Anatomy of a Swindle - excerpt from FOOL

Mar 9, 2023 1:00 AM

“The Simple believes every word.” Proverbs 14:15

This creates all sorts of problems, one of them being susceptible to a swindle.

The following is an excerpt from Chapter 4, “Without a Clue."

My son, if you put up security for your neighbor,

have struck hands with a stranger,

If you are trapped by the words of your mouth,

are captured by the words of your mouth,

Do this now, my son, and get free,

for you have fallen into your neighbor’s hand:

Go, humble yourself, and plead with your neighbor.

Do not permit your eyes to sleep or your eyelids to slumber.

Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand [of the trapper],

like a bird from the hand of the fowler.

Solomon is saying that whoever has entered this kind of contract is in a trap, whether he realizes it or not. It is urgent not to wait for the trap to close, but to do whatever one has to do to get out of it. If necessary, one should take a loss, but escape while it is possible before all is lost. Some would argue that this attitude is overly cautious, even paranoid, but there is no question that whoever possesses it is less likely to be defrauded than one who does not.

Frauds have been around for long as there has been human commerce. The range of schemes is as wide as the range of human need and desire, from quack cures to investment mirages, from get-out-of-debt offers to fraudulent home repairs. In an age of technology in which anything seems to be possible, the most improbable inventions can be plausibly represented for purchase or investment. Pyramid schemes, from simple chain letters to sophisticated offerings of “securities” or unorthodox forms of “insurance,” are enduringly popular and claim new victims every day. The Internet, offering the instantaneous digital transfer of information and funds, provides swindlers a new and efficient tool for exploiting the simple.

Every kind of hoax and confidence game has been described and analyzed by law enforcement, legislatures, and consumer protection groups. Most of those that are currently being run have been tracked and documented, and no one need fall prey to them. Anyone who is willing to put forth a reasonable effort can find out whether the “opportunity of a lifetime” is bona fide or fraudulent.

How is it then that people can be deceived by what an impartial observer would easily see through? On one level, the success of the scam depends on the persuasiveness of the sales pitch. Swindlers always present themselves as people of lofty motives. Every successful pitch has some statement of truth (“the hook”) on which to hang the offer. A vital part of the setup is the presentation of testimonials (“the plant”) to assure the victim that “this is for real” and these are people who can be trusted. In order to keep the mark from becoming too inquisitive there is, of course, an urgent need to reply now (“the bite”).

All the persuasive aspects of the pitch still do not explain why otherwise decent people will involve themselves in something that they should know is wrong, and thus allow themselves to be taken by these crooks. Some victims stay on the hook for a long time or keep coming back for more. Why?

The answer is that every con man knows that there is a kink in human nature. He knows that we all want something for nothing and are willing to believe that there can be gain without effort. The bait for the hook is the appeal to our secret desires: whether for pleasure, for wealth and possessions, or for self-exaltation and personal esteem. Whatever it is you want most, the con man has something to offer you: a shortcut. The simple will ignore the warning signs and go for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get it all in one swoop. Beguiled by the promise of easy gain, he becomes willing to do something illicit. The confidence artist ensnares him through cords of his own greed and guilt.

Copyright © 2015 by Garry D. Nation.  All rights reserved.

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