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Black Money
November 4, 2011 11:18 AM   Subscribe

The United States Secret Service is warning about an old scam that's recently popped up again in New England: black money.

The scam involves wads of black construction paper, cut to the dimensions of currency, that is supposed to be real money that has been dyed black to facilitate its smuggling into the country. The scam has different variations: in some, the "cleaning" is demonstrated by sleight of hand, while in others, the con artist may cover a few real bills with glue and iodine for demonstration purposes. The mark may be asked for money for buying more "cleaning solution", or because the cleaning process supposedly requires additional currency for a catalyst.

The Secret Service is asking victims to step forward, despite the old adage that you can't con an honest man.
posted by Halloween Jack (89 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's a pretty hilarious scam.
posted by entropone at 11:25 AM on November 4, 2011 [12 favorites]


scams.wikispaces.com might be my new favorite website! Thank you!

Interesting stuff. I work with older people in my job (they volunteer and such) and I see them as pretty easy marks for the internet scams. One woman was actually conned trying to get a job for her son, buying a correspondence course or something like that.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:25 AM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


despite the old adage that you can't con an honest man.

Yeah, a lot of old adages are crap like that.
posted by JHarris at 11:26 AM on November 4, 2011 [7 favorites]


Read about this in the Boston Globe this morning, but their story is now subscription-only. There was a funny touch when the mark was left alone with the black money and it gradually dawned on him that he had been taken.
posted by Curious Artificer at 11:28 AM on November 4, 2011


I get a lot of calls lately asking for money to drive/take a bus to a dying relatives place/how they're stranded in this area with car trouble. It's weird how these things go in cycles.

The only money I get for free is when I look at the ground in a bar. That usually works.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:29 AM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]



Wow, how is it that people are so easily fooled? I feel that way about 419 scams. WHO in this day and age hasn't heard about those? Also, fake checks. Do people live under rocks?

Social Darwinism at its best.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:31 AM on November 4, 2011


Old people do.
posted by griphus at 11:34 AM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Social Darwinism and best never belong in the same sentence.
posted by kmz at 11:34 AM on November 4, 2011 [12 favorites]


Scams like this (and 419) are the reason I don't let my elderly relatives on the internet.
posted by SirOmega at 11:34 AM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


They are charged with passing a fictitious obligation of the United States.

What's wrong with the word "counterfeit"?
posted by crapmatic at 11:36 AM on November 4, 2011


> "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

Last year I organized a fraud prevention program at the library I work at. An RCMP officer spoke for an hour or so, but pretty much everything he said boiled down to this one sentence.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:36 AM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


It makes real counterfeiters look bad.
posted by griphus at 11:37 AM on November 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hello Mr. Metafilter, I Bob Johnson from Indiana on Namibia vacation. I have blue website that needs to go white. Please send paypal money to change, I send profit.
posted by jimmythefish at 11:38 AM on November 4, 2011 [11 favorites]


There are certainly scams that take advantage of the greedy, but there are plenty of wolves in sheep's clothing running around raising money for fake charities and other things.

I've always wondered what the correlation between high credit card debt and falling for these schemes is. Anyone know of studies?
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:38 AM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


(Also, am I the only one having trouble not brain-hearing the phrase "black money" in the same way Lil Wayne says "Young Money"?)
posted by griphus at 11:39 AM on November 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


IQ tax.
posted by brand-gnu at 11:40 AM on November 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


The new wikipedia banner is freaking me out. Their solicitations are always like those Children's Fund tv ads except with middle class white people.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 11:42 AM on November 4, 2011 [12 favorites]


(Also, am I the only one having trouble not brain-hearing the phrase "black money" in the same way Lil Wayne says "Young Money"?)

Not anymore, sheesh.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 11:42 AM on November 4, 2011


I would advise the person presenting me with this problem and asking me for help to just buy a small amount of the chemical, use it to wash a small batch of the bills, use those bills to buy enough chemical the "wash" it all. Then I would look at them like I thought they were ninnies.
posted by longsleeves at 11:42 AM on November 4, 2011 [18 favorites]


Social Darwinism at its best.


social darwinism is -ist bullshit masquerading as actual thought.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:42 AM on November 4, 2011 [12 favorites]


I read about this yesterday and there's a part of me that thinks if you're stupid enough to fall for this, you deserve whatever you lost, and if you're smart enough to con someone with it, you deserve what you get.

But then I remember being a twenty something computer tech, walking down Mass Ave in Boston, and having some guy offer to sell me an RCA camcorder (back when they used VHS tapes and cost a thousand dollars) because he was a manager at Radio Shack and they got some extras in stock. I remember thinking "Wow... really? A hundred bucks? Holy crap. This is awesome!" until I eventually realized it was too good to be true.
posted by bondcliff at 11:44 AM on November 4, 2011


This scam would be totally laughable if it weren't for people's greed.

Barnum was wrong, there's more than one born every minute.
posted by tommasz at 11:45 AM on November 4, 2011


brain-hearing the phrase "black money" in the same way Lil Wayne says "Young Money"

Kanye prefers the term "African American currency."
posted by RogerB at 11:45 AM on November 4, 2011


But then I remember being a twenty something computer tech, walking down Mass Ave in Boston, and having some guy offer to sell me an RCA camcorder (back when they used VHS tapes and cost a thousand dollars) because he was a manager at Radio Shack and they got some extras in stock. I remember thinking "Wow... really? A hundred bucks? Holy crap. This is awesome!" until I eventually realized it was too good to be true.

As a naive young woman I was taken for a small amount of money in an "I just need car fare" scam, by a guy wearing a nice-looking suit. It wasn't until I was on the train home and had time to think that all the holes in his story became obvious to me. That was a good lesson learned at not too high a cost.
posted by not that girl at 11:49 AM on November 4, 2011


a lot of old adages are crap like that
But you can dance the old adage with a dapper new twist.
posted by Abiezer at 11:49 AM on November 4, 2011


despite the old adage that you can't con an honest man.
Yeah, a lot of old adages are crap like that.


Not according to The Big Con, David Maurer's seminal treatise on con games in the early part of the 20th century. A key part in the schemes he detailed --- and this one --- is that it involves some sketchy behaviour on the part of the mark. It makes it tough for the mark to rat out the con men: "Honest, officer, I thought it was I who was going to be scamming this betting establishment by delaying the results, and it turns out I was the one taken for a ride..." The black money scam relies on the mark agreeing to help dodge customs tax/accept illegal funds. It's a safety lever for the con artist, and a barb for hooking the mark.
posted by Diablevert at 11:49 AM on November 4, 2011 [14 favorites]


Living in Chicago and riding the train for the past decade I've seen so many dice/card/pick-pocket/confidence rackets, I just assume as soon as somebody opens their mouth to me in public they're scamming me. Then, I work backward from there and look for evidence of innocence. It's a great system, especially the near constant state of paranoia and fear part.
posted by joinks at 11:51 AM on November 4, 2011 [8 favorites]


I just assume as soon as somebody opens their mouth to me in public they're scamming me.

After having my bag stolen from me in Barcelona by a guy walking up to me holding a big map and asking directions (bag stolen from behind despite me sitting on it) when travelling or in a crowded place I straight-arm anyone approaching me at closer than an arm's length and tell them to go away.
posted by jimmythefish at 11:54 AM on November 4, 2011


The new wikipedia banner is freaking me out. Their solicitations are always like those Children's Fund tv ads except with middle class white people.

Please Read: A Personal Appeal From X Founder Y.
posted by odinsdream at 11:57 AM on November 4, 2011


I remember thinking "Wow... really? A hundred bucks? Holy crap. This is awesome!" until I eventually realized it was too good to be true.

#1 Rule of Thumb, if it's too good to be true IT'S NOT FUCKING TRUE.

