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Confessions of a Con Artist

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

As a master closer, I made it my first objective to get the victim "under the ether." Ether is that fuzzy state when your emotions are stirred up and you're so agitated that you won't know which way is up and which is down. Once I have gotten you into this condition, it doesn't matter how smart or dumb you are. Ether trumps intelligence every time.

The two most powerful ways to do this are through need and greed.

To find a client's emotional need, I'll ask a bunch of personal questions. Then I'll throttle up the pressure by focusing on that need. "Oh, you lost your job? That's got to be tough." Or "So your two kids are in college and the tuition is driving you into the poorhouse." Now the person isn't thinking about whether the offer is a scam but instead, "Here's a fix for my problems."

The "crush," or the "kill" — that's what we call closing the deal — is emotionally driven. It's not logic. If you apply logic, the answer is: "No, I am not going to send you my hard-earned money. I don't even know who you are." If my victims had applied logic to our deals, they would have walked away every time.

The other pathway to the ether is simple greed: I just promise people they can make a ton of money.

The Perfect Victim

I'm often asked how I could have ripped off senior citizens. The answer is that con men target people who have money, and a lot of seniors are sitting on fat nest eggs. It's the Willie Sutton rule: He robbed banks because that is where the money was.

But there's more to it than that. I think older people are easier to scam, because their emotional needs are closer to the surface. They aren't afraid to tell people how much they care about their kids and grandkids. They aren't afraid to share their fears about the unstable financial markets and how much they worry about being on a fixed income. These fears are real. And every one of them is a bullet for my gun.

My scam career was focused on investments like phony oil and gas deals, bogus business opportunities and gold-coin scams. And for these types of investments the perfect victim was almost always a male. Why men? Men are more emotional than women. Men are grandiose; they are full of ego. And that's all driven by emotion; it's driven by insecurity; it's driven by a feeling of inferiority.

Next: Which scams are the most dangerous? »

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