Jessie: At the beach, enjoying the salty breezes!
As we round out our discussions this month I want to chat about cons once more. We’ve talked about fictional cons already, but today I am wondering if you have ever been swindled in real life yourself? Or have you ever used a real con as the inspiration for a crime in a novel?
Julie: What an interesting question. I haven’t been conned myself. I will say, I’ve got a spidey sense about people. I had a friend who met someone online, and I had a gut feeling that he wasn’t being honest. I told her, and she wasn’t pleased. She was even less pleased when I was right. These days, small cons are so easy because of technology. It could be making someone believe X is true, when it isn’t. The con could be sinister, or just opportunistic. But I am in the trust, but verify camp. Or sometimes verify first.
Barb: I’ve never been conned, unless you count buying a dress from an Instagram ad that arrived from China looking like a garbage bag and made of roughly the same material, with no way to return it. Once. Or the complete sociopath I hired. Twice, I did that to my eternal regret. (Two different sociopaths to be clear. I didn’t hire the same one twice. That really would be crazy.) But I do know four people who have been taken in scams, one in a Mystery Shopper scam, one in an IRS scam, and two in the Grandparent Scam. In each case, it wasn’t the “big con” that got them, but a series of small, plausible stories and decisions based on their unique circumstances, and then they were in too deep. It’s something I remember frequently. It can happen to anyone.
Sherry: Barb, I’m so glad you didn’t rehire the same sociopath! You had me worried there for a minute. In my younger days, I fell for a few lines from boys I dated, but other than that so far so good. However, it’s like I’m constantly on alert now with cons coming through texts and emails at an alarming rate. A long time ago my very smart, tenderhearted father fell for a phone scam where the people said they were raising money to send kids with cancer to Disney World. Back then they actually came to the house to pick up the money! Yikes! I can’t remember how he found out it was a scam, but he called the police and reported it.
Edith/Maddie: What a set of stories, ladies! By my nature and my upbringing, I am on the gullible side. You could call it naive, you could call it trusting. So far, I have not been seriously conned. But my Hugh and his brother-in-law Jim are masters at keeping a straight face. After nearly twenty years, I am still not always sure if a story Jim says is true or not. Hugh? I’ve learned to read him much better – the eye twinkle gives it away. Hmm, now I want to use Jim’s teasing in a fictional conning character!
Liz: I’m definitely wary of cons, and perhaps overly suspicious of people. That said, I was kind of conned out in the open with a recent realtor I hired to help me find a rental in Portland, Maine…the market is crazy up there so I figured I’d have a better shot if I had someone helping me. However, it was not my best decision. Suffice it to say I lost some money, but was able to dodge a bullet by backing out of a potentially bad situation. Lesson learned? Always listen to Barb Ross – and don’t hire rental realtors!
Jessie: Always listen to Barb Ross! Words to live by, Liz! I’ve never been conned in real life either, but I have seen it up close a couple of times. I think, like Liz, I am wary by nature and have no belief whatsoever that things that are too good to be true actually are good for me at all. Maybe it is a puritanical upbringing, but I always feel as though there is virtue in the earning of things and to be leery of spontaneous windfalls!
Readers, have you ever been conned? Have you ever had a sense that someone else was being conned and you ended up being correct?
It is amazing how many cons people can think up and how they can manipulate pictures and stories to make them work. I haven’t been conned (that I am aware of) but I have my antenna on most of the time because of people around me who are a “soft touch.” The “soft touches” can give you some great character traits too. As I have said before, though, I have met one and found it a great “interview” process. Getting enough info from her to be able to find her on the internet was even better!
I love the idea of observing those traits and using them in your own work!
I haven’t been outright “conned” but I have made some less-than-wise business choices over the years. That’s made me more cautious all around. My mom, though, fell for the scam involving the guys in the white utility vans claiming to be with the water company and needing to come inside the house to check water pressure. She had well water. [head smack] But she was lucky in that they didn’t do anything to her or steal anything. I called the cops as soon as she confessed her error in judgment to me, which made her even more upset because she didn’t want anyone else to know. I ended up writing about that one in UNEASY PREY, but had to wait until after she passed away to do it. She’d have disowned me otherwise.
What a terrifying thing to have heard from your mum! I’m glad to hear she was fine nonetheless!
I was conned, just once and back in the mid-80s when I was a much more trusting teen.
I was leaving my job when a man approached me saying he was $10 short for a bus ride to see an ill relative. I had like $5 on me and gave all of it to him. He thanked me profusely and I went home pleased that I’d helped someone out.
The very next night, I’m leaving work again, and the same man approaches me with the exact same story! Hard lesson having been learned, I told him to get lost. Lucky for me, it was a small amount of money, but it’s a lesson that’s still fresh in my mind, even almost 40 years later.
What strikes me most about this is that he wasn’t good enough at his con to recognize you again!
