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Confessions of a Con Artist

A veteran scammer reveals how he made millions ripping off unsuspecting investors

You might be thinking, "Oh, those get-rich-quick scams are obvious, and I would never fall for one." When I hear someone say that only stupid people fall for fraud, I feel like asking for that person's phone number. But here's the thing: I didn't want to talk to stupid people, because stupid people don't have $50,000 lying around to give me. You would be amazed at how many doctors, lawyers, engineers and college professors I ripped off. The bottom line is, fraud is a crime that can happen to anyone, given the right con man and a victim with the right set of circumstances.

Make no mistake: I am a dangerous person on the telephone. If I choose to be fraudulent in my practices, nothing is going to stop me from taking lots of money from you. Period, the end. And the world is filled with people just as dangerous as I am.

I was what's known as a closer: the guy who gets you to hand over the money. I'll tell you how, so you can recognize and avoid the techniques I used. I can do this because I am out of the game now. If I were still in the game, I'd tell you only one thing: "You and I are going to make a lot of money together."

Born to Con

I learned how to do this at an early age. I've got a natural ability to talk people into things. Growing up in Brooklyn in the 1970s, people called me Fonzie; they would say, "Hey, Fonzie, that mouth of yours is gonna make you a million dollars someday."

In my neighborhood, 500 families lived on my street, giving me a lot of parents to manipulate. You learned what works. I played the heartstrings; I intimidated; I made people feel bad for me. Whether it was manipulating my three older sisters or convincing the neighbor lady that I needed one more ice-cream bar from the Mister Softee truck, I always knew what to say. And as I got older, I got better.

In 1995, I got a chance to apply these gifts of persuasion in the workplace. I went to work for a Florida company that sold prepaid-calling-card vending machines. At first I thought it was a real job. But it seemed like a lot of customers were calling back to complain. In fact, they all called back to complain. Believe it or not, for a long time I thought every business was like this. Gradually, it dawned on me that this was the dark side of corporate America. But by then I had developed my own dark side — drug addiction.

I first tried heroin when I was 22, and became instantly addicted. For the next 15 years I would move in and out of rehab centers and in and out of fraud boiler rooms. Drug addiction gave me the two characteristics all scam operators want in a closer: selfishness and greed. If you are strung out and in need of a fix, you will do anything to feed your habit.

This may explain why the owners of many of these scam operations in South Florida recruited their boiler room staff at local Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Who's a better talker than an addict? Nobody. Who is more manipulative than an addict? Nobody. Who is more desperate for money than an addict? Nobody. Addicts hustle; that's what we do.

So you couple that with my experience selling over the phone in Florida and you have the perfect storm. I'm a hustler from New York and an addict. These boiler rooms were dying to hire me.

Next: It's all about acting. »

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