Share your confidence game stories
October 16, 2009 4:03 PM   Subscribe

Have you been conned? Would you share your story?

I'm working on a small book proposal, more of an art book (working on an MFA), around the theme of hustlers and con artists. It is sort of a combo cautionary "Here's how you can be scammed" and exploration of the romantic image we seem to have for conartists.

Part of what I'm hoping to explore how we're fooled and why. What is the psychology / theatrics of the moment. Its all very easy to say "well you should know better" but it seems to me that having a couple of people putting the hard core hustle on you, could easily befuddle even people aware of the scams.

And, of course, on the off chance someone actually IS a confidence man or a hustler, I'd like to talk to you too.

So, if you've a story to share, I'd love to hear it. If you'd rather just share your story by email:
posted by Wink Ricketts to Society & Culture (88 answers total) 86 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I just bought a $250 juicer on eBay, paid for it and a few days later saw that the user no longer existed. I'm not sure that's what you're looking for.
posted by cmoj at 4:04 PM on October 16, 2009

You won't want to miss this classic peek into the mind of a scammer.

I've been taken in one of those three card where's the ace things. Stupid. I saw a bunch of people ahead of me win and somehow convinced myself this was the one honest and stupid three-card find the ace guy out there.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 4:09 PM on October 16, 2009 [4 favorites]

My friend lost a $4000 diamond bracelet on a college campus. She put an ad in the local newspaper offering a reward. A guy calls, says he is a trucker who was passing through Tucson on his way back to Iowa and he bought it from a 19yo kid at a truck stop for $200. He gave it to his wife and she didn't want it because she knew it was worth way more and it must be stolen/lost. My friend Western Unions the guy a few hundred to cover the amount he spent plus a finders fee. no bracelet. Never heard from him again.
posted by nestor_makhno at 4:21 PM on October 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I dated a guy who was just like me ... he joined my book club, took a camera instead of a gun on "hunting" trips with his brother-in-law, worked a second job to finance a Jamaican vacation and put some money into savings, and expressed interest in the emerging field of recycling plastics into construction fencing, carpets, etc.

Within a year of marrying him he'd given up reading in favor of watching reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation, bought a gun cabinet for his hunting rifles, gotten himself fired from both jobs, and voted against a referendum to mandate household recycling in our county.

Also he slept with someone else in Jamaica.
posted by headnsouth at 4:23 PM on October 16, 2009 [20 favorites]

Lots of old people are getting hustled by frauds, online or otherwise. I attend a community meeting each month, and the local sheriff comes to share the last month's crime stats, tell the community what the sheriff's department is doing to serve and protect, and provide tips to avoid being a victim of crimes. The last few times the sheriff has come by, he has warned people of messages from "long lost relatives," people who will pay you $100k for a small transfer fund or banking information, or anything that happens to use Western Union. The fact that these tips have been shared a few times seems like the local issue is more prevalent than I could imagine.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:36 PM on October 16, 2009

Think of myself as real cynic and tight with money, but one day a deaf woman came to my door and asked for money to get her deaf netball team to the national finals. Next day I read in the paper that she had (to the police's knowledge) successfully and fraudulently scammed over $500 per week with this trick for the previous 6 weeks. Normally (well, now anyhow), I would check for her organisation's credentials (is it well known, does she have a properly printed receipt book), but I was just struck how someone who faced communication difficulties had more gumption than me (social anxiety) to go door to door seeking cash to follow a dream.
posted by b33j at 4:37 PM on October 16, 2009

I was 8 years old when my mother and me were on a road trip from L.A. to San Diego, and we pulled into a gas station to fill up. As we're leaving, a mechanic runs out of the garage area, saying he saw that we had a nail in our tire and that he could patch it. So, up the car goes on the jack, and the guy rotates the tire slowly, looking for the nail.

"I must've been wrong, there's no nail here. But ... " and he calls over another mechanic, "John, take a look at this."

The two guys then go over the tire, claiming that it's showing a funny wear pattern, that needs to be addressed immediately. They recommend a new tire.

My mother relents, and purchases a single new tire. On a lark, my mother asks to keep the old tire in the trunk. The rest of the road trip is uneventful, and when we get home, my step-father examines the old and new tires.

Of course, there's nothing whatsoever wrong with the old tire. My step-father puts it back on the car, because you don't want mis-matched tires on a car. "I guess your mother paid $100 bucks for a new spare tire we didn't need," he says.

The con:
* A fake emergency -- the nail.
* The car on the jack. We're already part of the way there...
* A nebulous problem. A "funny wear pattern."
* A partner who provides a fake second opinion. "John, take a look at this..."
* A mark that is unlikely to notice the con right away, and unlikely to return to a gas station in the middle of nowhere to confront the conmen.
* An amount -- $100 -- that is neither too high to dissuade the mark, nor too low to not make it worthwhile for the conman. It was probably a $5 retread, and 15 minutes of work in all.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:39 PM on October 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

And from the archives of the internet: scamming the scammer
posted by filthy light thief at 4:40 PM on October 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

My friend saw a guy selling brand-new answering machines on the street in NYC for $15. The boxes were still sealed and my friend knew the answering machines had to be stolen off a truck, but she figured guiltily, "well, they're already stolen, I might as well benefit." She paid the guy $15 and took the box, feeling guilty but thrilled to get a bargain. When she got home and opened the box, inside there was no answering machine, there was a brick.
posted by keener_sounds at 4:40 PM on October 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

This is a near-con story.

When my grandfather died, my grandmother (very uncharacteristically) sent a letter to a psychic, asking what was in store for her. The psychic replied that she should expect a windfall on or about Dec. 22nd.

On Dec. 17th, she was called by an outfit in Montreal* telling her that she'd won prizes in excess of $10,000, and for legal reasons she would have to send them $2,000 to claim those prizes. Not entirely bereft of sense, she called my father, who said "it's a scam." My father called the RCMP Fraud Division, who called her and said "it's a scam". Still, she was unsure, and was preparing to send the money.

By fortunate happenstance, I was in Montreal. My father called me and asked me to look into it. My boss at the time knew a guy who was tangentially involved in these scams. That guy came and talked to me and Dave, recognized who was behind it, and put a call into them to mark her record "do not call back" (apparently these scammers have a rough honor system between them to avoid screwing each other's families). My grandmother never received a return call instructing her where to send the money.

* Laval, Quebec, actually. In the eighties the Quebec government put a bunch of money into building light commercial properties in Laval to spur business, which didn't happen. Ever since, various scammers and boiler-room phone operations have taken advantage of cheap, faceless commercial real estate to set up three month operations, after which they move across the street. It's the phone-fraud capital of North America.
posted by fatbird at 4:48 PM on October 16, 2009 [4 favorites]

And one more that happened to me:
Living in Tucson, everyone I knew swore by a certain fortune teller. She was from India and had a reputation for being truly psychic. The home was filled with incense and decorations that helped me start to suspend my disbelief. She told me some incredible things that could very well have described my own past: "Age 9 was your most difficult year of life" (true). Then I was allowed to ask 3 questions about my future. Still in somewhat of an altered state I asked what was most pressing: Should I go to graduate school in anthropology? She said: " I got a master's degree in anthro and look what the hell I have to do for a living."
posted by keener_sounds at 4:48 PM on October 16, 2009 [63 favorites]

I had a close call almost-scam.

I had a car for sale on Craigslist. Two guys came to take a look at it. It was an old Honda Accord, priced a little low because it needed some specific work [possible new fuel lines, it was in driveable condition and totally safe]. The guys looked it up and down and one of them climbed underneath it and said "uh oh" called the other guy over to look at something... and then brought me over and pointed to a non-specific smudge. "Oh hey, you're leaking transmission fluid here, that's a fire risk, you shouldn't drive this car AT ALL" I said that was news to me, and in fact sounded familiar, so I went inside while they were still looking the car over and googled some, remembered that mathowie had had something like this happen to him.

When I went outside the guys were all in serious mode basically saying that I probably shouldn't turn the car on again. They were saying it clearly wasn't worth what I was asking for it, but they'd give me half of what I was asking for since the body was in nice shape, blah blah. I said, thanks but no thanks, I'd take my chances. They haggled with me a little bit but I was like "Um, the price I'm asking is totally reasonable, the car was checked by a mechanic LAST WEEK and it's fine. I guess I'll just have to take my chances, sorry fellas" and they drove off. Wound up selling it to the next guy who came to take a look at it who was thrilled with the price and paid cash and left with it. No catastrophe to my knowledge.
posted by jessamyn at 4:54 PM on October 16, 2009

A short-change artist got $20 from my drawer when I was a gas station cashier the summer before college. I wouldn't have realized if he hadn't tried to push his luck and get a second twenty. I was angry and felt dumb for days.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 5:03 PM on October 16, 2009

The best con artist I ever met claims to be the son of Alan Freed, the famous D.J. He is so entertaining that people pay him the money he says he needs, then claim afterwards that they knowingly did it for theater.

He approached me at Union Square in San Francisco and asked if I believed in miraculous, life-changing encounters between people. His story was that he decided to be like the Buddha and live among the homeless people in the City. But somehow his car was stuck in one of our overpriced parking garages and he was short $50 to get it out. I didn't get conned by him but it was enjoyable.
posted by johngoren at 5:12 PM on October 16, 2009

Ok, here goes:

I've been scammed twice in my life. Once was a sort of half-assed mugging that didn't turn into one because I was too much of a wimp to stand up for myself. The other was a full-on legitimate scam that still leaves me trembling with anger when I think about it.

1) First month living in Hyde Park, on Chicago's south side, I got approached by a guy with a sob story. I was naive and did the dumb thing, making eye contact in the first place and listening to the spiel. He needed money for diapers for his kid, blah blah blah. It was broad daylight and I didn't think twice about saying "sorry man, I can't help you." As I started to pull away, he got a menacing look on his face, moved into my space, and then immediately switched back into chapter 2 of his hard luck story. We did this retard's tango for a few rounds and then I finally opened my wallet, gave him $20 or so and he went away. It was right in front of my fucking apartment building and I was concerned not to seem racist or whatever. Lesson learned.

2) One summer when I was in college, I was backpacking in Greece and toward the end of my stay. Very little money and staying in a fleabag hostel in Athens. Walking to the American School one afternoon, an older guy approached me and started talking me up. He laid down the usual patter and I started to chat back with him. He had a very fatherly demeanor and I let down my guard in part because I used to work with Greek guys and he reminded me of an old boss who I liked a lot. Turned out he owned a bar and would I let him buy me a beer. I said yes and we were suddenly on his turf. I sit at the bar, a beer is put in front of me, and all of a sudden, he's back in the corner. A sort of slutty girl appears out of nowhere and starts chatting me up. I'm 20 and a stupid idiot and I think this guy is a pimp or something. I certainly don't have money for any of that business, so I think, "I'll finish this drink and leave." She asks if I'll buy her a drink, I say yes. Suddenly, everyone is drinking. The bartender, the girl, the bouncer. Everyone but the old man, who is further into the corner behind me. The whole thing takes all of 2 minutes. The girl is asking me what I'm doing in Greece, where I'm staying, where I go to school. All things that seem like conversation, but turn out to feel like identifying information once the trap is sprung.

