How to Avoid Confidence Tricksters

Save your benevolence for worthy people

Nobody wants to be swindled. Once you’re a victim, your self-esteem plummets. Confidence tricksters leave you with trust issues and empty your bank account.

It helps to know how to spot them and recognize ways you are vulnerable.

Whether you’re a kind-hearted pensioner or a business tycoon, you’re in danger of being taken in by a fraudster.

Everyone is the potential victim of a con

Cons don’t only pick victims who seem vulnerable. They know everyone has weak points.

Tricksters want your money. Or they may see you as a stepping-stone to build a reputation that fools others. Here’s how they operate.

Author Maria Konnikova suggests fraudsters have specific tricks up their sleeve and outlines them in The Confidence Game. All create an illusionary persona and capture trust.

How do they do it?

Konnikova mentions cons collect data. They are masters of detail and even note people’s body language when figuring out their emotional needs.

Fraudsters want to know your weak spots so they can gain entry to your psyche. They search for your flaws and what makes you vulnerable.

You love animals and want to help endangered species? You hate politicians who don’t live up to their image? You love sunsets and chilled white wine?

Anything you have a strong opinion about might be plumbed by a con artist.

Body language giveaways

Sly folks know how you feel about topics, not just from what you post on Facebook, but also by observing your gestures.

Your body and facial expressions speak volumes about your emotional state.

Picture this. A double glazing salesperson wants, no, needs to sell you his goods to meet his target.

He’s not exactly a swindler, but he has similar traits that can help you learn about fraudsters.

You’re a widow who doesn’t need double glazing. But the sales guy gets you talking. He wants you to reveal useful information.

“My late husband always said I should keep warm.”

When you talk you sigh and look wistfully into the distance. That’s it. You’ve given the salesman leeway.

Now he has helpful information. You don’t need the glazing, but if it’s what your dead husband would want…

Cons evoke trust

Of course, you still aren’t ready to part with money. You must believe the salesman has your best interests at heart.

Confidence tricksters, whether aiming to sell you windows you don’t need or steal hard-earned cash another way, must earn your trust.

To do that, they must build a relationship with you. They have to be likable and friendly or you won’t be interested in their ideas.


Konnikova says cons gain trust in several ways. One might be to ensure you think they are honest, wholesome citizens.

Their image is an illusion you might not see through when you don’t know them well.

To meet their aim they create a terrific reputation fast. Hence, they may be the most charming, polite, and seemingly kind individuals you think you’ll ever meet.

Your friends and neighbors will speak well of them when they are new in town.

“What a fine person,” they will say. “He’s so polite. He carried my bags the other day.”

Or, “she’s lovely. She asked about my sick son who’s in hospital and wished me well.”

Cons are super-likable

What’s more, they pretend to be like you. Studies show we think well of people who share our views and have similar traits to us.

A con artist will act as though they like what you like and hold the same opinions.

You enjoy surfing? Guess what? So does your fraudulent pal.

You are left wing? So is your new mate.

Further, he/she loves the same sports, food, and music as you.

Cons put their foot in the door

You’ve heard of the foot in the door strategy no doubt.

When a salesperson has their big toe stuck in your front room, you’re less likely to slam the door than when they hang back.

Cons may gain entry to your psyche via asking something huge from you. You’re not stupid, though, so you’ll say no.

They understand you won’t oblige, however. Their next step is to ask something much smaller. Just a little favor compared to their first request.

“I know you can’t give me the entire amount of flight money to visit my sick son who lives the other side of the world. But, maybe you could contribute a sum to help?”

Cons make you feel special

Another great trick used by cons is to feed your ego. We all go a little weak at the knees when people think we are special.

Everyone wants someone to tell them they are important. Cons know this and fuel your need for acceptance.

“No one makes cakes/looks/smiles/is as kind as you.” When you hear such honey, you turn to mush and your purse and heart crack open a little.

Still, though. You’re smart and won’t be taken in completely so easily. Before that happens, you must also think a con is successful.

Fraudsters ooze success

What does society hold in high-esteem? Love? Compassion? You would hope so. However. Often it’s success. If someone appears successful, they have instant respect.

If someone tells you they overcame problems to become a high-flier, you are in awe. We love rags to riches stories.

Anyone who fights against the odds to get through terrible times and make something of themselves, well, we think they are inspiring and special.

When their luck fails, we feel sorry for them and want to help.

“You built your dream business, after rising from the gutter, and lost it due to illness. Now you need money to pay your medical bills? Of course I’ll help!”

People don’t like to change their beliefs

Science shows nobody enjoys parting with their beliefs. They hang onto them so fast they can be unwilling to let them go, even when reality screams they are wrong.

Plus, if you invest emotional energy or money in a relationship you don’t want to be seen as imprudent.

Studies tell us we would rather bend the truth, to the point we fool ourselves than admit we’ve made a mistake.

How to avoid being a sucker

Background check

If someone seems too good to be true, check their background.

Do they really have the qualifications and experience they mention?

Plenty of friends? (Good guys have old pals, not just new ones).

Do they come from the area they say they used to live?

Details and body language

Are the specifics of their stories consistent? Liars forget data and change it over time.

What about their body language?

Do they cover their mouth or tap their nose when they talk?

Do they fail to give you eye contact?

Stare when they speak?


What does your gut say? Is their doubt in your heart? A sense of unease in your bones? That’s your intuition speaking.

Common sense

If someone you don’t know well asks for money, hold back and find out more information before parting with cash.

Even if the individual has sent you many emails or letters, you don’t really know them. They might contact lots of people with similar pleas for funds.

Never disclose financial information like your bank details to anyone. Even if they tell you they are an official.

You need evidence they are genuine before you can believe them. Also, stay on top of local scams by checking data online.

Altruism and compassion are essential if we are to live in a kind and giving world. Be wise with your heart and cash though.

Don’t let a con artist fool you. Save your benevolence for worthy people.

Nature Lover, Former Mental Health Professional, Writer

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store