The New Pros of the Con

The New Pros of the Con

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

We have all heard about someone getting scammed or conned out of money. We used to be wary of our wallets and pick pockets, but now the big money is in phone calls, identity theft, and cyber criminals. This term Con Man or Con Artist goes back to 1821 to a man named Samuel Thompson. Con is actually short for Confidence Man. The people doing these cons use their confidence to diminish the amount of doubt you have about what they are trying to do. A good example of this would be the IRS calling you and saying you owe them back taxes and need to pay them right away. The official sounding person on the phone shrinks the amount of doubt I would have about it being unofficial, and does manage to have some people send money or give them information. But, keep in mind the IRS does not call about these things, they will contact people through the mail.

I could go through all the different scams, cons, grifts, and different ways people have sent money to a Nigerian prince, but I thought I would go through the stages of a con instead. I thought this might help us all out the next time we are contacted and have doubts on the authenticity of the other party. I did a little research on ‘Confessions of a Confidence Man’ by Edward H Smith about 1923. While this is a bit dated a lot of these tactics are used today.

  • Foundation Work: Research on the victim or possible victims. Hiring of assistance.
  • Approach: The victim is contacted
  • Build up: The victim is given an opportunity to profit from an effective scheme.
  • Pay-off or Convincer: The victim receives a small payout as a demonstration of the scheme’s effectiveness. This could be real or fake money.
  • The Hurrah: A sudden crisis or change of events forces the victim to act immediately. This is where the operation succeeds or fails.
  • The In-and-In: A conspirator or innocent bystander put an amount of money into the same scheme as the victim to add legitimacy to the scheme. This will reassure the victim, and give the con man greater control when the deal has been completed.

The last one is pretty rare today as most interactions happen over the phone and most people quit after the Hurrah.

A quick example that happened to me recently: I was contacted by a Collection Agency that said I needed to call a Law Firm about a case that involved Wells Fargo vs. Adam Bruning. All they could give me was a case number. I called the Law Firm and an official sounding person said he was an attorney with the last name Cohen said I owed Wells Fargo a bunch of money from an account I had with them years ago.

They had a lot of my information correct. The address they gave me was an old one. I did have a Wells Fargo Account years ago that I had closed. But there have been cases where if you let an account go dormant they will charge you fee’s until it overdrafts and they keep charging. So they did the Foundation Work and Approach.

The ‘Attorney’ said if I paid them today they would get rid of some fee’s so it would not cost me as much. He also said if I do not pay today the case would go to court and I would need to hire an attorney.

So we have the buildup, I would save some money. Then, the Hurrah, you need to act immediately!

I did not give them any information other than I would have to call them back. I did email my attorney because it sounded almost legitimate. He assured me it wasn’t and to ignore them. They called back and I said I had contacted my attorney, they are a scam, not to call ever again.

If something like this happens to you, you should not give them any information and either hang up or tell them you have to let them go and you will have to call them back and get their number. If you have questions about it, you don’t necessarily need to contact your attorney first. You are welcome to seek some advice from your local banker, at least we won’t charge you for a question. Most of the time the scam can be ignored, but there are some that need further attention by an attorney or law enforcement. We do have measures to assist our customers if you think your identity has been compromised.

A lot of these stories about scams scare people almost to the point of not answering their phones or wanting to travel. This reminds me of a piece of advice I once heard. “Don’t be scared of the things you see on the news because those stories don’t happen every day. If those stories happened every day, they wouldn’t be on the news.”


Adam Bruning
Personal Banker