They sized me up, figured out how much I was good for, and then suddenly a menu with prices was put in my face and a crazy bill was tallied up. Instead of having a slutty girl at my ear, it's all of a sudden the bouncer who is tapping the bill insistently. "Um, I don't have that much," I say. "How much do you have?" he asks. I empty my wallet on the counter and back the fuck out of there. I would sleep in train stations the last week of my trip and learn a valuable lesson about not being nearly as suave as I had thought I was.

Man, recounting that still makes my blood boil even though it happened 15 years ago. Years later, a Greek teacher of mine would tell me the same story nearly verbatim and I would feel vaguely mollified to realize that other smart people could get taken the same way. Only slightly, though.
posted by felix betachat at 5:16 PM on October 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

Not quite a scam:

Years ago I was fairly broke, driving a cab but thinking of opening a shop. I got talking to a passenger (who had me driving him a 50-mile ride to another town, which he paid for in cash) about a place we knew in common, where he said he owned a hotel. The guy claimed to be wealthy and offered to finance my plan for the store. We were going to get together in a couple of days and arrange the details, but the man didn't come to the meeting. In the meantime I'd gone ahead and signed the lease for the store.

Next week I discovered he was in fact homeless, had just got a social security payout, and had used it on a taxi ride for entertainment. (The story, the lesson and the store were worth the disappointment, but I felt like an idiot for quite a while.)
posted by anadem at 5:18 PM on October 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Have you read Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion?
posted by Comrade_robot at 5:23 PM on October 16, 2009

In an apartment I lived in years ago, I'd made friends with the woman one flight up. A couple months after we met, I got a knock on my door to find a man looking a little dazed and unsteady. He said he was another neighbor, and Tracy (the woman upstairs) had told him I was nice, so he was hoping...he had AIDS, he said, and he had taken a turn for the worse, and his roommate was out and he really just needed money to get to the hospital -- he didn't want to call 911, because hey, who knows how long that would take, and...I was already fishing money out of my wallet. I think I gave him $20.

A few days later I mentioned this to Tracy, and she frowned. "I don't know who that is," she said. We talked to a couple other people and found out that this was a guy who snuck in the open fire escapes from the roofs on our buildings, took a quick look at the names on the mailboxes, and then went door to door asking everyone that same scam, dropping other people's names for more vermissilitude.

About a year later, I moved into another building where my college friends also lived -- that same damn guy came to THEIR door once, and about halfway through the spiel they remembered my story and told him to fuck off.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:39 PM on October 16, 2009

I don't generally give handouts to people on the street. This is partly why:

About 15 years ago in Phoenix I'm getting a lock for my bike. I'm outside the store attaching the holder to my frame, and this distinctive-looking but obviously downtrodden guy comes up and tells me a story. He's new to the area, he has a pretty solid job opportunity, he just needs some money for a room for a few days to get himself cleaned up, etc, etc. I tell him I'm sorry, but I don't have any cash, I paid with a credit card (which was true). He gets upset, and says "I don't even know why I bother anymore, I should just kill myself", and he sulks off.

Well, I'm kind of a softie, so I go to an ATM and get $20. I don't actually want to give him that much, so I go to a store and get some gum, and then I ride down the street to find him. I eventually catch him, and I say "Look, I'm sorry, but I really didn't have cash then. Here's $10, and good luck". So he's happy as a clam, thanks me, blesses me, and that's that. I ride off feeling that I've done something good.

Eight or nine months later, I'm again riding my bike around, but a different neighborhood. I'm on the sidewalk (yes, yes, I know, shame on me), and up the block comes guess who. Same guy. He stops me, and says...exactly the same thing. He's new to the area, has a pretty solid job opportunity...then he stops, and looks at me, and says "I may have seen you before...", then continues with exactly the same story. I was really, really angry, and said "I'm sorry, I don't have any cash", which at that point was untrue. He says, exactly the same way, "I don't even know why I bother anymore, I should just kill myself".

I just rode off, but I was tempted to offer to help him with his plan.
posted by Gorgik at 5:43 PM on October 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

I dated a guy who was just moving into a new place after a fire had destroyed the condo complex he was living in previously. He was an assistant manager at a department store, and two weeks into our relationship, he showered me with gifts from the store, from fantastic clothes to a Movado watch. We were both 20 years old at the time, and he said that he came from "old money," so gifts were nothing to him.

I went back to college after the summer break when I met him, and he came up to visit me one week because, sadly, his new apartment building had burned down. He'd left the department store, so he had some time on his hands. I tried to get him to move up to my college town, since we dug each other so much, but he liked the city, so after he secured a new apartment, he moved back there.

During a winter break, he asked me to take his dog for the night, because he was going to go away for the weekend. Good thing I dog-sat for him, because that apartment complex burned down, as well.

The next year (after we'd broken up), he said that he was going away to prison for "tax evasion," based on the very, very large amount of money his family had given him that he never claimed on his tax forms. When he came back from the clink, he asked me once again to dog-sit for him while he was visiting his new boyfriend. That night, the boyfriend's apartment burned to the ground.

It was after he was arrested for the second time that I realized I had dated a serial arsonist. He made a lot of money through insurance scams.

I never suspected a thing. I always thought he just had very bad luck.
posted by xingcat at 5:50 PM on October 16, 2009 [14 favorites]

A (really naive) friend fell for the famous "I bet you five dollars I can tell you where you got them shoes" scam in New Orleans. Well, it was an opening distraction for the "shoe shine" scam. He got spooked, figured it was turning into a glorified mugging, was had to the tune of about 30 bucks.
posted by desuetude at 6:06 PM on October 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

Paris, last year: my (not ordinarily scammable) aunt gets stung by a woman who, as my aunt walks into the courtyard of the Louvre, 'notices' a gold ring on the ground just in front of her, picks it up, looks around curiously, then shrugs and offers it to my aunt... and then says "Well, since I've given you that, perhaps you could give _me_ something...?" A £10 note, in the end. The ring, obviously, was brass, if that.

A few hours later we're crossing the footbridge over the Seine by the quai Branly and a chap 'notices' a gold ring on the ground in front of us. Pulled the 'indignant' (in fact, angry-verging-on-threatening) trick when we laughed at him and walked away. A bit later I overheard a French woman saying to the man she was with "Honestly, tourists must think French people are constantly breaking off their engagements and angrily throwing the ring to the ground..." They must have seen the same chap try again a moment later.

Istanbul, a couple of years ago: with a friend, I'm walking along a narrow bit of pavement past parked cars. A shoe-shine guy is coming the other way carrying his shoe-shine box; as my friend passes him, the brush falls off his box. My friend turns back, picks it up, and gives it to the guy, who is very grateful. "Please!", he communicates, "let me show my gratitude by polishing your shoes!" By the time my friend's foot was resting on the box we'd worked out what was coming, and I'm sure you can too: "Now, why don't you show _your_ gratitude?", or something along those lines. We laughed, handed over some money, and when the guy made out that this was way too little (with exactly the same 'indignant' face, actually, that scammers the world over must practice), we just walked away.

A year later the same friend moves to Istanbul. E-mails me: "*Everywhere* I walk, shoe shiners' brushes tumble to the ground, forlorn, helpless... and do you think I PICK THEM UP?"

Edinburgh, early this year. A Mexican PhD student is due to move into my flat for a month. I'm waiting for her to arrive; she's later than expected. This is because she is travelling with a Spanish colleague, and they're sharing a taxi. They go to the place he's going to stay in (for three months) and discover that it doesn't exist. He has already, yes, Western Unioned over six hundred euros for deposit and first month's rent. (He ended up staying at my place.)

You'll notice that none of these things have happened to _me_. I'm sensible enough to realize that this is because I've been lucky. If I thought it was because I'm too smart to get scammed I would presumably be an even easier target. I'm never going to use Western Union. But I _am_ feeling a bit nervous about the advance I've just handed over to my new landlady.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 6:06 PM on October 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

My beagle Tippy routinely scams me into feeding her dinner after my husband has already fed her dinner by acting like she has not yet been fed.
posted by kellygreen at 6:13 PM on October 16, 2009 [23 favorites]

Ah, the industrial cleaner salesman (a poor man's carpet cleaner salesman). He had a bottle of "diluted" cleaner and sold me a "concentrate" version after cleaning one tile ...

That one tile was awfully clean, though.
posted by tilde at 6:17 PM on October 16, 2009

LOL kellygreen - our pug does the EXACT same thing. Hell, she can even convince my 5-year-old DS that nobody's fed her.

My story: moving from Georgia to Texas; didn't have enough time or money to find a solid-reputable company. Found a company that would move it based on weight (I forget the exact amount per pound, but it was reasonable). So the moving truck shows up, the guy shows me the tickets from having his truck weighed (ie, the weight of the truck before they loaded my stuff and then after). It showed my stuff as weighting 3,000 lbs. I said "Hell no, I think my stuff only ways 2,000 lbs." I had moved not too long before that which is why I knew that, not b/c I have an innate sense of how much everything I own weighs. We bickered forever; I refused to let him unload the stuff and threatened to call the cops. There were a lot of phone calls etc until apparently his boss said F-ck-it. So me and him had the truck weighed; then he unloaded; then we weighed again. Sure enough, my stuff only weighed within 100 lbs of 2,000 lbs. He must have had all his buddies or something standing on it after he picked my stuff up. Anyway, crisis adverted.
posted by texas_blissful at 6:26 PM on October 16, 2009

Like Gorgik I had a repeat incident with a small time con man.

One afternoon I was getting out of my car going into the public library. I was in a rush, juggling a purse, a bag of books and my car keys, trying to get in and swap books/pay fines before they closed. A pretty good looking younger guy stopped me and told me that he was a contractor from a nearby county and that his truck had broken down, and he lost his cell phone. He'd used the phone in the library to call a tow truck, but that he had lost his wallet too, and he needed just enough cash to get the tow truck to show up and then he'd pay the rest when he got home. I never carry a lot of cash and knew I'd have to pay fines when I went inside, so I said I was sorry and couldn't help him with a lot, but gave him a five.

Looking at the psychology of the moment I can see how it worked for him - my library is in a heavy tourist area, he was good looking, made really good eye contact, and had his patter down. Also, he was in a small neighborhood - in the past when I'd lived in a big city all of the cons who'd approached me were in heavy high traffic commercial areas - I knew to blow them off. It was in the early afternoon so the type of people he would be approaching weren't typical 9-5 business people - tourists, people who work off hours, retirees or families using the library.

