Confidence In The Con

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Those loveable grifters.

hide captionThose loveable grifters.

Source: Universal Studios/Courtesy of Getty Images

The confidence scheme certainly seems like an American obesession — the golden age of grift came courtesy of the Jazz Age — and boy does Hollywood love a huckster. I suppose then, it's no surprise that the latest con to hit the papers is a guy proclaiming himself American Royalty: the peculiar case of Clark Rockefeller, nee Christopher Chichester, nee — I'm not kidding — Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter. For the whole story, read the Boston Globe's excellent reporting — it reads like fiction. What's most fascinating to me is how many people believed him — state senators and Upper East Side art dealers — everybody wanted to believe him. These days, the confidence game is less an art, than a science; a race to see how many people will be trapped by a mass mailing signed by a "Nigerian Prince." It makes me nostalgic for the days of Harold Hill — at least back then, a con cared about the trouble in River City.

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elling her that, since her new husband had started his job at the FBI he would be gone a lot and she would welcome company.

The friend never called back again....

Sent by Christopher Scott Edler | 2:41 PM | 8-28-2008

Right after I was married in New York City, my husband sublet his apartment to an aspiring actor who was involved with an old friend of my husband's.
The actor managed to get access to her bank card, empty her bank account, resublet the apartment and take that money and then he disappeared. My husband owned up to the landlord, who took back the apartment and reset the locks after we had cleaned out the effects of the actor, which included his actor's equity card.
Shortly thereafter, we received a call from his real girlfriend, stating that he was deathly ill and needed his actor's equity card. My husband called the police but got nowhere. Some time after, another "girlfriend" who had been also swindled spotted him on a NYC street and managed to have him arrested, but he was released the following day on the strength of his acting abilities with the D.A. even though a slew of swindled "girlfriends" spoke against him.
He remains in the acting field.

Sent by Patsy Drab | 2:42 PM | 8-28-2008

My father, now deceased, was in the middle of a huge con on Dr. Pat Robertson. He got Robertson to lend him around $600,000

with a piece of "art" as collateral. My father convinced the good Dr. that he himself was an art dealer/appraiser and had appraised the piece of art thoroughly. While this was happening my father and I had been estranged for many years. I had to get involved with this after my father's death, since there were all kinds of lawsuits against his estate and a (faux) business that he had also convinced Robertson to invest in. Long story short, after 8 years, I have finally put everything to rest. But the highlight moment was when Pat called me directly about a year after my father's death. The quote that I will never forget was:

"Lisa, we took the painting to Sotheby's to get it appraised, and apparently my 16th century Velasquez is painted on 20th century canvas. What are you going to do about this?" My immediate reply was "try not to laugh". We weren't very friendly, ever.

I'm kind of proud of Dad... he outconned one of the biggest con men ever. I do get free drinks on this storyJ

Sent by Lisa Knuth | 2:45 PM | 8-28-2008

Some years ago, a friend of mine befriended a taxi driver in San Francisco. The cabbie claimed he owned the company and liked to spend time on the front-line so as not to lose touch. They exchanged information, and a few months later the "cab company owner" called my friend to say he was coming through our town and could he spend a couple of nights with her. My friend said sure. We were excited to meet this charming fellow, who showed up wearing a full-length men's fur coat, was driving a high-end Saab, and was flashing a roll of cash. He told us incredible stories, like his mother being the chairman of the board of directors of Mack Trucks, etc. We had no reason to doubt him. After mooching off my friend for several weeks, awaiting his flight to France where he was going to sailing on the Mediterranean with friends, my friend went through the con's belongings, even finding a book on the art of the con game. My friend had gone to extraordinary lengths to get this con artist set up with a bank loan that she cosigned, a cardiac angiogram with a cardiologist friend, etc. He ran up hundreds of dollars on overseas calls. After doing some research of our own, we found out the Saab was stolen from his boss at the cab company, the coat had been stolen from a NYC hotel (we found a receipt with the owner's name in the pocket and mailed it back to him), and the cash was from a scam insurance claim. We dropped the Saab off at the local police station, then gave this fellow $100 and put him on a train for NYC. We eventually heard that he was busted.

Sent by Linda McLean | 2:54 PM | 8-28-2008

Please remind your listeners to pay particular attention to their elderly loved ones. Not only do they need physical care but they may also need help with making sound financial decisions in order to protect what is often a very limited and fixed retirement income. The elderly are often gullible and trusting which makes them easy targets for financial exploitation. While we may think of this crime being committed only by outsiders, I witnessed this occur to my father after he married a younger woman whom he entrusted with all of his financial affairs. To his financial detriment, she convinced him to borrow against his house which had been mortgage free. Through her skillful and cunning misinformation concerning their financial needs, she manipulated my father, then in his late 80's, and convinced him to sign for loans that were not only unnecessary but the monthly note obligations exceeded their joint income. After she misappropriated the proceeds of the loans, the house had to be sold to satisfy the debt to the bank. Meanwhile, my father was placed in a nursing home to die. His "loving and caring" wife refused to account for the proceeds of the loans, but did acknowledge that perhaps she didn't do a good job of managing their money, HA! Interestingly, during the time they were unable to pay their notes, I along with other friends made the monthly payments to keep my father afloat. While at the same time, her son, was enjoying travel to the Bahamas and other vacations destinations!

Take good care of your parents as they age, they need you. Remember, they took care of you when you couldn't take care of yourself!

Sent by no name given | 3:19 PM | 8-28-2008

I was drained of hundreds of thousands of dollars by a romantic scam artist. He makes a "living" tapping the credit of unsuspecting women who fall in love with him and give him money to back his big "business plans" which turn out to be no more than spending sprees. Rather than hide in my embarrassment, I wrote a book, I Take Thee...How to Spot a Romantic Financial Predator and What to Do if You Are Already Involved (Itakethee.info) in the hope that I can inform and warn to help prevent others from falling victim to this particularly heartbreaking type of con.

Sent by Robin Hoffman | 10:25 PM | 8-28-2008

When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a model desperately. I went to "modeling" school and somehow found a man who could take pictures of me for my "portfolio". My mother came with me while I took what seemed like hundreds of photos. We paid him and he said to come back the next week for the proofs. When I arrived, the entire studio was stripped clean and there was no business in sight! He took the money and ran! It was a very early lesson (I was 13) in street smarts.

Later in my mid-20s, I was desperate for a boyfriend. Met a man online and he lied that he was a "Navy Seal". Later I found out that he had at least 3 different girlfriends in the SF area and that he was a very busy boy.

Just goes to show that you really are most vulnerable when desperate for anything!

Sent by Michelle | 4:46 AM | 8-29-2008

A con artist is more than a con artist. The people who do this have a psychological disorder called psychopathy. They are not motivated primarily by greed, they are motivated by the desire for power and the joy of the get over. Some good sites for victims are www.lovefraud.com and www.faudaid.com

Sent by Liane Leedom | 2:14 PM | 8-29-2008

I was able to avoid a "romantic scam" by keeping my wits about me. I'd been corresponding on-line via a reputable on-line matching service with a "gentleman." He claimed to be travelling to another continent several time zones away, yet his correspondence continued as though he were on CST & he couldn't name the country he was in. Amused, I continued corresponding. It wasn't long before he was "robbed" and asking for money. