin collecting buys the jewlery thinking its valuable when its really not.
The Fiddle Game is a variation on the Pigeon drop. 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, a fiddle (violin) that he uses to make enough money for himself to live and eat. After he leaves, the second con man swoops in, offers an outrageously large amount (e.g., $50,000) for such a “rare” instrument, and 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, “knowing” he has an offer on the table, then buys the violin from the fiddle player (who “reluctantly” sells it eventually, for say $5,000). The result is two con men $2,500 richer, and a maitre d’ left with a cheap instrument. (This trick is also detailed in the Neil Gaiman novel American Gods and is the basis for The Streets song Can’t Con an Honest John.)
The pyramid scheme.
In a drug dealer scam, the conman pretends they are selling illegal drugs and sometimes uses intimidation as part of the scam. Usually the victim hands over the money and is told to wait until the ‘dealer’ comes back with the product. They never do. Some fake drug pushers will give out bags full of things such as paracetamol (acetaminophen), herbs, etc.
Insurance fraud — 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 exaggerate). The con artist fraudulently collects a large sum of money from the mark’s insurance policy, even though they intentionally caused the accident.
Pig-in-a-poke originating in the late Middle Ages, when meat was scarce, but apparently rats and cats were not. 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, and at any rate, quite unlikely to grow to be a large hog). If one “buys a pig in a poke” (a common colloquial expression in the English language, meaning “to be a sucker”), the person has bought something of lesser value than was assumed. This confidence trick is also the origin of the expressions: “Left holding the bag” (meaning to find oneself with nothing for their efforts, as the cat is quite likely to flee when the bag is opened), and “let the cat out of the bag,” meaning to reveal that which is secret, though the latter may also refer to the Cat o’ nine tails.
Many religious cults have been described by their critics as confidence tricks. It is alleged that their aim is to obtain money from their followers by deception. It can be unclear, however, whether they are doing it for con-artist reasons or for religious/welfare reasons. If the cult leader can be proven to use any form of deception or trickery to garner funds, then it is a con.
Pseudoscience and snake oil. Some 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 that are scientifically wrong, but attractive and easy to believe. Similar scams involve the use of brain machines to alter brain waves, and intelligence amplification through balancing the mind and body.
Psychic surgery is a con game in which the trickster uses sleight of hand to pretend to remove bits of malignant growths from the mark’s body. A common form of medical fraud in underdeveloped countries, it imperils the victims, who may fail to seek competent medical attention. (The movie Man on the Moon depicts comedian Andy Kaufman undergoing psychic surgery.)
The Thai Gem Scam, in which layers of conmen and helpers 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 conmen guide the victim to a tuk-tuk which brings them from one destination to another until the victim is convinced and arrives at the jewelry store. This scam has been operating for 20 years in Bangkok and is alleged to be protected by Thai police and politicians.
Hydrophoby Lay was a scam popular in the 1920s, in which the con man pretended to have been bitten by the mark’s (possibly rabid) dog.
Deceptive Contest This scam relies on the fact that it is a real contest but whose true objective is to sell the victim a low-value item at a high price. The victim sees an advertisement asking poets to submit their poems to a poetry competition. A few weeks later, a return letter announces that the victim’s poem has been selected by the judges and the victim has advanced to the “semi-finals”. As per the contest rules, the victim’s poem will be published in a hard-cover anthology once the contest has concluded. The victim is asked to travel (at his own expense) to New York to participate in the “semi-finals” (and finals). The victim is encouraged to buy/order the book of poetry containing their poem at $80 or even pay an extra “typesetting fee” to include a personal mini-profile also. The scam, of course, is that one in every four contestants reaches the “semi-finals” and it appeals to their vanity to buy a low-quality $10 book for $80. The contest is real but irrelevant to the scammers.
Glasses drop is a scam in which the scammer will intentionally bump into the mark and drop a pair of glasses that have already been broken. He/she will claim that the glasses were broken by the clumsiness of the mark, and demand money to replace them.
Lottery Fraud by Proxy In this particularly vicious scam, the scammer buys a lotto ticket with yesterday’s 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.
The Darr Acting like a man with the “shakes” or another obvious disease that creates social anxiety, the con man drops a bottle of medicine tablets, usually tic-tacs or another medicinal look-alike near the mark. Then, hopefully, the mark helps pick up the dropped medicine, but since it was on the ground, should be dirty. The con man then goes on about how expensive medicine has become and asks the mark if he has any change. If the mark agrees, the con man then initiates a conversation about an illegal prescription drug ring. The con man continues saying that with an initial backing in the ring, much profits could be made, but without a decent amount of money, the ring will never start up. With the perception that the con man wants cheap drugs and the mark wants a large return on his investment in this operation, the mark donates the money and then the con man is never seen again. Named for acclaimed underground con man Gregory Mitchell Darr.
Using Art Forgeries for Scams This con can be applied to any famous but privately owned painting. A mark’s house that has an expensive original inside is set afire by the con artist, then the original is stolen and replaced with a forged one that looks burnt. The original must not have caught fire by the time the con man gets to it. The next day, the con artist comes in as an insurance man and tells the mark that the painting can be fixed but it will cost a lot. Hopefully the mark will pay the con man straight away. The con artist makes off with the original then sells it on the market for a bit more because it miraculously escaped fire.
Change raising is a common short con and involves an offer to change an amount of money with someone, and at the same time taking change or bills back and forth to confuse the person as to how much money they are actually changing. The most common form, “the Short Count,” has been featured prominently in several movies about grifting, notably Nueve Reinas. In essence, the mark makes change twice.
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