A few months later I was in a popular retail area, again a woman by myself, stopping to pick up a Valentine's gift for my husband. It was in the middle of the afternoon in a work day, I'd taken the day off. The same guy approached me again, getting out of my car going into the indie bookstore, same exact patter. I let him finish and said loudly "Hi, yeah, you got me with this scam a few months ago in front of my neighborhood library. Shame on me for buying it the first time, but you won't get me again." He leaned in and said "shut up you bitch, don't ruin this for me" completely turning off the charm and turning on the threat, and then turned on his heel and following two affluent looking older women.
posted by librarianamy at 6:27 PM on October 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

tilde - I had a similar door to door sales lady who was selling an all purpose cleaner. I immediately felt bad after buying it, but I'll be damned, that was the best cleaner I've ever had.
posted by texas_blissful at 6:30 PM on October 16, 2009

After accidently dropping my cell phone in a lake, I decided to buy a replacement off of eBay. When I went to have it activated, I was told it'd been reported stolen, and was thus unusable. The only way it could be activated is if the original owner officially transferred the account to me. So, on a long-shot, I tracked down the original owner using the numbers left on the phone. The women in question had a daughter who had recently lost her phone. She was more confused and irritated than I was, and did not seemed interested in the hassle of trying to transfer her account to some stranger in another state.

So the phone was useless. I reported the guy to eBay and nothing happened. I talked to the police, but they had no idea how to handle a case like this, involving multiple states, ambiguous ownership, and no proof of theft. In the end, two complete strangers got screwed, and some asshole made some money of it. I saw by his account that he'd done this to other people as well. The most I could do was explain the scam in the "feedback" I gave him, hoping to warn others, but I suppose there's nothing stopping him from getting a new account and doing it all over again.

Ah well. Caveat emptor and all that. A little older and a little wiser.
posted by dephlogisticated at 6:42 PM on October 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I got quick-changed (short-changed, if you prefer) once when I was working at an adult movie theater. Pretty standard, as that kind of thing goes. I had a feeling something was up, but the dude was pretty unpleasant, and I mostly wanted to get rid of him. Like I said, pretty standard.
posted by box at 6:48 PM on October 16, 2009

i was freshly unemployed, and took a job as a telemarketer for a world marketing company. after tearing into a fresh list for a week, the owner puts me in charge of his telemarketing 'department', me and two people he's had working for a couple of months on a different and worn out list. the owner then instructs me to hire 4 new people.

i start interviewing, and hire a couple of people. at one point the receptionist quits, so i handle the phones for a couple of days.

i came in one monday, and had to grab some letterhead, and i noticed it looked different. compared it to some in my desk, and realized that the owner, over the weekend, had updated the bottom of it--which listed all of our official 'international locations' with a couple more countries. that's when i realized that i hadn't heard from any of these 'offices' when i had been answering phones, and that they didn't exist.

i started my job search immediately. that same week, my paycheck bounced.


i sold cleaner for a while as a runaway (summed up in this comment). the cleaner itself was a scam--it really didn't do a very good job. pretty much my door to door / office sales technique was to say whatever it took to convince someone to buy it. i feel sorry for the lady that thought it would be good for dishes--i just hope she didn't get sick.

by far, though the best technique involved business cards. for a lot of chain type stores, i'd grab a couple of cards when i went to one. when i went to another, i'd whip out my collection and explain that they all bought the stuff ... so should you. the same technique worked for a job selling register tape coupons. one of the tools that office gave me was a sheath of xeroxed letters.


i worked a job that required me to hire people to generate leads in retail big box stores--the kind of annoying people who walk around with clipboards and try to sell you siding. the job was pretty crappy, and paid pennies over minimum wage. my boss had this wonderful way of explaining the bonus structure that made it sound like people were getting paid a lot more. it was awesome, and i quickly incorporated it into my own hiring technique. people would work for a couple of weeks, generate a few leads, and then i'd sack them by cutting their hours in favor of a new, fresh hire.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 6:57 PM on October 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Lester's reminded me I worked briefly in a boiler room. Answering phones for people who'd won a 'prize', selling them "travel america" discount cards and books ...
posted by tilde at 7:13 PM on October 16, 2009

In high school, one of the guys I hung out with was a hustler. He'd steal the neighbors' lawn mowers then sell them to each other. He'd stop his junker car in the turn lane in the middle of the street and go up and down the street with a sob story about how the tow truck was coming and so was his mom with money but the police wanted the car out of the street now, lend me 20 for the tow truck and I'll pay you back when mom gets here. He was pretty successful at scamming, but life hasn't been kind to him. He's dying of hepatitis.
posted by notashroom at 7:49 PM on October 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

When I was a teenager, I worked, with several of my friends, doing telemarketing for some charity with the word 'heart' in its name (not the American Heart Association, or anybody else you've ever heard of). A couple weeks after I quit working there, the place was raided by the FBI. Completely and totally fraudulent. The dude we knew as the office manager was just pocketing the donations. My paychecks always cleared, though.
posted by box at 7:51 PM on October 16, 2009

During my first few weeks of graduate school, my roommate and I threw a party. I was inside when I overheard someone talking to the grad students who had congregated on our front porch. "Do you kids ever hang out with black guys?" was his opening line. He was promptly offered beers, over which he shared his hard-luck story. I told my roommate that, whoever he was, he wasn't allowed past our porch and inside. She accused me of being racist (!). But I was firm, especially when the other graduate students decided they wanted to play sardines. No way, no how, not in our house.

So they locked up the house and walked a few blocks to a house shared by several other grad students to play sardines. Of course, on the third or fourth round, the stranger took off with several girls' purses after everyone went and hid.

Racist my ass. If there's anything I learned growing up in the vague vicinity of NYC, it's that you don't invite in strangers (or vampires) and that you definitely don't play sardines with them.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:20 PM on October 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

The most common one I get in San Francisco is transport related - for some reason, usually stressful and sad, though I cannot recall any specifics, the person just needs to get to x location outside of the city and they need some set amount of money for the bus or buses to get there. Often, they will include a lot of specific detail for verisimilitude, such as which lines on which transit agency they need to take to where etc.

I will on occasion give a small amount to these people - sometimes just to get them to go away or on the offchance that they are for real, since that will help them towards their goal without making me feel burned if they aren't. Quite often, of course, I will hear them approach the next passerby requesting the same original amount.
posted by sumiami at 8:37 PM on October 16, 2009

A guy bumped into my on 6th Avenue in New York City. He dropped a pair of broken glasses on the ground (without me seeing) and then picked them up (in my view) and claimed I'd bumbed into him and knocked his glasses off and broken them. He demanded money from me. In the busy area, far from my home, I wasn't worried and walked away, thinking "I hope I didn't break his glasses, but this seems like a scam."

I know it was, because a few weeks later, another guy pulls the same thing on my a block from my house. That guy I actually paid $20 knowing it was a scam, because he was physically intimidating, very angry, I didn't really know anyone in the neighborhood yet, and I was worried he would follow me home... Nowadays, after living in NYC for a few years, I wouldn't pay him either, I know shopkeepers and such in my (new) neighborhood and I'd know that I can just walk off somewhere else in the city instead of going home, duh!
posted by Jahaza at 8:49 PM on October 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

Living in Oakland, I get hit up with the transport-related hustle sumiami mentions, as well as the "need to buy diapers for my baby" one in the parking lot of the Walgreens.

At this point, if somebody asks "can you spare a buck?" I'm likely to give them one, but as soon as they launch into a story and I get the sense I'm being scammed... oh hell no.
posted by Lexica at 8:54 PM on October 16, 2009

Uh, I think I spent too much today for a new battery at the car dealer. Good spiel about how the CCAs were low, had me thinking the final price would be the price that he was charging for just the battery replacement, and it was more expensive than retail. This was just a test, I guess, and I'm not going back there -- there's an independent mechanic my dad used to use who's expensive but honest. (I would have objected more but I have a lot on my plate right now.)

More run of the mill than some other stories, but I think it's relevant.

I had a hard-luck artist try to rook me once at a gas station in Chicago. Walked right up to me, pointed to his crappy held-together-with-band-aids car, he needed cash to get a filter or belt or something to get home to [distant suburb]. I think I may have given him about $5, but then he actually stepped up his campaign ... not enough, man, I thought you was decent, etc. I went in to pay for my gas, told them they had a scammer working the parking lot. The counter gal gave me the most intensely resigned look.

I used to watch the three-card monte (cheap foam ball and cup) outfits on 42nd Street when I worked in New York. I knew it was all a scam and it didn't take long to identify the confederates (shills), lookouts, and muscle. I was amused by the endless parade, but made myself too obvious, and hence I did have a close encounter with some muscle. There was also a guy who would work the "L" trains in Chicago between stops. I saw him draw in a couple of Northwestern students, using all the fake-outs like "I'll put in for you, this is my own money I'm risking -- if I'm wrong you go home with it!" A black lady shill played a profane skeptic who said just the right things to make it seem like a game with a house lean, not a complete rig. Unfortunately the girl kept playing even though several people on the train told her not to. Eventually he got $20 out of her and bam, there was a stop, and they trundled off the train in a hurry.

I also saw a bookstore possibly get taken by a quick change artist. Another man told the cashier that it had happened and she didn't believe him, and he claimed he was running out into the street after the guy, but didn't come back. Couldn't figure out what his motive was if he were part of the scam, but who knows. The cashier and supervisor then held up other customers while they carefully counted the till and found nothing missing.

And I worked for a slimy con artist a few months some time back. I saw some awesomely effective negotiating tactics. (Example: phone book ad saleswoman made to wait in cold office forever while he spent hours brazenly dealing with minutiae of installing a sign in drizzly weather. And once I realized that my efforts to clean up and professionalize the office were for naught, as the dump look deliberately made him seem affordable.) I don't think I was ever taken myself -- he wanted me in on the business as his "technology guy" -- but I had to laugh out loud when a car dealer who was a client called him "slick". You've got to be something else for a car dealer to go there. In the end, he used an obvious ploy on me to make sure I returned the crappy laptop he had issued me. I didn't even want it, but he was convinced I was going to skip town on him. You think that way, you think everybody else thinks that way.
posted by dhartung at 8:57 PM on October 16, 2009

*smack* Oh wow. How can I forget this one....the scam is actually pretty simple, but it's got a doozy of an ending.

I used to work for a business that was sort of like boutique souvenier shopping for business travelers -- we picked out 20 high-class things and had all of them gift-wrapped in our office, and had a catalog with those 20 things in hotel rooms in a couple hotels. The idea was that business travelers who were only in town overnight and didn't have time to shop could just call us, and if you called us by 11 pm each night, we'd bring the gift -- all wrapped and everything - to your hotel, and the front desk would have it ready for you when you checked out.

Business was slow (it was the early 90's, and my boss was not a businessman). So one day, when out of the blue we got an order for 5 Movado Watches from these two guys who said they were record company executives looking for stuff for a big meeting the next day, we jumped on it. I brought the watches to them right away -- they asked for that rather than waiting for overnight -- we ran the credit card number they gave us, it was good, we had our money and we were stoked. I was too stoked, in fact, to ask them to sign the receipt on the gift (this was required of all purchases).

They called AGAIN the next day for a couple more watches, and "necklaces for our girlfriends, har har". Again they wanted them right away. I trotted over to the hotel with them, but when I rememberded to ask them to sign the receipt, they fed me some line about charing it to their room. They talked a good game - they were even slightly scornful that "I'm surprised you haven't heard of people doing that, it's very common." I was dubious, but relented, and when got back to the office my boss asked if there was anything wrong. "Because they called about 20 minutes after you left asking where you were, and they sounded nervous," he said.

"No, I just went straight there and straight back."

We blinked at each other, starting to realize -- I hadn't ever seen the card they used, they just read us the number.

My boss called the credit card company and explained the situation, and they said that it sounded seriously like fraud to them. We then called the hotel and explained the situation, and they pulled first my boss over to the hotel -- and then me. Because, I'd SEEN the guys, and the nice officers they introduced me to told me that when they secured the guys in their room, they'd need to bring me in to I.D. them.

My boss and I spent two hours in a back room with three plainclothes cops and a couple guys from hotel security -- the crooks weren't in their room, so we were working with the credit card company to contact the cardholder and confirm that they hadn't given the guys their card number to go nuts with. We were also waiting to see whether the crooks would come back. After a couple hours, we had confirmed it was fraud, but they weren't back yet, so we broke for the day and decided the police would pick me up at home early the following morning and bring me there, to lay in wait for them then. And we all left - and then my boss and I ran into the crooks coming back TWO the hotel, about a block away. We turned right around, my boss following them to the hotel and me calling the police from a payphone frantically. The same cops came back 15 minutes later, we rounded up hotel security again, and they all walked me up to their floor where I I.D.'d them and then the cops lead them out through the lobby in handcuffs.

We didn't get any of the goods back -- they'd sold it all. But everyone's insurance covered everything. The police said that they may call me to speak before a grand jury, but no one ever did, and this was about 10+ years ago now, so I'm assuming they're in jail or have already served time.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:57 PM on October 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

I got conned by the cashier at the museum shop of Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Bought some postcards for about 7 euros, handed over a 20-euro bill to the young, English-speaking cashier who handed me back 3 euros or so. When I protested that she'd shorted me, she pulled out a 5-euro bill with some numerals inked in on it and said she'd noticed it when I handed it to her.

I got that hot feeling in my stomach, knowing she was scamming me. I protested for a while, and suddenly she was only speaking Dutch! I was just furious, turned away, then turned back and saw her exchange a wicked smile with the young male cashier next to her. I wanted so badly to take their photos, make a stink, right there, but it was ruining the art experience I'd just had. So I let it go . . . sort of.

I spent the train ride back home to Paris composing a ballastic letter to the museum director about how I'd only had 20-euro notes, having come from the ATM machine at the Amsterdam train station; that I lived in Europe; knew the currency, and so on. I focused heavily on how she'd ruined my beautiful experience. I asked him to have the museum shop manager mention this incident to the whole staff. Two weeks later I received an apology letter and the gorgeous Van Gogh catalogue and a refund. Apology accepted.
posted by Elsie at 9:13 PM on October 16, 2009 [4 favorites]

Morocco, 1998. My friend and I have just arrived in Marrakesh with a couple of cute but naive girls from Slovakia that we'd met on the train. Normally our routine when arriving anywhere is to immediately put as much distance between ourselves and the station as possible, because the scam artists, touts & thieves love to hang around bus and train stations.

But the girls aren't having any of it. They're tired and want to get to the hotel so they can store their backpacks and take a shower. Before I know it we're all piling into the first overpriced taxi we can find. We tell him our destination—Hotel Essaouira—a nice place in the middle of the city which shares the same name as a famous beach town about a hundred miles away.

Naturally, he has other ideas about where we should stay. They all do. "Mon frère possède un bel hôtel," (his brother has a hotel, much better, much cheaper, yada-yada-bullshit). Started getting pushy. I keep insisting he take us to the original hotel. At one point he says, "Bon, voulez-vous aller Essaouira? No problem." (Rough translation: OK, I'll take you to Essaouira, you little shit).

He diverts the taxi towards the highway. The girls are starting to get anxious.

Now, up to this point we had been communicating with the driver in French because he claimed not to understand English. I figured him for a liar, so I tell my friend in clearly spoken English: "Don't worry. There are four of us and one of him. As soon as we're off the main roads, I'll strangle him from behind and you grab the wheel."

While he gave no outward indication of understanding, suddenly he has a change of heart and we're heading back towards the city, back to the hotel we had asked for.

"Hotel Essaouira," he announces. The girls get out of the car. The driver is staring in the rear-view mirror. My friend gets out of the car. He's still staring. I realize, he's staring at me. I'm still in the back seat.

"Hotel Essaouira," he repeats. "Oui," I reply. But I haven't moved. The girls, still standing outside the taxi, are starting to get annoyed at me. They think I'm playing some kind of macho game with the guy. "Come on," they plead. Nope. Not going anywhere. Because I know exactly how this is going to play out—the second I step outside the cab, we can kiss all our belongings goodbye.

Finally the driver relents and gets out of the cab and opens the trunk. I triumphantly follow suit.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:15 PM on October 16, 2009 [54 favorites]

Oh, another posting on scams. While living near the Louvre and the Musee D'Orsay in Paris, I nearly got conned by a lovely gypsy girl who picked up a gold-looking ring on an empty stretch by the Seine. She started started telling me she'd just found the ring, could I take it, give her 5 euros, etc. I suddenly realized it was a scam and walked away.

Thereafter, I saw dozens of these gypsies pulling this scam on tourists and warned off every tourist I saw from getting sucked in. The scammers were furious with me but never did anything but yell back at me. There was something about this pathetic scam that just annoyed the hell out of me. Sometimes the "rings" were the size of bracelets! Couldn't they come up with something better, more interesting, more clever? Non, evidement. It's a very old scam.
posted by Elsie at 9:23 PM on October 16, 2009

I've never fallen victim to a scam. But I end up acting like an asshole to ward off people who ask me for money on the street, so I've been robbed of something of value by con artists nonetheless.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:41 PM on October 16, 2009 [13 favorites]

white van speaker scam

i came this close to falling for this con, but had second thoughts at the last minute and kept my money in my wallet. a year later, my roommate fell for this same scam. he was always on the gullible side, tho.
posted by gnutron at 10:12 PM on October 16, 2009

If I'm drinking call liquor at a bar, I pay close attention to the second, third and subsequent pours, as I order them. Alcohol has a mild analgesic effect on the tastebuds and the olfactory nerve, and some bars will pour private label liquor in second and later call shots, for an extra profit. I'm especially on the lookout for this in bars where I see 2 or 3 open bottles of expensive Scotch or unusual tequila, if it's not likely the establishment would be getting so many orders for that grade of liquor, to need 2 or 3 bartenders pouring simultaneously. It's really easy to refill that second or third bottle, and adjust the tint with a little food coloring or water. Slightly short shots on second and subsequent shots are common, too, especially if poured on top of your existing drink. A bartender pouring consistently 10 drops light per 1 oz. standard shot, makes another 2 full shots, or more, on a liter bottle, in pure profit.

OTOH, if a guy is pouring heavy to me, I make sure to tip heavy. This usually happens only when a bar owner is pouring, and knows I'm watching. I don't mind paying for the liquor I drink, and kicking a 25% tip after a few generous rounds of good Scotch isn't going to break me.
posted by paulsc at 10:47 PM on October 16, 2009

Never been scammed, but my aunt (who I've always thought was pretty savvy) did tell me a story after she got back from two weeks in Venice. She got into town and made a beeline for St. Marks. While she was wandering around she was approached by a tidily-dressed man with a limp, who quickly launched into a spiel in slightly broken English about how he had been born in Venice and knew the city inside out, he was a tour guide and he could give her the best tour in the city for 60 euro. My aunt said no but he persisted, she said he was very good at breaking down her defences, lowering his prices until she felt it was hard to say no.

Suddenly the man sees someone coming towards them, curses under his breath and darts away - his limp disappeared. The person who scared him away is another lady, a frantic and angry looking tourist, and she explains to my aunt that the man was a scammer - she had fallen for it, given him 60 euro, and he had pickpocketed her wallet and run away. The lady is says she called the police, but they ignored her, and she starts to cry. My aunt feels so sorry for her - and thankful that she saved her from a similar fate - that she gives her 60 euro to get her back safely to her hotel.

It was a few hours later before it suddenly dawned on my aunt what had happened.
posted by schmichael at 10:55 PM on October 16, 2009 [23 favorites]

Oops double post. sorry
posted by schmichael at 1:33 AM on October 17, 2009

It's a good one though schmichael: First scam fails? Have a backup scam your accomplice can use...
posted by pharm at 2:31 AM on October 17, 2009

gnutron: "white van speaker scam

i came this close to falling for this con, but had second thoughts at the last minute and kept my money in my wallet. a year later, my roommate fell for this same scam. he was always on the gullible side, tho.

I know a couple of kids who fell for this one at university. The other one that got some of them was the paintball ticket scam which is very popular in university towns during freshers' week too.

The one time I've been scammed was in Europe. I'd bought a crappy old van to drive around between festivals for a month or so. One day I'd been driving from Madrid to Barcelona. It was my first time driving in Europe, I was on the wrong side of the road in a right-hand drive vehicle and I'd been driving for about 8 hours and was pretty exhausted. As I approached the city I heard a loud bang and the car alongside me was wildly gesticulating at my rear tyre. One of my biggest fears of the trip was some sort of mechanical failure - furthermore, I wasn't even sure if I had a jack for the van and I'd never changed a tyre on it before. I pulled into the hard shoulder to check it out and the other car stopped in front of me.

The driver immediately jumped out and ran round to my rear tyre wildly shouting at me that I'd got a flat. My Spanish knowledge of mechanical terminology wasn't great so I got out to try and communicate with him better and went round the back of the van to check out the tyre with him. As soon as we got there and I bent down to take a look, he sprinted back to the van and sped off. My tyre was fine.

What happened is that they simulated a puncture by throwing a rock against the bodywork of the van. Then, when I pulled over to investigate, they stopped nearby and as the driver dragged me out to check out the tyre, another guy jumped into the driver's seat. Once I was out of sight behind the van looking at the tyre, a third guy got out, unseen, and reached into my open window (it's hot in Spain in August and crappy old vans don't have aircon) to swipe my wallet. Once the driver saw that his friend had grabbed something, they all ran and made a quick getaway.

