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Origin of the term “confidence trick”

Though dishonesty for financial gain had existed long before, the specific term “confidence man” was first coined in 1849 by the New York Herald to describe the deceptions of William Thompson. Thompson, dressed in genteel fashion, would approach wealthy New Yorkers and, after brief conversations, ask, “Have you confidence in me to trust me with your watch until tomorrow?” The mark, placing “confidence” in Thompson’s honesty, would lend him his watch, only to have Thompson never return. Thompson’s arrest was a nationwide sensation, and the term “confidence man” passed into widespread use, including the title of Herman Melville’s 1857 novel The Confidence-Man.

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