Everipedia Logo
Everipedia is now IQ.wiki - Join the IQ Brainlist and our Discord for early access to editing on the new platform and to participate in the beta testing.
Confidence trick [Also Known As 419]

Confidence trick [Also Known As 419]

A confidence trick (synonyms include con, confidence game, confidence scheme, ripoff, scam, and stratagem) is an attempt to defraud a person or group after first gaining their confidence, used in the classical sense of trust. Confidence tricks exploit characteristics of the human psyche, such as credulity, naïveté, compassion, vanity, irresponsibility, and greed. Researchers Lindsey Huang and Barak Orbach defined the scheme as "a distinctive species of fraudulent conduct... intending to further voluntary exchanges that are not mutually beneficial", as they "benefit con operators ('con men') at the expense of their victims (the 'marks')".[1]


The perpetrator of a confidence trick (or "con trick") is often referred to as a confidence (or "con") man, con-artist, or a "grifter". Samuel Thompson (1821–1856) was the original "confidence man". Thompson was a clumsy swindler who asked his victims to express confidence in him by giving him money or their watch rather than gaining their confidence in a more nuanced way. A few people trusted Thompson with their money and watches.[2] Thompson was arrested in July 1849. Reporting about this arrest, Dr. James Houston, a reporter of the New York Herald, publicized Thompson by naming him the "Confidence Man".[2] Although Thompson was an unsuccessful scammer, he gained reputation as a genius operator mostly because Houston's satirical writing wasn't understood as such.[2] The National Police Gazette coined the term "confidence game" a few weeks after Houston first used the name "confidence man".[2]

A confidence trick is also known as a con game, a con, a scam, a grift, a hustle, a bunko (or bunco), a swindle, a flimflam, a gaffle, or a bamboozle.

The intended victims are known as marks, suckers, stooges, mugus, rubes, or gulls (from the word gullible). When accomplices are employed, they are known as shills.

Short and long cons

A short con or small con is a fast swindle which takes just minutes.

It typically aims to rob the victim of everything in his wallet.[3]

A long con or big con (also, chiefly British English: long game)[4] is a scam that unfolds over several days or weeks and involves a team of swindlers, as well as props, sets, extras, costumes, and scripted lines. It aims to rob the victim of huge sums of money or valuable things, often by getting him or her to empty out banking accounts and borrow from family members.[5]

Stages of the con

In Confessions of a Confidence Man, Edward H. Smith lists the "six definite steps or stages of growth" of a confidence game.[6] He notes that some steps may be omitted.

Foundation WorkPreparations are made in advance of the game, including the hiring of any assistants required.ApproachThe victim is contacted.Build-upThe victim is given an opportunity to profit from a scheme.The victim's greed is encouraged, such that their rational judgment of the situation might be impaired.Pay-off or ConvincerThe victim receives a small payout as a demonstration of the scheme's effectiveness.This may be a real amount of money, or faked in some way.In acon, the victim is allowed to win several small bets.In acon, the victim is given fake.The HurrahA sudden crisis or change of events forces the victim to act immediately.This is the point at which the con succeeds or fails.The In-and-InA conspirator (in on the con, but assumes the role of an interested bystander) puts an amount of money into the same scheme as the victim, to add an appearance of legitimacy to the scheme.This can reassure the victim, and give the con man greater control when the deal has been completed.

In addition, some games require a "corroboration" step, particularly those involving a "rare item". This usually includes the use of an accomplice who plays the part of an uninvolved (initially skeptical) third party, who later confirms the claims made by the con man.[6]

Vulnerability to confidence tricks

Confidence tricks exploit typical human characteristics such as greed, dishonesty, vanity, opportunism, lust, compassion, credulity, irresponsibility, desperation, and naïvety. As such, there is no consistent profile of a confidence trick victim; the common factor is simply that the victim relies on the good faith of the con artist. Victims of investment scams tend to show an incautious level of greed and gullibility, and many con artists target the elderly, but even alert and educated people may be taken in by other forms of a confidence trick.[7] Researchers Huang and Orbach argue:[1]

Cons succeed for inducing judgment errors—chiefly, errors arising from imperfect information and cognitive biases.

In popular culture and among professional con men, the human vulnerabilities that cons exploit are depicted as ‘dishonesty,’ ‘greed,’ and ‘gullibility’ of the marks.

Dishonesty, often represented by the expression ‘you can’t cheat an honest man,’ refers to the willingness of marks to participate in unlawful acts, such as rigged gambling and embezzlement.