You can't con an honest SMART man.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:58 AM on November 4, 2011


I would advise the person presenting me with this problem and asking for help to simply lend me their hat for a second. I would then excitedly explain that, by wild coincidence, my entire excretory system has been retro-fitted to produce that chemical and that chemical only, and then I would begin pissing into his hat. At first he would get mad and try to take his hat away, but then I'd start pissing on his briefcase, and then the black ink would start washing away. Then he'd be agog, staring at this man urinating on these formerly-worthless bills, and then I would start urinating on his face, revealing his face to simply be the face on a bill, and then he'd become a giant dollar bill, which I would then give to charity. And I wouldn't even stop urinating for the rest of my life, not even for a second, so eventually I would wither and die like a flower.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:58 AM on November 4, 2011 [40 favorites]


Ruthless Bunny: “Wow, how is it that people are so easily fooled? I feel that way about 419 scams. WHO in this day and age hasn't heard about those? Also, fake checks. Do people live under rocks? Social Darwinism at its best.”

For human beings to live, we need to have faith in other people. This might be "social Darwinism," but only in the sense that sometimes certain environments mold creatures into forms that ultimately cause their extinction.
posted by koeselitz at 11:59 AM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Impressive. And seeing it described like this, it's easy to think "how could someone be taken in by this?" Except when you've got someone spinning a tale that meanders and weaves its way towards the pitch for the con, it's easy to get strung along. Most people don't spend all interactions trying to analyze whether they are being the victim of a scam RIGHT NOW.
posted by rmd1023 at 11:59 AM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I remember back when I worked at Carvel and Kelsey Grammer and the Best Friends Club pulled a long con on me.
posted by bondcliff at 12:00 PM on November 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I would read a Personal Appeal From MetaFilter Founder Matt Haughey anytime.

I can't say the same for more than a couple other founders.

"Please Read: A Personal Appeal From Beyond The Grave By Apple Founder Steve Jobs."
Now there's a scam that'll make money!
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:01 PM on November 4, 2011


There's plenty of cons that aren't about greed at all, unless you talk about some vaguely defined greed for altruism points.
posted by kmz at 12:05 PM on November 4, 2011


The new wikipedia banner is freaking me out. Their solicitations are always like those Children's Fund tv ads except with middle class white people.

I can't unsee Jimmy Wales as Hank Scorpio.
posted by peep at 12:06 PM on November 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Most people don't spend all interactions trying to analyze whether they are being the victim of a scam RIGHT NOW.

Not everyone, but if there's one consensus people from NYC can come to is that if approached by a stranger, the first reaction is "what the hell are you up to?"
posted by griphus at 12:06 PM on November 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


when travelling or in a crowded place I straight-arm anyone approaching me at closer than an arm's length and tell them to go away.

Wow, really? I can't see that working out very well. Has this never started a fight?
posted by penduluum at 12:08 PM on November 4, 2011


Social Darwinism at its best.

Nothing keeps these people from breeding.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:09 PM on November 4, 2011


Time to run the litmus configuration.
posted by dr_dank at 12:10 PM on November 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Greed separates people from their money.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 12:18 PM on November 4, 2011


A key part in the schemes he detailed --- and this one --- is that it involves some sketchy behaviour on the part of the mark. It makes it tough for the mark to rat out the con men

Difficult is not the same thing as impossible, and you can easily substitute anonymity for this protection, as in the case of most internet scams.

#1 Rule of Thumb, if it's too good to be true IT'S NOT FUCKING TRUE.

Yet this is unsatisfying. Isn't this just a way to pass moral judgement against the victims? It isn't always obvious if a thing is a scam or not.

posted by JHarris at 12:19 PM on November 4, 2011


Here's a another (alleged) scam come to light.
posted by dobbs at 12:19 PM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Damn missing close italics tag.
posted by JHarris at 12:19 PM on November 4, 2011


Every time I see a dude who both drives a Lamborghini and eats at McDonald's , i try to scam him.
posted by Liquidwolf at 12:20 PM on November 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Greed separates people from their money.

Unless you already have a lot of money. Then there are no consequences.
posted by JHarris at 12:20 PM on November 4, 2011


Every time I see a dude who both drives a Lamborghini and eats at McDonald's , i try to scam him.

You're about 50/50 on that one. You've either got a dude who fell ass-backwards into money and would probably do anything for another taste, or a dude who is so absolutely secure with himself that he's got all the money in the world and he doesn't give a good goddamn if you see him eating McDonalds, much less whatever hare-brained scheme you have to offer him.
posted by griphus at 12:24 PM on November 4, 2011


Barnum was wrong, there's more than one born every minute.

Barnum was right in his time, but the birth rate has accelerated significantly since then. Now, there's a sucker born every 15 seconds. Current predictions are that, by 2030, there will be 2 suckers born every second.

To say nothing of how many pencil necked geeks are being born every minute! Fred Blassie would be despondent.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:25 PM on November 4, 2011 [9 favorites]


Every time I see a dude who both drives a Lamborghini and eats at McDonald's , i try to scam him.

Has that happened more than once?
posted by bondcliff at 12:25 PM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


You can't con an honest SMART man.

How Cory Doctorow got phished
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:26 PM on November 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I guess no one ever watches 1000 Ways to Die.
posted by atomicmedia at 12:31 PM on November 4, 2011


sometimes certain environments mold creatures into forms that ultimately cause their extinction.

Such as?
posted by one_bean at 12:31 PM on November 4, 2011


You can't con an honest man.

Unless you're a stock broker or an insurance salesman or a used car dealer or a politician or anyone else who preys on the fears and desires of perfectly normal people going about their daily business.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:41 PM on November 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


Appealing to sympathy will not bag you 100k per victim.

Appealing to greed will.

For big money scams (other than blackmail / kidnapping which aren't quite scams in the same way), the only thing that will make it work is the promise of more money.
posted by idiopath at 12:45 PM on November 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


BTW, a search on the web is not turning up the history of this scam. I know that it was active in Africa in the 1970's but it would be cool to know how far back it goes.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:49 PM on November 4, 2011


me: “... sometimes certain environments mold creatures into forms that ultimately cause their extinction.”

one_bean: “Such as?”

Well, there is the obvious one.

There is a common and silly misconception that "survival of the fittest" is a moral or even general function. But evolution only molds creatures into forms that survive in their current habitat. Nature isn't some sort of fantastic god in the sky, morphing animals and plants into their perfect, most hardy and most excellent forms. Nature is in fact absolutely blind on this count. Whatever creatures happen to find themselves surrounded by molds them. That molding might make them hardier; or it might make them weaker. Thus, the dodo.

What I mean by all that is this:

It's easy to look at cases like this black money scam and sneer about "suckers" and "social Darwinism" and all that. But the fact of the matter is that human beings need society to continue to exist; and for society to continue to exist, we need to be able to trust each other at least on a certain level. When that trust collapses completely – I am not being flippant – we all die. So I have a feeling it's a bit short-sighted to simple shake our heads and dismiss the trusting as fools and then act as though we're not hurt ourselves when this kind of thing happens.
posted by koeselitz at 12:51 PM on November 4, 2011 [8 favorites]


I spent a week sharpie-ing all these $20 bills solid black and now you're telling me it's not supposed to be actual MONEY for this scam?

O lord, crime doesn't pay after all!
posted by TheRedArmy at 12:58 PM on November 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


This went around the townships in Johannesburg a few years ago...
posted by PenDevil at 1:02 PM on November 4, 2011


How Cory Doctorow got phished

If everyone (or at least a LOT more people) out there were as difficult to phish as Cory -- it effectively look multiple failures to make him vulnerable, and it is not generally rational to try to protect yourself perpetually from such cases, you'd live in a lead box -- there wouldn't be enough of a ROI for phishing to occur.

So yeah, Cory's point is well taken. Anyone can fall for it. But an honest, SMART person will only fall for it when multiple failures of their standard protections occur.
posted by chimaera at 1:09 PM on November 4, 2011


rmd1023: "Most people don't spend all interactions trying to analyze whether they are being the victim of a scam RIGHT NOW."

Most people aren't my mother-in-law, then. (For reference, see my inbox, forwarded scam warnings 1–350, and ignored refutations.) She walks around worrying enough for all these people. Last one was her frantically telling me not to sniff perfume samples offered in the parking lot because it would really be chloroform. I can't wait to get her version of the black money warning, in which there will be some crazy elaboration, possibly involving unwilling organ harvesting or someone suspending themselves from the undercarriage of my car until I get home.

I am actually pretty surprised that these sorts of scams work. You don't have to be too sly or too smart to see that this might not be on the up and up.
posted by theredpen at 1:15 PM on November 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, there is the obvious one.

I guess that depends on what you think caused the extinction of the dodo bird. What I take from the story of the dodo is that humans ultimately caused the extinction, but didn't have to. Much like every other moral choice that humans have encountered. We seem to be arguing the opposite sides of the same coin.
posted by one_bean at 1:24 PM on November 4, 2011


me: “... sometimes certain environments mold creatures into forms that ultimately cause their extinction.”

one_bean: “Such as?”

Well, there is the obvious one.


Wait, is your argument that this isolated species succumbed to the evolutionary flaw of being too delicious and easy to murder? Because the only thing that separates them from just about any other animal used as livestock is that other animals didn't happen to only have a tiny population living on an isolated island.
posted by FatherDagon at 1:25 PM on November 4, 2011


theredpen: if you think that people are making money hand over fist all around you in various glorified scams (which isn't too far from the truth when you look at the financial services industry or utilities or cell phone providers or legislative pork etc.), and you think that this might be your chance to cash in on a scam, the hopefulness that you are finally gonna get yours can totally overshadow the rational part. People have a very strong cognitive bias for hopefulness.

Regarding the evolution derail, the dodo example and it's particulars are overshadowing a valid point: evolution optimizes for a niche, and cannot take large scale one time events into account. Fitness is not an absolute state, but a relation to a specific circumstance.

Also "social darwinism" is not "stupid people suffering because they are stupid", it is the conviction that inferior genes should be eliminated from society by force (sterilization, death camps, etc).
posted by idiopath at 1:38 PM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


idiopath: "theredpen: if you think that people are making money hand over fist all around you in various glorified scams (which isn't too far from the truth when you look at the financial services industry or utilities or cell phone providers or legislative pork etc.), and you think that this might be your chance to cash in on a scam, the hopefulness that you are finally gonna get yours can totally overshadow the rational part. People have a very strong cognitive bias for hopefulness."

Point taken; thank you.
posted by theredpen at 1:42 PM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think you can use the same chemical to turn Groupon stock from $20 to $40.
posted by chavenet at 1:58 PM on November 4, 2011


It's easy to look at cases like this black money scam and sneer about "suckers" and "social Darwinism" and all that. But the fact of the matter is that human beings need society to continue to exist; and for society to continue to exist, we need to be able to trust each other at least on a certain level. [emphasis mine]

Despite its huge kill rate1 evolution does tend to move in small increments that result in balanced systems.

IMHO both the scammers and the scammees are out of balance right now. I don't mind seeing the average level of trust brought down a bit, and I can't see how it would bring it so low as to endanger society's interests.



1 99.9% of earth's species and counting. Go evolution!
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:02 PM on November 4, 2011


Also "social darwinism" is not "stupid people suffering because they are stupid", it is the conviction that inferior genes should be eliminated from society by force (sterilization, death camps, etc).

Uh.... I'm pretty sure you're thinking of eugenics there.

Social Darwinism.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:10 PM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


As a naive young woman I was taken for a small amount of money in an "I just need car fare" scam, by a guy wearing a nice-looking suit. It wasn't until I was on the train home and had time to think that all the holes in his story became obvious to me. That was a good lesson learned at not too high a cost.

In a similar vein, I once was offered "help" to use the (at that time) new ticketing machines at an Atlanta Metro. I felt competent enough to figure them out, but the guy was kind of pushy. Anyway, he ended up short-changing me by three bucks or so. Thing is, I knew. I can't remember now if I was quick enough to catch the trick in the math he was using or if I actually saw a flash of change in his hand, but in any case, I knew. But I thought he pulled it off well enough that he deserved my money.

But ever since, I've always had a slight suspicion that he wanted me to know. That it was that extra feeling of smugness for having caught him that persuaded me to let it slide. And if that's the case, it was an even better scam, and he DEFINITELY deserved my three dollars.
posted by solotoro at 2:12 PM on November 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


Oh my goodness.

I retract my "social darwinism' comment.

What I meant to say was:

People without critical thinking skills will easily be separated from their money.

I'd hate to be the asshole in this bunch.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:30 PM on November 4, 2011


Tell Me No Lies: "Uh.... I'm pretty sure you're thinking of eugenics there."

Social darwinism was the ideological basis of eugenic policy.

As the definition you linked to makes clear, social darwinism is the advocacy of cold hearted race hatred, and isn't about "darwin awards" lulz.
posted by idiopath at 2:31 PM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well how am I supposed to buy things on the black market then?
posted by ceribus peribus at 2:35 PM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


one_bean: “I guess that depends on what you think caused the extinction of the dodo bird. What I take from the story of the dodo is that humans ultimately caused the extinction, but didn't have to. Much like every other moral choice that humans have encountered. We seem to be arguing the opposite sides of the same coin.”

Yes, that was kind of my larger point, too. But I don't think it really matters what caused the extinction of the Dodo Bird. My point was that the Dodo Bird was remarkably poorly adapted for almost any circumstance other than its own particular circumstance; and the moment that circumstance changed, it died. Human beings were certainly morally culpable for that extinction, but it is still a case where evolution didn't lead to a hardier or more adaptable specimen; it just molded blindly to circumstances, as it always does.

me: “It's easy to look at cases like this black money scam and sneer about ‘suckers’ and ‘social Darwinism’ and all that. But the fact of the matter is that human beings need society to continue to exist; and for society to continue to exist, we need to be able to trust each other at least on a certain level.”

Tell Me No Lies: “Despite its huge kill rate evolution does tend to move in small increments that result in balanced systems.”

You misunderstand me. I don't argue that we need trust because it is an evolutionarily evolved trait that our environment will select against. That would make absolutely no sense unless trust can be shown to be a genetic trait; and that seems laughable to me. On the contrary, I argue that if and when society collapses, many, many people die. And this isn't a remote possibility off in the distant eons of the future; this is an immediate possibility that we are dealing with right at this moment, and have been dealing with since humankind first came into existence. The possibility of human extinction itself stopped being merely academic decades ago.

“I don't mind seeing the average level of trust brought down a bit, and I can't see how it would bring it so low as to endanger society's interests.”

So – er – let me get this straight. You're in favor of scams? You think they should be legalized and encouraged?
posted by koeselitz at 2:43 PM on November 4, 2011


"You know how I could afford this Lamborghini? Lots of McDonald's Dollar Menu meals."
posted by mrbill at 2:50 PM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


The thing about good con artists is that they're incredibly deft psychological/emotional manipulators. It's not just about stupidity or gullibility on the mark's part.

My strong social anxiety makes me very easy to manipulate if someone can figure out how to push the right buttons. Probably because I'm aware of this, I've never been scammed (though I have been profoundly confused and embarrassed by a Derren Brown type of act). I tend to have mantras like "if it's too good to be true, it probably is . . ." going through my head whenever I find myself around someone confident and charismatic who seems to take a unexpected interest in me.

