Confidence trick

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The shell game, one of the oldest and simplest frauds
I, the crown prince of Nigeria, offer you
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Hook, line, and sinker
Totally sounds legit!
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The mean people that do scams, they don't want to give it away. They just buy a house or something, and then they sit there, and they're sad.
—Zeke Faux, who had met many scammers as a journalist[1]:94

A confidence trick, confidence game, or con for short, (also known as a scam or flim flam) is an attempt to intentionally deceive a person or persons (known as the mark) usually with the goal of financial or other gain. The confidence trickster, con man, scam artist, or con artist often works with an accomplice called the shill, who tries to encourage the mark by pretending to believe the trickster. In a traditional con, the mark is encouraged to believe that he will obtain money dishonestly by cheating a third party, and is stunned to find that due to what appears to be an error in pulling off the scam he is the one who loses money; in more general use, the term con is used for any fraud in which the victim is tricked into losing money by false promises of gain.

Confidence tricks in general exploit the inherent greed and dishonesty of their victims; it has been said by confidence tricksters that it was impossible to con a completely honest man. Often, the mark tries to out-cheat the conmen, only to discover that they have been manipulated into this.

Sometimes conmen rely on naive individuals who put their confidence in get rich quick schemes such as 'too good to be true' investments. It may take years for the wider community to discover that such 'investment' schemes are bogus, and usually it is too late as many people have lost their life savings in something they have been confident of investing in. One such famous get rich scheme is the advance fee fraud, also known as the 419 fraud.

Modern examples[edit]

In March 2018, one or more con artists repeatedly impersonated Elon Musk, and other celebrities, in replies to their tweets on Twitter, offering large amounts of Ethereum in return for smaller amounts.[2] This rather obvious "free money" scam is rendered slightly more convincing to gullible Twitter users by the fake Musk accounts looking very similar to Musk's real account, but without the blue tick, and by other accounts (some of them potentially being shills, bots acting as shills, or alternate accounts of the con artist) favoriting the tweet and posting replies with variations on the theme "I tried it and it really works!"

Cryptocurrency payments cannot be subject to chargeback, unlike credit card payments, so the fraudsters are likely just walking away with the funds sent to them.

Phone calls[edit]

One of the most humorous ways people try to run scams is through "robocalls". A robocall is a call that, when left unanswered, sends an automated message to your voice-mail box. These messages usually talk about some vague "debt" that you supposedly owe, such as "tax filings" or "your subscription" to an unspecified service. Other times, the issue is "serious allegations pressed on your name." Remarkably, these callers can never seem to remember the name of the person they are trying to call. As whipped cream on the sundae, such voicemails are rife with threats of being arrested if you don't comply with their every demand, so the only way to avoid prosecution is to call back before any legal action is taken against you. Of course, most people know that the government would send a letter, not a phone call, regarding any problems or late fees on payments such as taxes, and would never fill said letter with intimidating threats of prosecution. Nor are police well known for warning suspects they are on their way to arrest you.

One can receive the exact same phone call on multiple occasions from different area codes, many of which are nowhere near where one even lives. Never mind that you live in Texas and are getting a call from Massachusetts threatening to send the "local cops" after you if you do not call them back immediately (some will be slightly more generous and give you 24 hours to pay up before the coming storm).

As it couldn't be more obvious how bullshit these phone calls can be, all modern robocall voice-mailbox messages are, without exception, spoken in computer-programmed voices, usually the Microsoft Zira and Microsoft David computer voices. If these calls were more rampant in the early 2000's, they'd likely be read by Microsoft Sam; imagine that for a moment (though in the early 2000's, scammers were too busy giving away free laptops and Best Buy gift cards, replaced at the very least the former by last generation iPhones in these years, to the millionth website visitors… every time they return to the same website).

Should you end up wasting your time and actually answering one of these phone-calls, you will be directed to an "official" who will demand you pay… whatever exactly it is that you owe. But there is a specific way to pay your dues, which is to go down to your local Target or Walmart and load the money you owe onto an Apple or Amazon gift card, then send it via post-mail.

Good advice on whether sending money, credit data, gift cards, or any valuables in response to such an appeal can often be had from the United States Postal Service, whose secretive Postal Inspectors typically have the responsibility to investigate mail fraud, wire fraud, and bank fraud. Most scams involve the violation of mail fraud, wire fraud, or bank fraud statutes, for which a large proportion of federal offenders for white-collar crime are convicted. If operating in the United States, the con-artists are often easy to convict in federal courts. Prevention saves much trouble.


  1. Number Go Up: Inside Crypto's Wild Rise and Staggering Fall by Zeke Faux (2023) Crown Currency. ISBN 0593443810.
  2. Twitter says it will stop cryptocurrency scams by removing manipulative accounts