The combination of my poor language skills, triedness and worries about the van and the difficulty of changing the tyre made me be less cautious than I would usually be and I didn't lock the windows when I got out. They got my wallet but luckily not my phone, passport and mp3 player that were all within easy reach.
posted by turkeyphant at 4:12 AM on October 17, 2009

I came very close to being scammed not two months ago, when a guy posing as a hot water repairman showed up at my door with a story about how the company I rent the heater from was replacing old heaters. He seemed legit at the start, so I let him in to inspect the heater. Of course, my heater was too old, he said, needed replacing right away, and when did I want to schedule an appointment? I told him I'd speak to my fiancee, and get back to him, and what number could I reach him at? He wouldn't give it to me. Then the sell started getting much, much harder. Finally, he pulled out some documentation for me to look at, and I could see he wasn't representing the hot water heater company at all. I then called his bluff and ordered him out of my house. He was pretty shocked, and protested all the way to the door, but I was shaken and angry. This bastard misrepresented himself, and I let him in my house!!

I called the hot water heater company to report them and to verify that their claims about my heater were incorrect. The person I spoke to from the company told me they'd been getting complaints about these people, that they were actually salespeople from a competitor, and had I signed their papers, I would be in for a mountain of fees and installation costs.

Two hours later, the salesman's associate arrived at the door to try and mollify me, assuring me they weren't selling anything. I informed her that she was, that I had called in a complaint against them, and slammed the door in her face. They haven't been back.
posted by LN at 6:22 AM on October 17, 2009

I just love scams- it's almost a form of cross cultural verbal tradition. Once when I was a manager of a McDonald's, I saw a quick change artist work her magic right under my nose. We generally didn't allow cashiers to make change other than the standard change for the purchase. But the manager could OK it if they wanted. So, I walked over, opened the drawer and let the cashier make the change. I was watching like a hawk (I thought), and everything looked copacetic. Right after they left, something popped in my head and I realized what had happened, and sure enough, they got us for like $35. A variation on the "hey, can I get two twenties for a ten" deal.

The key to making a scam work is to get the person emotionally involved, somehow. When emotions are involved, the logic circuits go away. A standard scammer will just run their hustle on anyone they see and hope for the best. A really good one can read the target and use a variety of scams from their arsenal that they think will work. Applied cold-reading. Whenever I get approached by a stranger who asks weird, inappropriate to the situation questions, I figure someone is trying to find out if I'm a good mark for one of their scams.

I'm not entirely sure this is a scam, but it has the look of it: walking down the street in downtown Chicago, and there are a couple of well dressed Hasidim-looking young men. Very politely, they approach and ask if I'm Jewish. (And I doubt a normal person would look at me and believe I was a fellow tribesman.) I say no, and they make the apologetic face and back off. Maybe they are just trying to find non Hasidim Jews in order to convince them their way is better. But more likely, they are trying to find "fallen" Jews who will feel guilty that they aren't nearly as devout as these young fellows, and tell them a sob story and get a few bucks.

My favorite is the negative-emotion trigger, like the guy who worked the adult theater. The scammer acts so unpleasantly that you willingly fall for it just to get them to go away.

My other favorite is the false-confidence one, because of schadenfreude. The scammer says "hey, I'm a scammer, but I need you to help me work this other guy." The mark feels simultaneously greedy and proud that he was instantly identified as a shrewd individual.

But yeah, to concoct a scam, just find a scenario where the scammer can believably trigger some emotion in the mark (preferably one of the seven deadly sins...), and you'll have a believable scam.
posted by gjc at 6:40 AM on October 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Regarding the Jews asking you to pray with them...
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 7:08 AM on October 17, 2009

The Beijing art student scam mentioned in Tim Ferriss and Kevin Rose's latest podcast is quite common. It also goes into why they were scammed.

Todd Snider, talks about a time, post-concert when he was lightly scammed by a guy claiming to be a famous race car driver. It's from this Front Porch Concert (there's a second part too - sorry, I can't remember which one contains the story)
posted by backwards guitar at 7:32 AM on October 17, 2009

A business I worked at got scammed selling a very expensive at the time laser printer. About $3K. The scam was that the scammer opened up a legit bank account. Put in just enough to cover the purchases, leased a phone answering service at a legit office park, and then waited 30 days. He comes into town, and on one day hits several stores. At the time the practice was to call the bank to verify funds on checks of that size, and to call or somehow check the phone number of the business. Well of course the bank will say that there are enough funds because he does everything in one day before any checks would hit the bank. Apparently he was moving up and down the east coast doing quite the business.
posted by Gungho at 7:58 AM on October 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just like LN's story above, someone rang our apartment doorbell a few months ago (which in itself in strange, because that never happens) and upon opening the door I met a very well dressed man with a clipboard and a smile telling me that he is from the electricity company and yammer yammer something about cheaper rates. He then asked to see last month's electric bill.

I don't rent the apartment myself, just sublet, and I don't pay any of the bills myself. I told him that I don't have the bill on hand, and he says, with this smarmy grin, well would your husband have a copy of the bill?

Oh, hell no. He must have noticed my stare of death because he quickly launches into a derail about how Mrs. _____, my neighbor down the hall, had mentioned that we had this kind of electric bill and so obviously we were overpaying. Clearly bullshit, as we don't know anyone on our floor. Scam scam scam, written all over it. I ask him for his card, and he goes through every diversionary tactic available. I wrapped up the conversation and called 311 on him. Two policemen came by about ten minutes later and hung out in my apartment for awhile, but the guy had left the building.

I could see it being hard to say no if the victim is older and the scammer name-drops a neighbor that he or she knew well.
posted by amicamentis at 8:46 AM on October 17, 2009

When I was a teenager full of arrogance about how smart I was, I got taken by the three card monte guys. At the time, I was enraged, but in retrospect I think I'm glad that happened to me when young. It's never too early to learn some skepticism and humility.

In my 20s, I was approached by a young, good looking, clean and appealing dude in the West Village with a story about being locked out while doing laundry and needing $20 for cab fare to his mom's house to get a spare key. I was about to give it to him - I'm an easy mark and he was so charming - but then something about his manner set off alarm bells and I brushed him off. He gave me a look of such chagrin that I didn't believe him that for months I felt bad, wondering if I'd been wrong and what did that say about my coldness to my fellow man. Then one day I saw him again chatting up another woman and, in a burst of relief and self congratulation, I hissed "scam!" as I walked by him and his mark. I didn't look back to see the reaction.

One night I was waiting for a bus on the very dark and somewhat scary park side of Fifth Avenue in the 70s, God knows why, it's not my usual neighborhood - very very swanky, but very dark on the park side of the street at night. A male figure approached slowly from the shadows and my guard went up. I even got a little nervous - swanky neighborhood or no, there was no one else in sight and it was late. Then he walked into the light of a streetlamp and I saw he was young, spindly - and a Hassid. I breathed a sigh of relief. He said hello and started talking to me in a stilted and weird way. I'm chatty anyway and my rush of relief made me chattier, as did my ever-present fear of saying something religiously insulting to a Hassid, and before I knew it, I was giving him money - at least $20, maybe more, I remember it was a fairly hefty sum - and then he walked away. I can't remember his patter, it was a long time ago, he needed money and would repay by the next day and God blesses you yadda yadda, but I remember it dawning on me as I finally got on the bus that I'd been taken. And I wondered if he was even really Hassidic, or just used a disguise to throw people off. I also wondered why I only recollected the red rimmed eyes and twitchy manner after I was on the bus.

You live. You learn.

(Oh and a friend of mine bought the shrink wrapped "answering machine" brick too. )
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:54 AM on October 17, 2009

This exact thing happened to me around 108th and Broadway, where I was living, only I fell for it. I ended up giving the guy $20. I started to doubt the story once the guy started getting a bit too excited after I told him I'd give him the money--it was like he couldn't quite believe his scheme was working. But I didn't really understand I'd been scammed until about half an hour later, when I was discussing it with a friend. I hadn't been in NYC that long at that point.

I don't regret it too much, in the end it didn't hurt me too bad, and $20 is a good fee for an excellent lesson learned (or at least, this is how I rationalize being conned to myself).
posted by dubitable at 9:11 AM on October 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

As a teenager in London for the first time I got semi-conned. I don't really remember the details, but it was quite an operation. We were handed a flyer for an outlet sale. Nothing strange there really, but they had the Playstation, which had just been released (I said it was a while ago), for a really good price. We went for a look.

The store was an empty shopfront on a side street, with a high counter across the bottom of the room, and we waited for the "sale" to start. They started on time and ran a quite confusing patter where you weren't clear if this was a sale or an auction or what it was. At some point, and this is probably a key part of the scam, they said if you wanted to bid you had to buy some crappy bottle of cologne or something, and then that became somehow partial payment for the item you were bidding on. I can't really remember the details because at some point my fight-or-flight response went into overdrive, even though nothing really off had happened. I just wanted to run. Things moved fast, we somehow managed to buy/win a purportadly Nikon camera, and suddenly everyone was being hustled out the door.

We opened the box on the street and saw some crappy knock off iirc, I forget how much cash we were out. The reason I forget is because we got it back. Seems like scam artists don't like having teenage girls bawling their eyes out outside their however temporary place of business. They didn't want to take back the bottle of cologne, and I kept it for many years.

I'm sure, afterwards, that this is a well known scam, and think the lesson served me well. It's always fascinated me how strong and how early my spidey senses kicked in. Not knowing how to apply that feeling of fear to the present situation my brain had sent me images of someone stepping up behind the counter and mowing down the room with a machine gun. Taught me to trust my gut.
posted by Iteki at 9:58 AM on October 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've been scammed for small amounts by sketchy characters while at work, back when I worked retail - I honestly didn't try too hard to stop them unless they were actually stealing merchandise or being intimidating and threatening. Usually they looked run-down, probably homeless, and I'd know they were trying to scam me and give them some money from petty cash anyway. I did this at two jobs, and was never punished for it - at the first job where I experienced scammers, my boss had a similar attitude to mine, and encouraged me to just let her know if I gave someone money out of the till and she'd replenish it out of her own pocket. At the second job, the bosses were simply never around, and I handled most of the accounting myself, so a few bucks here and there was never really an issue.

I'd only get pissed when they were trying really hard to actually deceive me - because seriously, I've never had qualms about giving money to people who need it; I've been that poor on numerous occasions and I know how hard it is to preserve your dignity - sometimes it seems like it's better to scam than to beg, I guess. But you also have to take into account that the person you're taking money from wants to preserve their dignity, too.

One guy insisted on paying for some smallish purchase with rolls of dimes - I gave him his change and put the rolls of dimes in our float, and didn't have occasion to crack them open until we ran out of dimes like a week or two later. Of course, they weren't dimes, but pennies, with dimes positioned at the openings of the rolls so it looked like they were rolls of dimes. Another time, a guy gave me the whole "locked myself out of my car and I need to get across town for a meeting right now can you lend me 20 bucks for a cab I'll pay you back I swear" thing and I didn't think about it that much - just handed him the 20 bucks. If I'd been more on the ball, I wouldn't have done it, but I had given my two week's notice a week and a half ago and at that point I'd built up such an antipathy to that workplace that you honestly could have held me up, and if you didn't harm me personally, I probably wouldn't have even bothered calling the police. I didn't have the ovaries to steal from the place myself, but I didn't have the commitment to stop other people from stealing, either.

