You know you can’t believe everything you read on the internet.
You know that if it sounds too good to be true it probably isn’t.
So how is it so many people fall prey to scams and con men…
I met my first con man almost 20 years ago. He was introduced by a friend of a friend, who recommended the guy (let’s call him Henry) for a position I was trying to fill.
Thanks to that personal endorsement from someone I’d worked with for years, I did little to verify Henry’s résumé… even though his personal history, as reported, was, frankly, incredible…
Too extraordinary to be true. And, indeed, none of it was.
Installed in his new role, Henry immediately set about using the company name to gain credibility. His position established, he started borrowing money from different people in the community. By the time I copped on to what was going on, Henry had created a trail of debt that took me six months to clean up.
Meantime, Henry disappeared into the horizon… moved on without a trace…
The memory of that experience has helped reduce the impact of encounters with con people since.
Yes, I’ve encountered others over the years… most in the form of salespeople. Con men are always selling… selling themselves and selling their story. The “con” in con men comes from confidence, and that’s what these guys are always trying to maintain… your confidence.
They employ different strategies.
One lady (let’s call her Marlene) who infiltrated one of our conferences years ago used what I’ve learned since is a standard approach. Marlene snuck into the conference exhibition hall before any staff noticed that she wasn’t wearing an entrance badge.
When approached by a staff member wondering what she was doing at our event without proper identification, Marlene explained that she was a friend of one of the exhibitors and had just stopped in for a quick look around.
That exhibitor wasn’t at his table right then so the staff member took Marlene at her word and moved on.
A while later, I noticed a woman I didn’t recognize roaming around and approached to ask who she was. Marlene told me she was a friend of an exhibitor. However, she didn’t reference the exhibitor she’d referenced to my staff earlier in the day but a different exhibitor.
This other exhibitor wasn’t present at that moment, so, like my staff member, I took Marlene at her word.
That afternoon I noticed Marlene sitting in the presentation room, chatting with attendees on either side of her. Then she showed up at the private cocktail party for attendees and speakers that evening.
By this time, several of my staff have asked Marlene who she is with, and each time she’s responded with a different name.
When Marlene returned on the second day of the conference, I started digging around to confirm her stories. I asked the first exhibitor Marlene had referenced as her friend. That guy had never heard of her before meeting her in the exhibition hall the day before.
Each exhibitor told the same story… “I just met her yesterday… but she’s a friend of so-and-so, I think…”
I had no choice but to confront her and pulled her out of the presentation room.
“I’m here with Tom…”
“No, you’re not,” I replied. “I’ve spoken with Tom.”
“Well, actually, yes, I’ve just met Tom… but I came with Dick…”
“No, you didn’t,” I said. “I’ve spoken with Dick.”
“Well, yes, you are correct,” Marlene replied. “I didn’t come with Dick exactly but with Dick’s friend Harry…”
“No, you didn’t,” I cut her off. “You met Harry at our cocktail party last night.”
When I asked her to leave, she made one last ditch effort to breach the wall.
“The truth is, Lief,” she told me with a winning smile, “I really came just to meet you. I’ve been a fan of yours for years.”
Flattery is another confidence builder.
When I was unimpressed by her fawning, Marlene moved into crisis mode, trying to keep the conversation going any way she could.
I held my ground and insisted that Marlene leave the premises.
Marlene held her ground.
In the end, I had to call hotel security to have Marlene escorted out.
As security led her down the hall away from me, Marlene looked back and screamed over her shoulder:
“You’ll regret this, Lief Simon. You’ll be sorry for this.”
The threat is the closing gambit of most con men (and women). They use it when they realize their story isn’t holding up any more. They try to instill fear either to keep the con going or as a distraction as they try to slip away.
This particular con woman was working for a local security broker. She wanted access to our attendees to try to sell them stocks.
And she didn’t want to go through our standard due diligence.
From this one can conclude that she feared her firm wouldn’t pass due diligence… so she took a chance and snuck her way into the room.
Another tactic used by con men—in addition to familiarity, flattery, and fear—is exclusivity. They’ll tell you that whatever it is they are trying to sell you shouldn’t be discussed with your friends or family because if word got out about the opportunity the potential returns could be spoiled.
The real reason they don’t want you speaking with friends and family is because family and friends might try to talk you out of investing in something that’s obviously nonsense.
The con men promoting the Iraqi dinar and Zimbabwe dollar revaluation scams are using this one.
Unfortunately, these cons are getting a lot of traction. Many readers have bought these currencies with the expectations of huge returns.
One lady at a recent conference spoke of getting US$50 million next week and another US$250 million the week after that like she was talking about expected paychecks. She is completely sold on the idea. No one can convince her that her currency “investment” isn’t going to pay out.
I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I’ve been hearing from readers and conference attendees with that same story (“Just wait until next week, Lief. You’ll see. The payout’s coming next week…”) for years.
It’s always next week… the payout is always just around the corner.
The woman at the recent conference was full of hope.
She was hopeful. She was fearful (about her financial situation in general). And she was a little greedy.
Those are the things that con men thrive on.
Unfortunately, those are also tools salespeople use to close a sale.
What’s the difference between a salesman and a con man? Integrity.
Not every investment or deal that goes bad is a con. Investments can go wrong.
Misrepresentations before a deal can be fraud. Change of circumstances after the fact can be bad timing. Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference.
That’s why many con men target small fish with offers that can’t be fleshed out without spending a disproportionate amount of money on due diligence.
I don’t mean to scare you off the idea of taking your investments, your business, or yourself offshore. You know my position on those ideas:
Diversify or die broke.
My intention today is to arm you with a healthy sense of skepticism as you work to identify and then vet options and opportunities for going offshore.
You know that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t.
As you diversify offshore, those are words to live by.
Editor, Simon Letter