The downside to this vigilance is that it's also led to some lost opportunities from people who were genuinely interested in something about me (for a business opportunity, romantic relationship, sex, etc) but came on with too much genuine positive energy and enthusiasm.

So I do have quite a bit of sympathy for some scam victims, and often find myself thinking "oh wow, I could have fallen for that given the right place/time/person/frame-of-mind -- just another reminder to be really fucking careful."
posted by treepour at 3:01 PM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


> Every time I see a dude who both drives a Lamborghini and eats at McDonald's , i try to scam him.

Has that happened more than once?


What, you've never worked the drivethru window at the Mickey D's by the Lambo dealership?

Oh the cons we'd run. My buddy Chet invented this scheme called the Phantom Packet, where he'd ask 'em while they ordered if they wanted ketchup, and then if they said yes he's read the order back but get real concerned and double check with them about the ketchup thing. And then when they pulled up to the window, he'd give them their food and take their money but there wouldn't be any ketchup packets. Take that, you sucker-ass Countach-driving motherfuckers.
posted by cortex at 3:02 PM on November 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


Difficult is not the same thing as impossible, and you can easily substitute anonymity for this protection, as in the case of most internet scams.

It's possible, sure. I'll not say there's never been a scam that takes advantage of good people's pure intentions. (One might argue that the spanish prisoner qualifies, depending on the nature of the reward promised.) Heck, I myself was short-conned on a New York City sidewalk once out of five bucks on a convincing hard luck story.

But so far as "you can't trim an honest man" I do think it's a good rule of thumb. That's "too good to be true" feeling is usually provoked by the sense that someone would have to be getting over something on someone for this offer to be possible. (Like in example upthread of the $100 electronics being offerred on the sidewalk by the "Radio Shack manager" who just happenned to have some "extra" ones lying around.) If you're honest, then when you hear that tale you walk away, because you realize that someone's being cheated in order for it to be possible.

But if you've got a few drops of what the old-timers called "thieve's blood" in your veins, then you find yourself arguing that perhaps it is possible for this to be okay...or more likely, that the people who'd be hurt deserve it or won't really get hurt that much.

A good con man uses that, always has a line which explains how the victim of the scheme is just such a deserving figure. In The Big Con, the stories involved big time gambling or stock fixing syndicates. In the modern 419, it's a corrupt African government. In this black money scam, the victim is the tax office or the customs officials --- they're the reason why the money was dyed black. If you really did inherit a trunk which turned out to be full of cash, honesty (and the law) would require you to declare that income and pay the tax --- in all likelyhood placing the money in limbo while the authorities figure out if it was illegally obtained and possibly at risk of seizure. Anyone who falls for this scheme agrees to you know, not do that.

On the other hand, I don't want to simply seem as if I'm victim-blaming. I think the problem is that the vast majority of mankind does have that drop or two of thieves' blood, that lets you justify such things to yourself, especially with a little prompting. There are some people out there so scrupulous that they could never be taken by a con. But there ain't that many, and I don't think I'm among them.
posted by Diablevert at 3:08 PM on November 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Greed separates people from their money.

So did the Star Wars movies.
posted by juiceCake at 3:09 PM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


As long as I'm pimping Maurer --- which I am happy to do, for his is awesome --- I may as well quote from the man himself:
"A confidence man prospers only because of the fundamental dishonesty of his victim. First, he inspires a firm belief in his own integrity. Second, he brings into play powerful and well-nigh irresistible forces to excite the cupidity of the mark. Then he allows the victim to make large sums of money by means of dealings which are explained to him as being dishonests --- and hence a “sure thing.” As the lust for large and easy profits is fanned into a hot flame, the mark puts all his scruples behind him. He closes out his bank account, liquidates his property, borrows from his friends, embezzles from his employer or clients. In the mad frenzy of cheating someone else, he is unaware of the fact that he is the real victim, carefully selected and fatted for the kill. This arises the trite but none the less sage maxim: “You can’t cheat an honest man.” --- The Big Con, Chp. 1
Seriously great book.
posted by Diablevert at 3:22 PM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Great story, but I must weigh in on "You can't con an honest man" notion.