That was in Vancouver. I live in Montreal now, and before we moved here people apparently told my partner to watch out for phone scams. If we have had any, we haven't noticed - but then again, neither of us speaks very good French, so it's possible that some of those phone calls where the person just started talking in very fast French and then hung up when they realized we were anglophones were potential scam calls.
posted by ellehumour at 10:07 AM on October 17, 2009

I was at the AAM convention in Baltimore about ten or twelve years ago. I had gone outside the convention to smoke a cigarette and a good looking guy about my own age came up to me. He had a conventioneers badge as well and we started talking. I asked him where he worked and he said the Smithsonian and that he was a curatorial assistant in Arms & Armor and while some of the things he said rang a little strange, I convinced myself that armor people were always weird. Did I mention he was good looking? Anyway, he then said his car had been towed and what should he do about it? Well, I lived in Baltimore and had firsthand knowledge of how awful it is when your car gets towed, so I was full of advice which he took gratefully. Then he said he had locked his wallet in his car and, long story short, I gave him $20, which I could ill afford, and he promised to meet me inside the next day for coffee and pay me back. It sounded like a date, even, and I was excited. Of course he never showed. I finally went to the convention center security and they said oh yes, we know about this guy, he must have stolen the badge. They were very nice but I felt like a complete idiot. I prided myself on my tough Baltimore streetwise self, too - I mean I never fell for the guys with the diaper stories and the baby prescription stories and the bus money stories, although I heard them all the time - so I felt even dumber.

I've had people come to my house with sob stories and offers of things to buy; I've had the phone calls and the weird scams but the slickest one I've ever seen is a business aimed one I've encountered several times now. It's a faxed or mailed invoice from a completely innocuous business name like John Doe Supply, Inc. - the name varies but it's always totally lowkey and normal and situated somewhere out of town but not far - and the invoice itself is always for some small but specific sum like $63.27. The invoice also looks completely normal, no misspellings, no weird paper, just a standard invoice with something amorphous like Supplies or Paper on it. The hope, you see, is that the harried office manager will just stamp it and send it through to be paid and nobody will ever think twice about it. They get the mailing lists and fax numbers from the chamber of commerce. If you call the number on the invoice, you get voicemail who never call you back. They never send another invoice, just the one. My guess is that this little thing has made a ton of money over the years for quite a few people.
posted by mygothlaundry at 12:19 PM on October 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I had my TI-83 calculator stolen when I left it in the coaches office in high school to attend some athletic event. I looked frantically for it and was approached by two other students selling similar calculators. It took me a few hours to realize they were the ones stealing and reselling calculators. I just didn't make the connection at the time.
posted by abdulf at 2:24 PM on October 17, 2009

So I'm in Japan, sitting in Mos Burger (don't judge me) with my ex-girlfriend P. We're just talking about whatever when the woman from behind the register starts going through the restaurant talking to people. When she reaches us she asks, "Are you [P.'s full name]?", and then says there's a call for her on the store phone. P., surprised, goes over to take it. After a few minutes she comes back, distressed, and starts looking through her bag as she explains that the phone call was from the police a few train stations away, who had told her that they'd found her wallet in the possession of a "Korean pickpocket" they just busted. Sure enough, the wallet was no longer in her bag. The bag was hung over the back of her chair; someone had taken it out of the bag while we were sitting in Mos Burger, presumably while I (facing towards P., and therefore able to see what was going on behind her) was in the bathroom.

"So what else did they say?" I asked. "Should we go somewhere to get it back?"

"No, they told me to wait here for another call."

This sounded a little weird to me, but what do I know about how cops in Japan operate? Anyway, in a few minutes another call came, and P. took it. When she came back I said, "So, what do we do now?"

"Well, first they asked me for my ATM card number so that they could cut it off," she began.

"Oh, I see... they what?!"

I told her that the cops would never do that — that if anyone would, it would be the bank, and even then, you should never believe someone who contacts you, claims to be <INSTITUTION>, and asks for your password. So we quickly left Mos Burger and walked to the actual police box about five minutes away. On the way I got her to call the bank's emergency hotline and get the card suspended. We arrived at the police box and talked to the cop, and he was like, "Yeah, that doesn't sound like anything we would do." So she left her details there and, feeling a little shaken, went home and canceled her credit cards too.

In the end, no money was lost, and apparently the bank got surveillance video of someone trying to use the canceled card, but P. never heard anything more than that from police or bank about the incident.

Interesting things about this combined pickpocket/con job:
- In other countries, pickpockets might call it a day with cash + credit cards. In Japan, people are apparently trusting enough that it's worth your while to extend the cam and try to get ATM card numbers too. (Ironically, Japan spends a lot of money on educating people about other common phone scams, like the "ore ore" one, but this one was different enough to work on a stunned victim.)
- The fake police specified that the criminal they'd caught was Korean. This still intrigues me. I think the idea was to immediately up the trust factor on the phone by positing a Them and therefore more tightly binding the Us of victim and fake-cop-on-phone.
- Why two phone calls and not one? Nothing was accomplished on the first call except to alert P. to the fact that her phone was missing.
posted by No-sword at 4:01 PM on October 17, 2009

I was sitting outside having lunch with a friend when we were approached by some guy selling cologne out of two bags. Despite looking dishevelled, he was a smooth talker and convinced us to "at least smell the cologne". So I let him spray the newest Dolce & Gabbana on my wrist. It smelled pretty good. I knew this stuff was hot but convinced myself it would be okay to buy. I haggled him down to $5 and he quickly took out a box and put it in a small black plastic bag, handed it over, and walked off fast. I put the bag away, thinking I got a great deal, and forgot about it. Later that night, I took out the box read it over and couldn't stop laughing when I realized it said Dolce & Nobleman.

And it smelled like sawdust.
posted by 913 at 6:55 PM on October 17, 2009

I was nearly conned by this guy. You may remember him as the 31 year old who, 12 years after graduating, went back to High School to try and reboot his life. My moment with him was during his initial High School stay.

I've never written this down before, although I've meant to a number of times. Not out of shame or anything, I was only an innocent high school student at the time, just that I never felt I could do justice to the con.

Michael was a genuinely nice guy. He had considerable musical talent and ambition. I don't remember exactly how I was asked to join his little group, but after a few after class discussions about starting a company called "Youth Entertainment Services" aka "Y.E.S." I was invited to attend a meeting about forming the company.

He appealed to our love of performing, and our egos, by suggesting that we could round up the best youth talent in Portland and start a performance group that would record and perform concerts for corporate meetings and such.

At the meeting he had professional looking proposals and spreadsheets. We were given tasks to complete (research a venue, how to reach other schools, etc) and Michael would arrange for a headliner to draw the crowds. How would he do that? Well it turns out he was the nephew of Diana Ross. He produced a dot matrix printed letter purporting to be from her saying she would support his efforts to start a performance company. So off we all went working to form YES with dreams of stardom filling our heads.

Next week at school we found out that he had tried a similar scam on our choir director already and she eventually found out that there was no family link to Diana Ross. Michael dropped out of choir and the whole thing just went away after that. I hardly even thought about him or YES again until reading about his attempt to reboot his life in 1999.
posted by IndigoSkye at 9:09 PM on October 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

These are all fantastic! Thanks so much. I'm not sure how much people will check back, but a quick follow up question: Those who were particular by more elaborate cons like 3 card monte, or pigeon drop, or jamacian switch...the ones that involve a couple of people working you...

were you just angry? At them? At yourself? Did you have any part of you that had a bit of admiration for the hustlers (at their audacity or sleight of hand)?
posted by Wink Ricketts at 6:16 AM on October 18, 2009

There was certainly a measure of anger at letting yourself get your hopes up. But I feel better, no that's not the word, more complete, for having had the experience.

I now know the signs (emotional and physical) of entering a confidence game so my spider-sense goes off a lot earlier. That helps me quite a bit since I'm looking for work and the cons and scams aimed at job searchers are everywhere.
posted by IndigoSkye at 7:27 AM on October 18, 2009

One scam in particular stands out, as I usually don't fall for random street scams.

I was living in Phoenix, AZ at the time and I hadn't so much as seen any weed for months. It was after a rough day at work, I was waiting for my bus transfer. Some guy walks up and asks what I'm looking for, to which I reply, "What?"

"Whatcha looking for? Weed? Oxy? Tina?"

"Oh, nothing."

"Nah, man. You look like you could use some weed or something."

Cue a bit of hard sell to which I finally agree that I could spend five bucks on some weed. He wanted twenty, but I knew I was going to get scammed and that there was no way that this would end well and that I was going to get a pinch of oregano in the corner of a bag or something. Then he wants me to follow me into a nearby dark alley and I'm not having any of that shit. I could take him and defend myself but I'm wearing work clothes and I'm not so dumb or headstrong that I won't avoid a fight or getting rolled if I can help it, and I'm carrying a work-issued laptop, too.

Keep in mind Phoenix has a zero-tolerance policy for weed. Possession and purchase is a felony and pretty much a guaranteed night or week or more in jail.

"Look, you show me five buck worth of weed and we have a deal, but I'm going back to the bus stop to wait for my bus until then", I say.

"What, you don't trust me? What, are you racist!?"

"Whatever, man. I'll be at the bus stop." No, dude, it's because you're shifty as hell and it's 10 o clock at night in a city well known as the sweaty asshole of the universe.

Anyway, I go back over to the bus and he shows up with a corner of a sandwich baggie he probably found on the ground with what looks and smells almost exactly like a thumb-sized nugget of bud, but I want to see it first, but he doesn't want to hand it over without the five bucks first. Fine, whatever, I palm him the five and he takes off running. Of course. I think I yelled "Hey! Hey, ASSHOLE oh fuck it..."

I open the bag briefly and it's so realistic I just kind of shrug and stick it in my pocket. The bus comes, I go home and I go check to my desk to really check it out.

Turns out it's a shredded mix of clover, mint, grass and other assorted green landscaping material knotted up somehow to look like buds. It falls apart on inspection, yet still even retains a bit of skunky-green smell that was damn near convincing. I even tried smoking some of it, and then sighed and threw it out.

That was pretty much the worst scam ever for me. Pot is more or less medicine for me. I'd been having dreams about the stuff I hadn't seen it in so long.

However - I saw him a couple of weeks later trying to pull the same shit on some ASU student at the exact same bus stop.

Knowing that scammers and bullies are - despite their bluster and bark - a jumpy lot and as I'm a pretty big guy I decided to do something about it. So I snuck up behind him, clapped him hard on the shoulder (He went "Hey, what the fuck?" as I spun him around up against the side of the bus stop and cut him off in my best, gravelly, scary, chain-smoking weirdo voice... because, honestly? I was pissed. I would have rather he just asked me for a five for crack or whatever he was after than to get my hopes up like that and waste my time.


