Friday, September 21, 2012

Writing a Con Artist

You may or may not remember a few weeks ago when I was reading The Con Artist Handbook: Secrets of Hustles and Scams by Joel Levy. Well, I've decided to take bits of information I've gathered from this book and write a few different blog posts on it, to help of you writer's out there write the perfect con man.

Personally, I love con man characters. There's something about their charm that just reels me in (think basically any character from Oceans 11, 12 and 13, or Neil or Mozzie from White Collar). It's always been a secret dream of mine to write one, and if it's yours too then here are some things you need to know.

First off, some terms:
The mark- this is the victim of the scam. Also known as the "apple", "bates", "green", "dupe", "john", or "Mr. Goodman".
A shill-An accomplice who lures the mark often by pretending to be a member of the public
Angle-the approach or role taken by the con artist
Depot worker- a con artist who works transport hubs, such as station and airports

In this post I want to talk about the psychology behind the success of a con artist.

The con artist needs to know these two main things about the mark:
-People are greedy and want "something from nothing"
-People have to desire to trust
With knowing these two things, the con artist can play them to their advantage to scam the mark.

These are the methods of psychology that a con artist can use to persuade a mark:

The Halo Effect:
The mark will automatically associate certain feelings and make assumptions unconsciously according to the few things they see or hear from the con artist (think connotation). 
The con artist dresses in a suit and tie, has articulate language, and is self assured. The mark's automatic reaction is that the con artist is smart, trustworthy, and competent.
Suit=business = smart
Articulate language = refined, dignified, above dirty schemes = trustworthy
Self assured, if you're confident in your abilities then others tend to be as well. So the mark is more likely to give the con artist his money that will supposedly double with the CA's guidance.

The con artist doesn't once do anything that proves he is smart, trustworthy or competent, but the little things give off the halo of other traits. 

The Conformity Urge:
This is a pretty simple one, but effective. Nobody wants to get left behind or miss out on something that everyone else is doing. This tactic is where shills come in handy.
The con artist is selling forged ancient coins on the side of the street. The CA's accomplices, the shills, buy one and comment on how they can make a ton of money reselling it. More and more people (aka shills) by the coins. The mark sees this and doesn't want to miss out on this money making opportunity, so they buy one too.

The Authority Figure:
The mark generally listens an authority figure and asks less questions. It doesn't have to been an authority figure (eg. policeman, politician, lawyer etc.) impersonated exactly, it even works if the CA talks in an authoritative fashion.
The CA is pulling a heist and someone walks into the building. The CA reprimands them for coming onto a construction site and kicks them out of the building before they discover the heist even though they have no authority at all. 

The "Barnum Effect":
The con artist compliments the mark and "strokes his ego" in order to make the mark want to prove, the con artist's compliments correct. The CA will make it so their compliments only apply to the mark; they will make the mark feel smart.
The con artist says "I see you're a shrewd investor"...

There you go, the first post of Writing a Con Artist. Let me know what you think, or if you're planning a con artist character in the comments. Some further watching/reading that you might find helpful are White Collar (USA Network), Oceans 11, Heist Society by Ally Carter, and No Coins Please by Gordon Korman. Any more books/movies/tv shows that feature con artists that I'm forgetting?

What I'm Reading: The Comets Curse by Dom Testa
What I'm Listening to: The Beatles "Come Together"
What I'm Watching: White Collar and Covert Affairs


  1. I would love to write a con artist character. So much fun. (I really liked Hiest Society...) :) Instead, I'm having a computer tech who hacks stuff... I hope she works. I hope I need her. Anway.

    Are you writing a con artist character? Good luck if you are! :)

    1. I'm not writing one right now, but someday I will. Hackers are another brand of characters that intrigue me; good luck with her!

  2. lol that book. X) epic post!! :D and BAHAHAHAHA!! NO COINS PLEASE!! XD I love that book. ;)

    1. Haha, thanks! And yes, it was a fun read:D


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