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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A confidence trick or confidence game (also known as a bunko, con, flim flam, gaffle, grift, hustle, scam, scheme, swindle or bamboozle) is an attempt to defraud a person or group by gaining their confidence. The victim is known as the mark, the trickster is called a confidence man, con man, confidence trickster, or con artist, and any accomplices are known as shills. Confidence men exploit human characteristics such as greed and dishonesty, and have victimized individuals from all walks of life.



The first known usage of the term "confidence man" in English was in 1849; it was used by American press during the United States trial of William Thompson. Thompson chatted with strangers until he asked if they had the confidence to lend him their watches, whereupon he would walk off with the watch; he was captured when a victim recognized him on the street.[1]

Vulnerability to confidence tricks

Confidence tricks exploit typical human qualities such as greed, dishonesty, vanity, honesty, compassion, credulity and naïveté. The common factor is that the mark relies on the good faith of the con artist. 

Just as there is no typical profile for swindlers, neither is there one for their victims. Virtually anyone can fall prey to fraudulent crimes. ... Certainly victims of high-yield investment frauds may possess a level of greed which exceeds their caution as well as a willingness to believe what they want to believe. However, not all fraud victims are greedy, risk-taking, self-deceptive individuals looking to make a quick dollar. Nor are all fraud victims naïve, uneducated, or elderly.[2]

A greedy or dishonest mark may attempt to out-cheat the con artist, only to discover that he or she has been manipulated into losing from the very beginning. This is such a general principle in confidence tricks that there is a saying among con men that "you can't cheat an honest man."[3]

The confidence trickster often works with one or more accomplices called shills, who help manipulate the mark into accepting the con man's plan. In a traditional confidence trick, the mark is led to believe that he will be able to win money or some other prize by doing some task. The accomplices may pretend to be strangers who have benefited from performing the task in the past.

Notable con artists


Born in the 18th century

  • Gregor MacGregor (1786–1845) – Scottish conman who tried to attract investment and settlers for a non-existent country of Poyais[4]

Born or active in the 19th century

Born or active in the 20th century

Living people

Popular culture

See also


Further reading


  1. ^ Karen Halttunen, Confidence Men and Painted Women, p 6 ISBN 0-300-02835-0
  2. ^ Fraud Victim Advice / Assistance for Consumer Scams and Investment Frauds
  3. ^ A Conversation with James Swain online
  4. ^ "Document of the Month January 2005". The Scottish Executive. January 2005. Retrieved 19 August 2007. 
  5. ^ Maurer, David W. (1940), The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man and the Confidence Game, Bobbs Merrill, ISBN 0-7869-1850-8 
  6. ^ Johnson, James F.; Miller, Floyd (1961), The Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower, Doubleday 
  7. ^ "For You, Half Price". The New York Times. 1849. Retrieved 19 August 2007. 
  8. ^ Zuckoff, Mitchell (March 8, 2005), Ponzi's Scheme: The True Story of a Financial Legend, Random House, ISBN 1-4000-6039-7 
  9. ^ "Arrest of the Confidence Man". New York Herald. 1849. Retrieved 19 August 2007. 
  10. ^ Weil, Joseph (1948), "Yellow Kid" Weil: The Autobiography of America's Master Swindler, Ziff-Davis, ISBN 0-7812-8661-1 
  11. ^ "The Fund Industry's Black Eye". Brian Trumbore, 2002-04-19. Retrieved 19 August 2007. 
  12. ^ Frank W. Abagnale Jr.; with Stan Redding (1980). Catch Me if You Can. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-64091-7. 
  13. ^ "Fake spy guilty of kidnapping con". BBC. 2005-06-23. Retrieved 19 August 2007. 
  14. ^ "Princeton 'Student' Gets Jail Sentence". The New York Times. 1992-10-25. Retrieved 19 August 2007. 
  15. ^ Glenny, Misha (2008), McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld; New York: Alfred A. Knopf, pp 72-73.

External links


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