Greed, the desire to ‘get something for nothing,’ is a shorthand expression of marks’ beliefs that too-good-to-be-true gains are realistic.

Gullibility reflects beliefs that marks are ‘suckers’ and ‘fools’ for entering into costly voluntary exchanges.

Judicial opinions occasionally echo these sentiments.

Accomplices, also known as shills, help manipulate the mark into accepting the perpetrator's plan. In a traditional confidence trick, the mark is led to believe that he will be able to win money or some other prize by doing some task. The accomplices may pretend to be strangers who have benefited from performing the task in the past.

See also

  • Boiler room (business)

  • Charlatan

  • Confidence tricks in literature

  • Confidence tricks in film and television

  • Counterfeit

  • Hijacked journals

  • List of con artists

  • List of confidence tricks

  • List of criminal enterprises, gangs and syndicates

  • Nigerian Prince scam

  • Quackery

  • Racketeering

  • Ripoff

  • Scam baiting

  • Scams in intellectual property

  • Social engineering (security)

  • White-collar crime


Citation Linkssrn.comHuang, Lindsey; Orbach, Barak (2018). "Con Men and Their Enablers: The Anatomy of Confidence Games". Social Research: An International Quarterly. 85 (4): 795–822.
Sep 25, 2019, 7:23 PM
Citation Link//doi.org/10.2139%2Fssrn.2314071Braucher, Jean; Orbach, Barak (2015). "Scamming: The Misunderstood Confidence Man". Yale Journal of Law & Humanities. 72 (2): 249–292. doi:10.2139/ssrn.2314071.
Sep 25, 2019, 7:23 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgMaurer, David W. (1999) [1940]. The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man and the Confidence Game. Bobbs Merrill / Anchor Books. ISBN 978-0385495387., Ch. 8. Short-Con Games
Sep 25, 2019, 7:23 PM
Citation Linkweb.archive.orgYagoda, Ben (June 5, 2012). "The long game". Not One-off Britishisms. Archived from the original on July 7, 2014. This language blog, while not a reliable etymological source, provides statistically gathered usage data that demonstrates neutral as well as critical usage, and that it is of British origin, only recently making notable inroads into American English.
Sep 25, 2019, 7:23 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgReading, Amy (2012). The Mark Inside: A Perfect Swindle, a Cunning Revenge, and a Small History of the Big Con. Knopf. ISBN 978-0307473592., Ch. 1. Confidence
Sep 25, 2019, 7:23 PM
Citation Linkbooks.google.comSmith, Edward H. (1923). Confessions of a Confidence Man: A Handbook for Suckers. Scientfic American Publishing. pp. 35–37.
Sep 25, 2019, 7:23 PM
Citation Linkweb.archive.orgCrimes-of-persuasion.com Archived 2007-04-15 at the Wayback Machine Fraud Victim Advice / Assistance for Consumer Scams and Investment Frauds
Sep 25, 2019, 7:23 PM
Citation Linkbooks.google.comCheating and Deception (reprint 1991)
Sep 25, 2019, 7:23 PM
Citation Linkbooks.google.comLies! Lies!! Lies!!!: The Psychology of Deceit
Sep 25, 2019, 7:23 PM
Citation Linkbooks.google.comCrimes of Persuasion: Schemes, scams, frauds
Sep 25, 2019, 7:23 PM
Citation Linkbooks.google.comGames Prisoners Play
Sep 25, 2019, 7:23 PM
Citation Linkbooks.google.comHistory's Greatest Deceptions and Confidence scams
Sep 25, 2019, 7:23 PM
Citation Linkbooks.google.comThe American Confidence Man
Sep 25, 2019, 7:23 PM
Citation Linkwww.soapysmith.netSoapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel
Sep 25, 2019, 7:23 PM
Citation Linkbooks.google.comThe Professional Thief (reprint 1989)
Sep 25, 2019, 7:23 PM
Citation Linkbooks.google.comCon Man: A Master Swindler's Own Story
Sep 25, 2019, 7:23 PM
Citation Linkcup.columbia.eduThe Book of Swindles: Selections from a Late Ming Collection
Sep 25, 2019, 7:23 PM
Citation Linklostmuseum.cuny.edu"Arrest of the Confidence Man"
Sep 25, 2019, 7:23 PM
Citation Linkwww.chinafile.comBook of Swindles
Sep 25, 2019, 7:23 PM
Citation Linkwww.fbi.gov"Prepaid funeral scam"
Sep 25, 2019, 7:23 PM