How Scams Work: Understanding The Long Con

The Basic Mechanics Of A Relationship Scam

A SCARS Insight

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What Is A Long Con?

Con is derived from “Confidence Trick”

A “Long Con” Or “Big Con” (Or Long Game) Is A Scam That Unfolds Over Several Days Or Weeks, Or Even Years.

It may involve one scammer or a team of fraudsters working together (a team), and even props ( such as fake documents), sets (online profiles), extras (extra fake actors), and carefully scripted lines.

It aims to rob the victim of huge sums of money or valuables, often by getting them to empty out banking accounts and borrow from family members.

This type of crime can be done using real identities, impersonation of real people, or fake identities. It varies by the type of crime and many times by the region where it is performed.

Examples of Long Cons

  • Romance scams
  • Lotto scams
  • Product or property purchase scams
  • Blackmail or sextortion scams

Short Cons

There are shorter cons or scams that also follow the model of a long con, such as:

  • Jury duty or arrest scams
  • IRS phone scams
  • Grandparent scams
  • Arrest threat phone scams

Phishing and Ransomware Attacks

Both of these can include elements of a con since both rely heavily on social engineering lures, but these are typically quick reflexive and automated attacks against individuals or organizations.

Relationship Scam

A long con is almost by definition a relationship scam, in that it requires a developing relationship between the scammer and the victim. The relationship not only enables the scam but provides the means to control the victim over time. Additionally, the relationship not only allows the scammer more control and ability to manipulate, but this is also a significant part of the trauma the comes to victims with the discovery of the scam.

Stages of the Long Con

In Confessions of a Confidence Man, Edward H. Smith lists the “six definite steps or stages of growth” of a confidence game.[7] He notes that some steps may be omitted.

  1. FOUNDATION WORK – Preparations are made in advance of the scam, including using the team as required and studying the background knowledge needed for the role. This also includes collecting stolen photos. Purchasing the latest scripts and storylines. Looking at the analysis of successes and failures, to adapt for greater future success. It may also include online training courses. In select cases, such as with Sakawa and Yahoo Yahoo Boys – becoming involved in rituals to give them luck.
  2. APPROACH – the lures are laid out and the victim is approached or contacted. This can be a comment in an online game or a friend or connection request.
  3. BUILD-UP – The victim is given an opportunity to profit from participating in a scheme. The victim’s greed is encouraged, such that their rational judgment of the situation might be impaired. Or the scammer will focus on other desires, such as: attention, love & affection, to be valued, or the need to help someone else
  4. PAY-OFF OR CONVINCER – In romance scams, the scammer proves their attention and affection. In 419 style scams the victims (thinks) they received something of value. In other cases, it might be the threat of losing something of value. Sometimes, the victim receives a small payout as a demonstration of the scheme’s purported effectiveness – this is common in relationship-based investment scams. This may be a real amount of money or faked in some way. In a gambling con, the victim is allowed to win several small bets. In a stock market con, the victim is given fake dividends.
  5. THE “HURRAH” – A sudden manufactured crisis or change of events and forces the victim to act or make a decision immediately. This is the point at which the scam succeeds or fails. With a financial scam, the scammer may tell the victim that the “window of opportunity” to make a large investment in the scheme is about to suddenly close forever. Or, the scammer says they will have to go to jail or need immediate healthcare, or a thousand other scripted emergencies.
  6. THE IN-AND-IN – A conspirator (a scam team member who participates with the scammer but assumes the role of an interested bystander) puts an amount of money into the same scheme as the victim, to add an appearance of legitimacy. This can also be a fake government official, an attorney, etc. This can reassure the victim, and give the scammer greater control when the deal has been completed.
  7. CORROBORATION – In addition, some scams require a “corroboration” step, particularly those involving a fake, but purportedly “rare item” of “great value”. This usually includes the use of an accomplice (team) who plays the part of an uninvolved (initially skeptical) third party, who later confirms the claims made by the con man. This is not common in romance scams but frequently occurs with typical 419 Advance Fee Fraud schemes.

All of the above stages are critical moments where the scammer or fraudster or con artist can employ psychological manipulation to control the victim.

Vulnerability Factors

Confidence tricks and scams exploit typical human characteristics of needs & desires, such as: greed, dishonesty, vanity, opportunism, lust, compassion, credulity, irresponsibility, desperation, and naïvety.

As such, there is no consistent profile of a relationship scam victim; the common factor is simply that the victim relies on the good faith of the scammer.

Victims of investment scams tend to show an incautious level of greed and gullibility, and many scammers target the elderly and other people thought to be vulnerable, using various forms of scams.

Victims of romance scams tend to show a greater need for attention, affection, demonstration of worth and value, and simply being listened to.

Scammers Succeed In Inducing Judgment Errors

Mainly errors arising from imperfect information and cognitive biases. In popular culture and among professional scammers, the human vulnerabilities that they exploit are depicted as ‘dishonesty’, ‘greed’, and ‘gullibility’ of the marks. Dishonesty, often represented by the expression ‘you can’t cheat an honest man’, refers to the willingness of marks to participate in unlawful acts, such as rigged gambling and embezzlement. Greed, the desire to ‘get something for nothing, is a shorthand expression of victim’ beliefs that too-good-to-be-true gains are realistic. Gullibility reflects beliefs that marks are ‘suckers’ and ‘fools’ for entering into costly voluntary exchanges. Judicial opinions occasionally echo these sentiments.

However, we know that victims are far more complex than the typical stereotypes and that their motivations for connecting with a scammer are more than the simplistic desires.

Accomplices, team members, fellow scammers, also known as shills, help manipulate the victim into accepting the perpetrator’s plan. In a traditional confidence trick, the mark (victim) is led to believe that he will be able to win money or receive some benefits by doing some task. In romance scams, there are family members or other actors that come into the scam to further convince the victim of the benefits of continuing. The accomplices may pretend to be strangers who have benefited from performing similar tasks in the past, or business associates, professionals (lawyers or doctors), or family members (such as parents or children).

Summary

Scammers, fraudsters, or con men (or women) all follow certain models for how they conduct their scams. They specialize in certain types (usually) because of the complexity of their schemes and the amount of knowledge required to successfully execute them.

They do display a significant weakness though when they engage multiple victims. It is very difficult to maintain continuity between multiple victims without letting anything slip. However, when they do, they will employ additional amygdala hijacks and gaslighting to sweep it away.