That reminds me of a well-dressed man in the taxi rank outside Penn Station in New York. He said he’d been pickpocketed and lost his wallet, keys and phone and just needed enough cash to take the train to New Jersey where his sister would meet him. I smelled a rat and turned him down. He worked the whole line–and yes, he was there the next week with the exact same story.
Think we all have been conned to some extent or other. For me it wasn’t by a criminal, but rather by someone that represented them self as friend when all they wanted was something out of me. Some it was a favor or monetary connected (both of which once they have success disappeared never to be heard from again). It’s not that I’m gullible, but rather that I refuse to give up on people. Between experiences and maturity, I have learned to be somewhat leery and not as fast on the draw, but I like to think that if I can help a fellow man and have the ability that I would at least try.
2clowns at arkansas dot net
The world is bet off with people with your attitude, Kay!
Having worked in IT for over 20 years, I am extremely suspicious of any online offer/scheme/whatever. To the point where I’ve held off on legitimate offers. Julie is right, verify then trust.
But I’ve fallen for schemes in my personal life, mostly believing people to be better than they were.
Your IT work sounds like it has real benefit!
I am tech support in my household.
Yes. It hurts when you let the snake into your garden. It’s difficult to protect against that type of betrayal.
I’ve been used by so-called friends, but I’ve never fallen for a real scam. I’m just too suspicious.
The friends that are not of the true ilk seem to be the worst scam of all!
Edith, great idea to use the guy with a twinkle in his eye in a new story!! I love guys like that in books. Janet Evanovich has an absolutely delectable con man in her Fox and O’Hare series. Delightful.
Surely, like Sherry, I fell for lines that guys used back in the day. (Sigh.)
As for the types of cons that we hear cautionary tales about on news stories, nope. We’ve gotten a few calls from men saying, “Grandma” or “Grandpa” depending on who answers the phone. I just cracked up at the guy with the Hispanic accent (although he tried to hide it) who tried to pull that one on me. My oldest grandson is just now 11 years old. I laughed and laughed. Unfortunately, some poor schnook won’t laugh.
Laughter seems like the best response!
I work in the financial industry. The mystery shopper scam happens a lot, as well as the overseas boyfriend/girlfriend. And online sellers beware, one of the biggest scams is someone buys something from you, sends you a check, then says they overpaid you or the extra money is to use their shipper, to send the extra money someplace. They sent a fraudulent check. You would not believe how many people fall for that.
That sounds like a good beginning to a story!
I have been fortunate to avoid scams and cons, at least so far, but as my dad aged, he was often gullible. Fortunately, I had control of his finances and was able to protect him. Once, after a hospital stay, he was contacted by one of the CNAs who had treated him. She convinced him he was the man of her dreams. Dad called me to give him the money to buy her a new car and to help her treat her sick child who lived in another country – I called the hospital and reported her. Of course, the money never changed hands, but my 90-year old dad was furious with me for “not believing someone (in this case a 23-year old woman) could love him.” I assured him I knew he was loveable, but that it was doubtful love was the issue in this particular case. Needless to say the woman lost her job, but who knows how many she’d tried to con before my dad.
How terrible! This sounds like the premise for a great story too!
I, too, have a ‘Spidey-sense’, and oppositeof Edith,I was raised to be cautious. I have save a number of friends from scams. uCritcal thinking helps. The only thing that I can think of was this,too-good-to-be-true offer, which is how I ended up where I am, (although I have to say that the decission wasn’t mine, my information was bad from many sources, but it wa snot an intentional ‘scam’; it was misrepresented byut may have been ok, had the founder not died soon after we got here).
I always tell people to read the Amazon reviews not just look at the stars, and check the ones at the Better Business Bureau, because if it is a total scam, but if they give everyone who complains their money back, they get a top rating. It’s so wrong.
I am a dedicated review reader for purchases too!
I was conned at a rest stop once by someone who claimed he needed a little cash to help fix up his car. I was in college and might not have fallen for it except I was also stuck at the same rest stop waiting of my parents to arrive to tow my car home. The worker at the rest stop mentioned them as conners a few minutes later.
I am always astonished at how brazen some people can be! Rest stop workers must see a lot of that sort of thing!
Many years earlier, I lost a deposit that I had put down on a house. Unbeknownst to me, the house was under foreclosure! The bank that held the mortgage took ownership. Suddenly, I was without a valid contract because my seller did not own the property anymore. The bank took possession of my deposit and I never saw it again. Yes, I tried to sue, but to no avail. My real estate agency tried to help me, too, and my agent was upset in my behalf.
That is just awful, Patricia! Real estate deals are emotionally fraught in the best of times so I can imagine how difficult that must have been!
Unfortunately, there have been a few times that I have felt like someone was trying to con me and my family. I have usually been correct. I have been able to stop it before we were hurt. Thank you for sharing. God bless you.
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