At which point he started struggling to bolt for it, and I was all too eager to push him on his way. He ran across the empty night time street and I never saw him in that neighborhood ever again, and I was on that corner almost daily.

The ASU student was a bit freaked out by this but thankful, and said the scammer had been working on him for ten minutes already, and the student didn't even do drugs at all anyway and just wanted him to go away.

It must have been good karma. The next night or two later on the bus I met a full on Rasta in colors with dreds and everything who had - for some inexplicable reason - a large styrofoam cup full of buds. In the back of the bus I paid him ten bucks for what must have been a very heavy eighth, made some small talk and went happily on my way.

(And this post is why I keep my online handle a secret from employers. Heh.)
posted by loquacious at 3:59 PM on October 18, 2009 [5 favorites]

Ugh. About a week ago, I fell for a scam similar to EmpressCallipygos'.

A guy came to my door, seeming out of breath, and told me that the man who lived below me (who I have never met) had been in a car accident. Everything was ok, except the man at my door needed cab fare to go pick this person up, and bring him back home. He claimed that my neighbor had even instructed him to knock on my door. Of course, I would get the money slipped under my door the next morning, etc. I was a bit skeptical, since I didn't know my neighbor, but I figured that if I were really desperate, I might suggest: "try to knock on a few doors and borrow the money." I ended up giving him $25, but I should have really known better. And yes, I was very annoyed as all the oddities of the dude's story began to crystallize into the realization that I'd been had.

And not to get preachy, but otoh, whenever I hesitant to fork over some money, I like to think of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach's saying. It really applies to beggars (who, in Israel especailly, are always suspected of not, in fact, being poor), but which can also be applied to Help Me Out type scams. It goes something to the effect of, "Most people think they don't have to give any money because 1 in 100 might be lying. In fact, you have to give because 1 in 100 might be telling the truth. "
posted by milestogo at 4:47 PM on October 18, 2009

The first time my husband walked down Bourbon Street in New Orleans, his friend (who's a local) told him not to talk to anyone and no matter what, keep walking. About a block in after they've stopped for a beer, a female police officer stops him and says she's going to have to write him a ticket for drinking on the street. He begins to argue that everyone on the street has a beer in hand, but she just writes out the ticket and explains that to save him some trouble, he can just give her $25 for the ticket and not have to worry about going to the station.

This all happens in the space of about two minutes, and as soon as the friend realized my husband had stopped to talk to the "cop" he came back, grabbed his arm, and pulled him away. He was more amused than anything that he got suckered in, but I'm sure he'd have been angry if he'd actually paid the money.

Nowadays, we give money even when it's a blatant scam if it's creative or entertaining enough. Just part of the culture of Bourbon Street.
posted by shopefowler at 12:45 AM on October 19, 2009

I've been targeted half a dozen times in the last couple of years, and because I was such a simp when I first moved to a city, I've fallen for it twice. New Orleans is indeed ripe with these... I was drunkenly stumbling back to a hotel after dark, and thought the "where you got dem shoes" bet would be the easiest money I ever made, and then didn't have the wherewithal to walk away from the ensuing shoe-shine scam in time. That kind of scam is predicated on an unspoken threat made by the scammer, though, and since it was in the middle of a crowd of people on Canal Street, and I was fully 10 inches taller than the guy, I got away from it without any bigger problem than him glaring daggers at me. But I agree with shopefowler, some of them are really entertaining and I can justify it as paying for street theater: we were approached on a side street by a guy who freestyled (er... maybe not, as I think about it) really nicely about how beautiful my fiancée was for a few minutes, and ended with a gentle request for "funding for the arts" and I was happy to give him $5 for it because it made our day.

The gas scams are the ones that really chafe, though. I've been approached for money with sob stories at two gas stations, and wasn't on guard for the first one. ("We're down visiting my son at college for the first time, but my wallet got stolen, and could you loan me some money to get home," yadayada... I gave the guy $8 and immediately felt like an idiot) The second time, the guy had the most elaborate backstory I'd ever heard, involving a recently-performed medical procedure at a semi-distant hospital, child-support fraud by his ex-wife (who, when I looked over a few minutes later, was IN THE CAR WITH HIM), and systemic fraud and abuse of power by the police department of a locally infamous suburb. What sold it was that he really did have a pretty nasty head-wound, with 15 or 20 stitches running through a hastily-shaven section of scalp. My normal dismissal ("Sorry, man, I don't have any cash on me", which usually gets people to go away) was instantly met with "Well, put it on your credit card!" which was weirdly convincing, if only because I've always thought they'd want to keep away from transactions that have paper trails... but in retrospect, what do they care? If I hadn't been burned the last time, I probably would have fallen for it, because it turns out to be tough to tell a guy with a pretty vicious-looking head-wound to get bent.

Sadly, now I'm just a jaded asshole when anyone on the street talks to me about anything.
posted by Mayor West at 6:07 AM on October 19, 2009

I was "scammed" once, for $10, and it was worth every penny. Me and the wife were walking along a busy downtown street, and I noticed a $10 dollar bill on the road. I picked it up and was enjoying the windfall when some guy comes running up to me, all out of breath and seemingly in distress:

"Excuse me, Sir; you need to help me. I was going to the store to buy milk for my sick kid, I was down to my last $10, and I lost the money somewhere. I had it in my hand, and I think I dropped it! Have you seen it? I don't want any of your money, but was hoping you may have found it"

The chances of his picking me, out of hundreds of people on a busy street, to see if I "found" his money, were pretty high. I think he saw me pick up the ten, and quickly came up with his story. I told him that I thought he was full of shit, but his quick thinking with regard to sizing up the situation and coming up with a probable story was so good, that I gave him the $10 and told him he "earned" it. He responded by smiling and saying "Thanks!" I also wished him good luck with his "sick kid" and he looked at me with a "wtf" look.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 6:30 AM on October 19, 2009

I was killing some time at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco (the Tourist District), watching a classic three-card monte setup. There was one guy who was classically taken in. When they took a break to let the police pass, I tried to explain to him that he couldn't win - filling him in on confederates and card-switching and such. He still went back for more and it ended, eventually, with a shouting match between him and the dealer. The operators decided to move on and let the guy keep his bet from the last guess, but they had taken enough from him and others of course.

He and his girlfriend ended up asking me more questions about how the scam worked but the guy couldn't grasp how the sleight-of-hand stuff worked. So he actually went into one of the tourist shops there and got a deck of cards, and I showed him some basic moves. I was beginning to wonder if this were pulling me into some sort of meta-scam where they thank me by inviting me to some party and then robbing me or something, but it seemed they were just genuinely curious.
posted by mikepop at 7:38 AM on October 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't call this a scam, but it was a good way to get $2.00 dollars from me.

I was sitting in my university apartment which was located in a complex notorious for partying. It was Saturday morning, and I am sure I was a bit hung-over. I get a knock on the door, and this somewhat hippie-ish dude greets me in an official tone. He says he is from some community policing agency and says he needs to speak to me about last night. He asks if he can come in. He seemed like a cool dude, so I let him in and we sit down.

After I catch him glancing at the 3 foot Graffix bong sitting in the corner, he promptly begins to issue me a citation on an official form. The citation was for 'Not partying hard enough last night' and with that infraction came a $2.00 fine. I can't remember the details, but he said the money would be donated to Toys for Tots, or Make-A-Wish or something like that. I gladly gave the guy $2.00.

We may have taken a few rips off the bong before he went on his way. I never saw the guy again. To this day I do believe the money actually went to a charity.
posted by jasondigitized at 9:52 AM on October 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

I've only ever been near-conned once. Paris, 2003, a good friend and I have just wrapped up our study abroad experiences in London and are fresh off the Eurostar and standing in the Paris train station, studying a map of the subway to figure out which line to take to our hostel. Gradually I become aware of a young, good-looking French man standing next to me, who starts chatting us up in a friendly way, offering suggestions of what to see, and offers to show us where to buy subway tickets since he's heading that way himself. So, we gather up our stuff and gamely follow him...several minutes across the train station to a near-deserted area of it. There's no one around, and I'm starting to feel extremely apprehensive because I know this isn't right and yet I can't think how to extricate myself either. He stops in front of another map that's identical to the one we were just looking and and rapidly pointed out a few different routes, and says he can get us tickets for cheaper if we give him the money, just wait here and he'll be right back. I can't tell exactly how this is going to play out—if we pull out cash for tickets and give it to him and he'll just not come back, or if he'll snatch our wallets and run if we get them out. I tell him that no, I think we'll just figure it out on our own, at which point the charm evaporates, replaced by a frightening scowl, and he spews a bunch of furious French at us and, thankfully, spins on his heel and vanishes.

I didn't want to seem rude. Nowadays I'd be better at telling him to fuck off right away. Two days later, I caught a teenage kid in the middle of trying to pickpocket me. That was kind of a crappy trip.
posted by anderjen at 10:24 AM on October 19, 2009

Some time in the 80's, a friend of mine, who worked at Circuit City, told me about the White Van Speaker scam. I thought he was full of it. Until some other friends of mine & I were approached in the parking lot of a golf course. One guy was about to buy it, until I warned him.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 11:10 AM on October 19, 2009

I purchased white van speakers once upon a time. I knew it was a con so I stalled and stammered and threatened to leave and eventually talked the sellers down to some horrible price (I think it was less than $100 for the pair). They agreed for some unknown reason and sold them to me. I bought them mostly on a lark, knowing that the speakers would probably be crap, but I just wanted 'em for my garage, and planned to replace the electronics if they were truly worthless. I still have those speakers, and surprisingly they sounded good and they still work great. So I'm not sure if I'm the mark or the con in this story, but my feeling at the time was that I must have missed some angle, and gotten taken, but that has not turned out to be the case, as I now have a good story and pretty good speakers.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 12:17 PM on October 19, 2009

I'm still unsure whether I was getting scammed, but I was asked at a gas station if I could lend a guy some cash for a quart of oil; he was from out of town and out of money, etc. etc. I happened to have a quart of oil in my car, so I just gave him that. He seemed appreciative, so either he decided to keep it up, or he really just needed the oil.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:16 PM on October 19, 2009

I once met a fellow who was well over 40 years my senior. He was a tennis-pro/ failed novelist. Very nice guy. We started working on screenplays together.

I visited him in his little one-room apartment to work on a screenplay and found another dude, one Dewey Kellog (who claimed to be *the* Dewey Kellog from such bit parts as Montana from Perdita Durango and "Trucker with broken axle" from Pontiac Moon), had taken up residence and become a fellow screenwriting partner. We wrote one crummy script whch Mr. Kellog assured us was real good. He had some connections in H-wood and he had found a production company to make the film. If we could come up with $75,000 for a bond. Mr. Nice guy managed to scrape the money up somehow; I think the majority of the funds came from his very elderly mother's savings. I ponied up $2,000. Kellog disappeared a few days later. The nice guy was utterly crushed and apolgized profusely. He was so invested in the work that he couldn't see the scam, and I guess I was too.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 4:41 PM on October 19, 2009

Oh yeah, I used a real name. Just because I'm pretty sure that he was not really that guy, and if he was, he's dead now according to his imdb page. His shade can haunt me or whatever.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 4:46 PM on October 19, 2009

This was dumb all around. I was 16 or 17 and a friend and I drove to New Orleans from DFW for no real reason with a case of beer in the trunk and a bunch of joints rolled to look like cigarettes. This was in like 2000.

