Over the past few days, I have been thinking about what makes for a successful scam/con – or at least one that can last for years before imploding big time.
There is currently a very long thread at Namepros regarding Adam Dicker, a very well-known domainer who allegedly has been scamming his customers for years by taking their money and under-delivering or not delivering promised website services at all.
Several customers have come forward with their stories of woe, and evidence appears to be piling up against Mr. Dicker.
I am NOT one of his victims.
But I very well could have been.
While I don’t know Mr. Dicker personally and have never met him, he has been a Facebook friend, an extremely friendly presence on my timeline. He is also well-known in the domaining community, a go-getter and high-profile presence at the popular domaining conferences.
He was respected, a go-to guy.
I liked him; he has a friendly face and demeanor, and unlike some of my other FB friends (and even me, if the truth be told), he never went on a political rant. He never called anyone names. He posted mostly about his family, his diet, he fave sports – just ordinary stuff. Occasionally, he posted about his websites and domain names, but nothing excessive or annoying.
He was exceedingly polite, a breath of fresh air on the craziness called Facebook.
Just last month (September 2015) at THE Domain Conference, a major domaining conference, Mr. Dicker was awarded Developer-of-the-Year – kind of ironic, given that not too many of his customers’ domains were being developed by Mr. Dicker’s companies, but life is full of little ironies, isn’t it?
However, I’m not out to pile on Adam Dicker specifically; this Namepros thread is doing a very good job of that, and, besides, I have nothing of substance to add to that particular narrative.
Also, I have no idea if Mr. Dicker is a straight-up con man or someone who just got involved in too many projects and decided to cut his losses and was able to string people along for so long because of his engaging personality.
But here’s the reality:
Many very smart people were scammed out of thousands of dollars, dispelling the myth that only stupid and naive people get conned.
Which leads me to an epiphany: no one is immune to a well-placed con.
To varying degrees, human beings are prone to greed, dishonesty, vanity, opportunism, lust, compassion, credulity, irresponsibility, desperation, and naivety, and con men are excellent at exploiting these human foibles.
Yes, most of us know to avoid the stranger who telephones us with that “can’t-lose” proposition or the stereotypical email from the Nigerian Prince promising us millions (if only we could send him a small fee of, say, $3,950 for taxes).
I’m talking about the con man (or woman) who walks among us and calls us friends and colleagues.
The Bernie Madoffs, the type of con artist who “makes off” with the funds of people close to him or her.
Con men are persuasive and confident – hence, the term confidence man.
Even among loved ones and friends, they are experts at “building” an effective con:
1. They lay an elaborate foundation, often involving other con artists, planning their con and selecting their marks with care.
2. They approach their mark, using a well-prepared script.
3. If the mark is receptive or even hesitant, they introduce the scheme and appeal to his inner greed. They try to break him down by showing how much profit he stands to make. (If the potential mark resists totally, con men know when to move on to another mark).
4. At this stage, the con man may even pay out small amounts of money to the mark or the con’s assistants to “convince” the mark of validity.
5. No con scheme is complete without the dénouement, the end game. The mark is pushed to the edge and forced to act immediately; the con takes full control of the narrative – the scam will either work or die right here.
6. Finally, the con artist will make a big show of placing his own money where his mouth is, just to “prove” to the mark of the con’s honesty. In a common con, the con man will give the mark a “good will” check for deposit – of course, the check is bogus and will eventually bounce – long after the con has left town.
Con artists are people-oriented; they are charming, engaging, manipulative, and funny, good at drawing people into their sphere and pro at deflecting questions and suspicions, which makes them especially dangerous, even to their own family, friends, and colleagues.
There is one truth to avoid being scammed:
If it sounds too good to be true, then it’s a 99.9% scam.
And if you think you are immune, consider this July 1, 2014, Time Magazine article:
4 Powerful Things Con Men Can Teach You About Persuasion, by Eric Barker
A real eye-opener.