Why we can't help getting ripped off by con artists

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Such an extremely broad definition of “con artist,” it would almost include everybody who ever told a lie. I would call Demara an impostor, not a con artist, because it sounds like he wasn’t out to bilk people out of their money - he just wanted to play doctor. Last week’s story about the fake 9/11 survivor seemed the same way to me. She might have gotten a modest payday, but the real thrill for her was fame.

EDIT: There’s that verb “ripped off,” too. Who did the phony doctor rip off? He robbed some sailors of their wounds?


Snagged a copy to gift to my father-in-law that just got out of a relationship with a con artist. And by con artist I mean someone out to take as much money and services from him as possible. The sad thing that I hope the book will help him with is that he still doesn’t see that she was a con artist. What he has admitted so far is that the character she was playing had some serious issues. But he isn’t able to grasp that none of us ever actually met the real her.


everyone is vulnerable to the con artist’s game, even other con artists, and why there isn’t much we can do to protect ourselves from getting conned.

Sold! No, just kidding, I don’t buy it. It’s a cultural thing. If you design a culture around influence and persuasion, then bullshit artists rule the world. If you design a culture around evidence, then they don’t. If you hold out for evidence, many will complain, but it eventually makes the world a better place.


Dispense with your humanity and you can do just about anything to people, provided you can live with yourself thereafter.


It depends. Would they have had someone with real medical training attending to their wounds if he wasn’t there? Maybe more would have lived; maybe someone would have had a wound that healed better. If not, then I guess it is fine but who knows?

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If such somebody was there too, I’d guess that they’d be too busy with the other cases. Parallel processing. And given the time-sensitivity for treatment, any additional doc with even sub-standard knowledge may be the difference between life and death.

…at least as long as the better ones can take over the more difficult cases…

SOLD! (I have been looking for another business opportunity lately… J/K!) Seriously though I did buy it just now, and am curious how these stories (techniques?) could be applied to entrepreneurial pursuits.

I don’t think that’s strictly fair as a rebuttal. If you felt you needed to demand that evidence then you aren’t living in the culture of evidence proposed by @popobawa4u’s argument. You’d have that required level of trust you seek.


What did he rip off [obtain through fraudulent misrepresentation], and work backwards from there.

I’d say the intangible sense of self-confidence in others is what was ripped off, and that’s one of the more valuable things people can have - and one of the worst things people can have way too much of.


Also, he was posing as a surgeon lieutenant without qualifications and experience, in a position where those things might have been necessary (and actually were, in his case). Would this have been an official position on the ship? If so, if he hadn’t been there someone with more experience would have been. Maybe he saved some lives, but an actual surgeon with more experience might have saved more.


Perhaps read some convicts memoirs for such context?

But we already live in a system of trust in distributed evidence, which is what I assume you mean. That a society where checking evidence was pervasive, we ourselves wouldn’t need to do just-in-time evidence checking. But the “trust” we have is in the hospital administration and HR department that they vetted the doctors, and in the schools that trained them is that they, as trusted authorities, have checked the evidence. Con persons certainly are aware of this, that’s why forging documents from authorities is such an important part of the game. We can constantly move toward a society built on evidence, but the question of “evidence of what?” remains. The blockchain can only quantify things that are quantifiable.


I’m looking for a “how-to” not a “how-not-to-do”.

I agree. We’ve wrapped a lot of what qualifies someone in stupidities like class. My city recently had to create an ordinance to prohibit discrimination in employment based on whether you were homeless or not. The reality is that this is a highly irrelevant factor in employment. Same goes for a lot of things. It used to be that people did not get a bachelor’s degree to go to law school, they got a bachelor’s degree in law. We decided that it made the legal profession less exclusive as more people started attending college at greater rates, so we had to insert another barrier. In the US, we really like the idea of “pre-professional” schooling, but often times this isn’t really justified by anything. The UK doesn’t do the “pre-med” thing the US does, and I would love to see us go in that direction if only it meant I no longer had all of my classes filled two-thirds of the way with people who are just trying to get into med-school.

@HMSGoose and others keep talking about how trust makes the world go round, and I tend to agree. It doesn’t change the fact that we live in a culture where it really isn’t about what you know and what you’re capable of, but things like networking and money and preconceptions. Most employment is not meritocratic, as has been demonstrated time and time and time again.

So yeah, I like trust, but we’re hardly evidence-based enough.


The idea of trust vs. evidence goes beyond a choice between subjective favortism/nepotism/classism or meritocracy though. Even meritocracy, to some degree, still depends on witnesses deciding upon and quantifying meritable actions. My org deals with early childhood teachers, a very difficult profession in which to measure merit. We have numerous systems of standards that try to bring a semblance of measurability, and processes for increasing the inter-reliability of raters who use these tools. At the end of the day, those raters are humans whose judgement we trust because a chain of other humans have seen their resumes and transcripts, and hired them, and offered recommendations.

There is a balance between our faith in their gut ability to spot “good” practice with our faith in the design of the more objective measurement tools. Pushing that balance toward a system where evidence is more objective eliminates a lot of the squishy parts, but those parts are inherently important. In education, this (so far) has manifested as standardized testing, which sends it’s shit-ripples throughout the system. Some occupations may be more measurable, but measurability always introduces bureaucratic stagnancy and solidifies biases present in the measures themselves.

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Of course. Like I said, it’s such a broad definition of “con artist,” it covers almost everything.


It’s important to distinguish between credentials that indicate demonstrated ability, and credentials that are imposed in order to restrict supply and prevent competition.


Since it was a required position as ship’s surgeon on a military vessel, then, yes, someone qualified would have been there if he hadn’t taken their slot. So the guy ripped off whoever would have had the job, as well as representing a risk to everyone he treated. He seems to have made a decent hack of treating those wounded sailors, by all accounts, but even so, at this remove there’s no telling how lucky he was to not kill anyone by missing things a trained surgeon wouldn’t have.


Just ran across this story about another conman in the military, but this time his game was directed at doing more good than bad - and actually ended up saving lives & being historically significant.