My elderly relatives got taken with the "Grandma. I'm in trouble" scam that preys on people who love.

Public service announcement: Alert your own grandparents.
posted by cccorlew at 4:39 PM on November 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


So did the Star Wars movies.

Greedo separates people from their money.
posted by joe lisboa at 5:10 PM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


HAN CONNED FIRST
posted by cortex at 5:12 PM on November 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


There was a funny touch when the mark was left alone with the black money and it gradually dawned on him that he had been taken.

It's always blackest before the dawn.
posted by From Bklyn at 4:17 AM on November 5, 2011


It's possible, sure. I'll not say there's never been a scam that takes advantage of good people's pure intentions.

That's not what was said. What was said was you can't scam an honest man. Nothing about intentions. But you can scam a well-intentioned person too.

But so far as "you can't trim an honest man" I do think it's a good rule of thumb.

Rules of thumb are always situational. If the situation changes (say, a hard-luck story scam becomes widespread) the rule becomes obsolete.

Tell Me No Lies: IMHO both the scammers and the scammees are out of balance right now. I don't mind seeing the average level of trust brought down a bit, and I can't see how it would bring it so low as to endanger society's interests.

It is in fact tremendously corrosive. It's just that the damage is hard to see, because it's of the million-tiny-cuts sort.

solotoro: I felt competent enough to figure them out, but the guy was kind of pushy. Anyway, he ended up short-changing me by three bucks or so. [...] But I thought he pulled it off well enough that he deserved my money.

It's like when you get a really well-written piece of spam, you have the sudden urge to buy whatever they're-- not, wait, no it doesn't. That's crazy.
posted by JHarris at 8:05 AM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


HAN CONNED FIRST

Han wasn't a swindler, he was a smuggler. A professional confidence man would never have taken a loan from a Hutt. And don't get me started on that poor performance in cell block 1138.
posted by clarknova at 8:13 AM on November 5, 2011 [3 favorites]




"It's possible, sure. I'll not say there's never been a scam that takes advantage of good people's pure intentions."

That's not what was said. What was said was you can't scam an honest man. Nothing about intentions. But you can scam a well-intentioned person too.


Well, we're discussing the truth value of an adage, correct? You said the adage was "crap," which inspired me to bring up this whole Maurer riff in the first place.

Now, personally, I wouldn't say that "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" is a crap saying, simply because there may exist situations which are unpreventable but readily curable. Nor would I say that the saying "the grass is always greener" is crap because, with a spectrometer and an up-to-date lawn care regimen, I can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that my particular yard is in fact greener than my neighbor's. Every adage refers to some aspect of human nature which is generally true, and therefore well to remember, or in other words, a good rule of thumb.

To me, the implication of your calling it a "crap saying" is that you think it's never or rarely true, and therefore worthless. And with that I disagree -- I think most scams take advantage of people's greed or lust or fear -- and their willingness to bend the rules to serve those ends. The black money scam is one such. One of the others mentioned in this thread --- the facebook one where someone posts on your wall pretending to be a relative and asking for money --- is one in which an honest person could be duped, sure. But I still don't think that means the saying is crap. When you think of all the classic con games, almost all of them involve that element of preying on the person's greed --- three card monte, the 419, the gold brick, etc.
posted by Diablevert at 5:55 PM on November 5, 2011


Reminds me of this fascinating story.
Poeple don't just fall for these thing because they're elderly and out-of-touch or stupid.
It seems like something else goes on, maybe related to the impulse to gamble.
posted by brian o'blivion at 7:23 AM on November 6, 2011


sigh

The exchange rate between prevention/cure got knocked out of whack during the housing crisis.
posted by JHarris at 7:35 PM on November 7, 2011


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