The "con" in the phrase "con artist" is short for confidence. They earn your trust and before you know it, your life savings are gone with the wind. Since con artists are experts at gaining your confidence, how do you recognize one before you fall for one of their scams? Here are some guidelines to help you uncover their ploy, along with examples for some common scams.
Ask how they got your name. If they can't give you a good answer, they probably got it out of a phonebook, or through another one of their current victims.
Get it in writing. Con artists don't like putting their scams in writing, and might try to say they don't have time to do so.
Ask them to talk to your attorney, financial advisor, or accountant. A con artist will tell you they don't have the time, or they'll take down the contact info and but never make contact at all.
Request references. Ask to speak with several people who have already completed transactions with this person and seen results. Search for the names and numbers in the phonebook or on the Internet to make sure they're real people. Don't accept testimonials as a substitute.
Ignore pressure to act immediately. A con artist will try to convince you that you have to act right now or else you'll miss your golden opportunity. However, if the good deal is not going to be available tomorrow, then it's not worth the risk.
Check if any complaints have been filed against this person.
Look out for red flags. If you've already entered into a transaction with someone, keep an eye out for the following warning signs:
Secrecy - Are you asked not to tell anyone?
Cash only - Many (but not all) con artists don't like to be paid by check because it leaves a paper trail.
Jackpot just around the corner - The con artist is stringing you along while he or she collects more money from you (e.g. "Any day now...). Your own denial might allow this procrastination to go on far longer than common sense would allow, because you don't want to face the possibility that you've been duped.
Procrastination turns into intimidation - When your patience runs thin and you begin to question the con artist's credibility, you may end up getting treated like a traitor, or even a fool. They might try to intimidate you so you'll stick around until they can flee with the money. (E.g. "You're as guilty as I am in this.")
Know your own weaknesses. These are the characteristics and situations that con artists most often exploit:
Desperation regarding money (e.g. heavily indebted, business financial problems)
Being unhappy with your life, and a tendency to look for a "quick fix"
Falling in love (If a new romantic interest wants you to throw in your lot with theirs, get a second opinion! Ask your family and professionals for their advice.)
home improvement - repairs or improvements you don't need
bank - false bank examiner; the con artist asks the victim (usually an older widow) to test the honesty of employees by withdrawing substantial funds, which are given to the con artist for "examination". The victim is given a fake receipt and the con artist disappears with the cash.
investment - franchises, vending machines, land frauds, theft of inventions, securities investments, work-at-home