Since my novel concerns cons and how con artists work, I’ve done a lot of research about this kind of crime. I think it’s a fascinating, and very disturbing, topic. I also think frauds, swindles, and cons are some of the most vicious of crimes and think most con artists should get longer sentences.
Cons are such calculated, cold-hearted crimes. A thief may make you feel unsafe, but you didn’t have a relationship with the person before the crime. A murderer, killing in a fit of rage, can sincerely regret his crime. Nobody cons on the spur of the moment. Cons work because the criminals deliberately set out to make friends with you, learn your strengths and weaknesses, and then ruthlessly exploit the weaknesses. Victims are left not only doubting the honesty of other people, but also their own ability to choose trustworthy friends. They can start second-guessing everything they thought was true.
Hoaxes and Scams: a Compendium of Deceptions, Ruses, and Swindles by Carl Sifakis from 1993 is a great resource for learning the history of cons. It’s out of print now, but if you are curious, try getting it through your library. It’s arranged like an encyclopedia with entries about famous criminals, historical hoaxes, like the War of the Worlds radio broadcast of 1938, and even cons that affected a nation’s history, like the diamond necklace hoax, which damaged Marie Antionette and the French monarchy.
Some of the cons listed wouldn’t work in today’s society or because of technological advances. Bu the insidious thing about successful cons is that criminals rework them so they can be used in contemporary settings. “The Spanish Prisoner” has been around for four hundred years. It now goes by the name “The Nigerian Money Transfer” and victims are hunted for on the Internet.
Next Friday, I’ll tell you about my own brush with a con.