A confidence trick
, confidence game
, or con
for short, (also known as a scam
) is an attempt to intentionally mislead a person or persons (known as the mark
) usually with the goal of financial or other gain. The confidence trickster
, con man
, scam artist
or con artist
often works with an accomplice called the shill
, who tries to encourage the mark by pretending to believe the trickster. In a traditional con, the mark is encouraged to believe that he will obtain money dishonestly by cheating a third party, and is stunned to find that due to what appears to be an error in pulling off the scam he is the one who loses money; in more general use, the term con
is used for any fraud in which the victim is tricked into losing money by false promises of gain.
Confidence tricks in general exploit the inherent greed and dishonesty of their victims; it has been said by confidence tricksters that it was impossible to con a completely honest man. Often, the mark tries to out-cheat the conmen, only to discover that they have been manipulated into this.
Well-known Confidence Tricks
- Three Card Monte, The Three-Card Trick, Follow The Lady or Find the Lady. The trickster shows three playing cards to the audience, one of which is a queen (the lady), then places the cards face-down, shuffles them around and invites the audience to bet on which one is the queen. At first the audience are sceptical, so the shill places a bet and the trickster allows him to win. This is sometimes enough to entice the audience to place bets, but the trickster uses sleight of hand to ensure that they always lose. See three card monte.
- The Spanish Prisoner scam, which is essentially the same as the Nigerian money transfer fraud. The basic come-on is "we need your help to get some stolen money out of its hiding place". The victim sometimes goes in figuring he or she can cheat the con artists out of their money: anyone trying this has already fallen for the essential con, by believing that the money is there to steal.
- The early 20th century favorite The Big Store, around which scam the plot of the film The Sting revolves. Big store scams are described in detail in David W. Maurer's The Big Con (see references), on which the film was loosely based. They often involved teams of dozens of con artists working together with elaborate sets and costumes.
- Religious cults. Some religious cults have been described by their critics as confidence tricks. It is alleged that their aim is to obtain money from their followers by deception.
Famous Con Artists
- Victor Lustig, sold the Eiffel Tower
- Joseph Weil, a.k.a. the Yellow Kid, one of the inspirations for the Academy-award winning film The Sting.
Confidence tricks in the movies
- Flim Flam Man, The. 1967. Produced by Lawrence Turman; directed by Irvin Kershner and Yakima Canutt. Twentieth Century Fox.
- Grifters, The. 1991. Produced by Martin Scorsese; directed by Stephen Frears. Miramax Films.
- House of Games. 1987. Produced by Michael Hausman; directed by David Mamet. Orion.
- Matchstick Men. 2003.
- Music Man, The. 1962. Produced and directed by Morton da Costa. Warner.
- Paper Moon. 1973. Directed and produced by Peter Bogdanovitch. Paramount.
- Rainmaker, The. 1956. Produced by Paul Nathan. Paramount.
- Sting, The. 1973. Directed by George Roy Hill. Universal.
- Spanish Prisoner, The. 1997. Produced by ??; directed by David Mamet.
- The Score. 2001. Produced by ??; directed by Frank Oz.
- Heist. 2001. Produced by ??; directed by David Mamet.
- Confidence. 2003. Produced by ??; directed by James Foley.
Confidence tricks in literature
- Many of the crime novels of Jim Thompson involve confidence artists.
- Joyce Carol Oates's My Heart Laid Bare features a family of confidence artists.
- Neil Gaiman's American Gods uses a two-man con as a major plot element.
See also: carny
- Maurer, David W. 1940. The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man and the Confidence Game. New York: The Bobbs Merrill company.
- Maurer, David W. 1974. The American Confidence Man. Springfield: Charles C. Thomas, Publisher.