Saturday, June 16, 2012

How to Spot a Con Artist: Part 3

In the previous two posts, I described strategies or behaviors used by con artists and social manipulators to gain someone's confidence or to control other people. These are techniques described in greater detail by Gavin De Becker in his book, The Gift of Fear.  This is a book I frequently recommend to young women...not to make them overly fearful or suspicious, but to encourage them to trust their instincts when dealing with other people.

In this post, I finish up with the descriptions of these techniques (see previous two posts for the others).


In this strategy, the con artist labels a woman or other victim in a slightly critical way: snob, stuck-up, not a team player, lone wolf, etc.  The idea is that the victim will then be compelled to disprove this charge.  On the street, a stranger might use this method to get a woman to talk to him by accusing her of being a "snob" or something similarly negative.  (as I write this, I wonder how many men have ever had this particular experience?).  The defense in that situation is to simply walk away.  If someone at work does this, the solution may be a bit more complicated (see previous posts).

Loan Sharking

The Loan Shark does you a favor, not because he's a nice guy, but because he wants you in his debt.  Then, when he asks you for something later, you will find it more difficult to refuse. There are some kindly strangers out there who will offer their help; the problem is those people who are not so kindly.  Again, you can distinguish between the two by how they respond to refusal.  The social manipulator will react badly to your refusal to accept his "favor".

Promises, Promises

In this strategy, the con artist offers an unsolicited promise.  "If you listen to my ideas, I promise I'll leave you alone."  "If you'll let me into your office, I promise I'll be brief."  De Becker warns that you should be suspicious of any unsolicited promise, regardless of the context.  He says that a promise is not a guarantee of anything....but is instead a way to convince you of something.  A promise seems to be offering something, but in reality it is not.  The defense is to say to yourself that the promise is a warning sign and to carefully consider what you are being asked to do.  Perhaps it will cost you only time; but perhaps it will cost you more to ignore the warning signs in other situations.

Not Taking "No" for an Answer

Have you ever had this experience?  You tell someone that no, you do not need their help or advice or whatever, but they proceed to give it anyway?  Of all the signs one should pay attention to, this is the one that De Becker emphasizes.  He says that "no" is a "a word that must never be negotiated, because the person who chooses not to hear it is trying to control you".  Criminals apparently go through a "victim selection" process involving an "interview" in which they test the victim to see if they can be controlled.  One of those tests is to ignore the victim's protests to see how they react.  Again, I can think of coworkers who routinely ignore me (or try to) when I've said no to something they've suggested.  They may not be up to something criminal, but they are certainly trying to control me.

Well, those are a few ways to spot a con artist or social manipulator.  I hope you never run into someone like this, but some of you will at some point in your career. It may be a stranger on the street or someone at work.  It could be a coworker, a superior, or a subordinate who uses one or more of these techniques to control you.  By being aware, we can avoid being taken in by such strategies.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great posts. And you're right - the point is to encourage people to listen to their instinct and avoid being railroaded into something that makes them uncomfortable, not to make them anxious and mistrustful.