After the first day of walking around, we were on our way back to the hotel when some pretty skeezy looking guy came up to us and asked of we had any rolling papers. Later, I thought this was a pretty good way to pick out marks. Even if we hadn't visibly been freak-types, it'd help pick out people who are both likely to smoke pot and dumb enough to fall for his scam.

Anyway, we said sorry but we didn't and he asked us if we'd like to buy some hash, which would have been nice. He took us to a fairly populated park (this was in broad daylight) and took out what I now know to be a crack pipe and a vaguely hashlike, oily substance that he smoked in front of us. It was crab boil, which is a pretty good facsimile for hash, except it smells like gumbo.

I told him I didn't want any, and he followed us around hassling us for a while until I literally said, "If I give you three dollars will you go away?" And he would, so I did.
posted by cmoj at 1:05 PM on October 20, 2009

I had an experience like craven_morehead in an airport parking lot. This well-dressed guy rushes up on us asking for Fix-a-Flat. Then he starts in with this story about how his Corvette is parked down in the tow away zone with a flat tire and the police say that a tow truck is five minutes away. He doesn't want his Vette towed, it's his baby. And if we don't have any Fix-a-Flat, maybe we could $20 so he can deal with the tow truck driver. He was a slick talker, he had a mesmerizing preacher cadence that made it hard to not want to try to help. But he didn't quite know what to say when I pulled a can of Fix-a-Flat out of my trunk. He stammered and the spell was broken, I could see that his coat was threadbare and his dress shoes were falling apart and he was just trying to lighten my wallet. His comeback was pretty good, "That's the regular Fix-a-Flat, I need the special type for alloy wheels. Maybe you have $20 to help me out?" I sent him on his way and asked the parking garage attendant to call security.
posted by peeedro at 1:06 PM on October 20, 2009

were you just angry? At them? At yourself? Did you have any part of you that had a bit of admiration for the hustlers (at their audacity or sleight of hand)?

From Walter Burkert's Greek Religion, on Hermes, a god associated in his best-known hymn with luck and thievery:

As god of boundaries and of the transgression of boundaries, Hermes is therefore the patron of herdsmen, thieves, graves, and heralds.
In contrast to settled agrarian life, the herdsmen themselves lead a marginal existence in mountainous border areas, in constant dispute with rival neighbours. In this context cattle rustling is unquestionably a virtue, as long as it remains undetected. The grandfather of Odysseus, Autolycos, who was famed for his knavery 'in thieving and oaths', is therefore a true son of Hermes. The thief may invoke Hermes unashamedly while stealing; what is seen is not the wickedness, but the unexpected good fortune. Hermes is a giver of the good. Every lucky find is a

My scam story is about "Troy Schuberth" and the time I gave him twenty bucks.

I was living in West Philly, sorta near the Penn campus, and I occasionally went for runs around the neighborhood for exercise. When I ran, I usually just kept the key to my apartment in one of the deep pockets in my old, falling-apart running shorts.

So one sunny afternoon, I was coming back from a run, and noticed that I no longer had my key on me; I turned out my pocket, and saw that there was a tiny hole worn through it. At some point during my run, the key must have fallen out. I cursed a few times, then figured I may as well retrace my run and see if I could find where the key fallen. Sweaty, tired, out of breath, I start walking, start scanning the ground.

A few blocks away from my place, I see a guy I'd seen earlier, during my run. He's this short dude in a slightly ill-fitting navy suit-coat, and he gives me a story that I realize now is a pretty basic scam, though with this version tailored to UPenn students: "my Porsche is about to be towed from the gas station down the block, I need 20 bucks, I work at UPenn's dining hall and I can get you a free meal pass there worth $200 if you help me out, here's all my contact info, etc." I tell him that I don't really care about the meal plan, as I'm not a UPenn student, and anyway, I don't have any money on me; I was only walking down the street because I'd been out running and I'd lost my housekey.

The man -- he gave his name as Troy Schuberth -- pulls my key from his pocket. "Is this it?" Troy asks, smiling. Well, by golly, it was! He hands it back to me, explaining that he'd just found it on the ground, and hey, he's glad to help me out. He then goes back to his story about the tow truck, saying that if I had even ten bucks to spare, it would be a huge help to him.

I felt like I kinda owed him, as he'd just found my key and given it back to me, so I said, "Well, okay; I don't have any money on me, like I said, but I have some in my apartment. If you want to walk there with me and wait outside, I'll get some cash and give it to you." Troy seemed a bit nervous, but agreed. I suppose I might've been nervous, myself, but it was broad daylight, I was bigger than him, and I figured I could take him in a fight if it really came to that. We walked back to my apartment, about a quarter mile. Along the way, he kept up a steady stream of patter, like a person does when they don't want you to stop and think -- sort of admirably done, given how much longer the walk was than he'd probably expected at the beginning of the scam.

The patter seemed to get more and more nervous, the longer the walk went on. He talked about how he'd been in the military, and he'd been discharged, but had learned all kinds of crazy fighting maneuvers in Iraq. He asked whether I was a student, and I said no, I did some freelance illustration stuff and lived in the area. That seemed to make him even edgier, and he asked about whether I was good at drawing people and faces. I said, sure, I was pretty good at it. He talked faster, chatting inanely, just a straight-up steady stream of words, making less and less sense. My best guess is that he was largely saying things designed to imply I shouldn't try to fight him, trying to ascertain whether I could draw him police-sketch-style, and filling in what would otherwise be long taciturn pauses with whatever the hell flew into his head.

We got to my apartment, and I went upstairs to get the money while he waited in the lobby. While I was up there, it occurred to me that he may have been a scammer, but I couldn't figure out how my key falling through my pocket could possibly be a part of it, so I figured I'd give him a twenty on the chance that he was telling the truth, and if he wasn't, then ah well, at least he'd found and returned my key.

I went downstairs to see him sort of shifting uncomfortably in the lobby, and handed him the twenty. "Oh, uh, actually, I think the tow truck said it would be forty," he said. "You don't have another twenty on you, do you?" I told him sorry, that was the only cash I had.

"Okay. Well, thanks anyway. Here's my contact info," he said, handing me a piece of paper with a name and phone number on it. "Now I can go back to the gas station before the tow truck gets there, and get my Porsche back."

"Okay," I said amiably. "I'll walk with you! I want to get a bottle of water."

Man oh man, if he'd looked like he was starting to wig out before, he went into full wig-out mode when I cheerfully offered to walk with him. The next few blocks, on the way to the gas station, the stream of chatter kept up and got weirder, more nervous. As we passed a local restaurant, he said, "Oh, I have to duck inside here to meet a friend real quick." "Okay," I said, and started to walk in with him. "Oh, wait, I should probably get back to the gas station," he said. "Me too!" I said.

"Uh I'm just gonna pop in here real quick, though," he sputtered, and bolted into the restaurant. I decided to leave that alone (at this point I was worried that I was looking like the threatening one, and that he might actually try to deck me), and I kept walking to the gas station in question. Of course, there was no Porsche there.

On the way back to my place, I saw a kid who looked like a UPenn student sitting on his front porch. He called me over: "Hey, just so you know, that guy you were just walking with? He's a scammer. He got like twenty bucks from my roommate last week." I nodded and sorta half-muttered something about how at least dude'd found my apartment key, and the kid looked at me with a combination of pity and frustration, like I was just rationalizing the fact that I'd been fooled.

By the time I got back home, I was pretty angry that I was out twenty bucks, and naturally assumed the whole thing must have been some big scam, start to finish.

But in the years that've passed since then, I still haven't been able to figure out how he would've gotten my apartment key; the hole in the pocket of my very old shorts had a perfectly natural wear pattern, and I didn't come anywhere within a yard of Troy during my run. As near as I can tell, losing the key was just a random bit of bad luck on my part. That Troy just happened to see it fall out of my pocket, and that he picked it up in case it would come in useful later -- for him, that was a hermaion.

Nowadays, I keep my key in one of these.
posted by Greg Nog at 1:37 PM on October 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

It's not worth typing out the whole thing in story form, given that it's identical to stuff from the above, but I fell victim to the hardship con twice: once with a family whose house had burnt down, and once with a contractor whose car wouldn't start. Obviously, both weren't the case. I also fell victim to the shoe-shine scam someone described above, although I think I remember that being only a very minor hit.
posted by WCityMike at 7:16 PM on October 25, 2009

Two other recommendations, BTW:

Look in Reddit's IamA subreddit, as it's good (a) for people pretending to be someone they're not just for the hell of it; and (b) I imagine that a few con artists have already done IamA's there.

House of Games, dir. David Mamet. Definitely, definitely, definitely something you need to watch given your question's nature.
posted by WCityMike at 7:22 PM on October 25, 2009

Late to the game here, but a "con" I fell for that STILL angers me when I think about it:

I was 17 years old and touring Italy with my family. We were in one of the many plazas in downtown Rome when my younger brother and I separated from our family to explore some of the street vendors. A group of maybe two or three italianos come up to my brother and myself saying that we're very handsome and that they'd like to make us some bracelets (they had different colors of string that they were just braiding together around our wrists). At first we refused, but we were young and I didn't want to act like an ass to the locals in the plaza (especially when they were trying to offer me something "free") so I let them manage to loop some string around my wrist long enough to tie a few knots - just enough so I couldn't get away!

I think you can see where this is going. They started trying to get us to pay for these crappy bracelets and when we refused, they brought some muscle over that about made us mess our pants. They said they used all this expensive string and they just wanted to be reimbursed (as far as I could understand, it was hard to pay attention when all I could see was the muscle looming over us!). In hindsight, I doubt they would have attacked us in such a busy plaza in broad daylight, but we were young and separated from family, and not willing to find out. I pulled out a couple bills and my brother gave them his lowest bill which, if I recall correctly, was actually pretty large. They acted like it wasn't enough money, pulled out a knife, cut the string (freeing us), and then walked away saying unfavorable things about us in Italian.

We walked away with these crappy bracelets and found our parents where we were berated for being so silly to fall for such a scam. My brother's bracelet fell apart within the hour and I ripped mine off to get rid of the reminder of the sour experience.

Live and learn.
posted by siclik at 11:03 PM on November 11, 2009

Oh yeah, I almost fell for the bracelet con in Paris when I was a little kid, but my parents came and rescued me.
posted by shii at 8:15 AM on December 13, 2009

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