Investments: How To Spot A Con Artist


He was a man who wore many faces. At a towering 6 ft and at about 125kgs heavy, Ferdinand Waldo Demara’s small eyes, rounded double chin and an expression that seemed to be frozen in amusement as if he was permanently in on his own private joke became the face of one of the greatest impersonators of our time.

His life inspired the movie, ‘The great Imposter” and he was one of the case studies in the book, The Confidence Game by Maria Konnikova. During his lifetime, he managed to pass for a monk, a prison warden, a Dean of philosophy and a surgeon who operated sixteen Korean who had soldiers shrapnel lodged in their bodies. He gained public notoriety and was on the cover of many magazines before he was found out. He died at the age of 60.

While most of the studies on his story do not suggest that he used these hoaxes for his own personal financial gain, he was the basic template for all con artists, playing into human beings natural predisposition to trust and making his way through life covered in the cloak of deception by pretending to be someone he was not.

In her book, The Confidence Game, Maria Konnikova gives some sort of victim profile. People who are emotionally and financially vulnerable are more likely to conned and it is most likely to happen during a time of transition in their lives such as a divorce, loss of a job, death of a loved one or even during changing economic times in the country. Change breeds uncertainty and because we all share in the innate need to believe and be grounded in something, we are susceptible to con artists.

Here are some red flags to help you spot a con artist.

They talk too much

A con artist will feed you many unnecessary details about a particular scheme in order to throw off any suspicions. The idea is to flood you with words, saying a lot without saying anything at all. Often, they leave you with many unanswered questions but it is usually too late. If the person you are dealing with is not being straightforward with the information then it’s most likely you are about to be duped.

They offer get rich quick schemes

Masters of manipulating human emotion to their advantage, they tap into human greed and give tales of others who have benefited from their business propositions and show you what you stand to gain without putting in much effort. Their math never adds up, but then again, the idea is to charm you with their charisma, not the logic of investment returns.

They pressure you to give them cash

They will feed you the fear of a missed opportunity. They make you feel as if they’re letting you in on some secret information and that they singled you out because they felt that you were special and that they like helping people. Once they have roped you in, they use this fear to pressure you into parting with your money in case the opportunity goes stale.

Another way in which they could pressure you is by telling you about a distressful situation that needs your urgent attention, as in the case of the ‘good samaritans’ who robbed parents of millions of shillings by lying to them that their children had been involved in road accidents and that money was needed for them to get medical attention.

They deal in cash

Most small time cons will insist on dealing only in cash. The ones on a much larger scale might involve back accounts but it’s good to always be vigilant no matter the type of transaction.

You end up making many payments

When you are being scammed, the scammer will ask you pay so many ‘fees’ in order to facilitate another shady step in your transaction with him after which you’ll end up paying when more money. They are never specific about what it’s for and when you ask, they are quick to answer feeding you more useless information or disappearing all together. Sometimes they might make you feel ungrateful or guilty for asking too many questions because why would you not trust someone who has your ‘best interests at heart?’

They have a sketchy business model

If neither you nor the people around you can understand the business model, run for the hills.

Knowing this information will not necessarily make you con proof but it will make you a little less likely to be conned. It’s important to verify and do your research as much as possible before embarking on a business or before you send money to a stranger or anyone else for that matter.

Here is some more reading on some of the large-scale scams in Kenya. See if you can spot some of the red flags highlighted in the article in this articles Simple Homes Scam, Gibert Deya, and Nyenze Report.

Check out the story The Making Of A Conman Catfish: The Beginning.

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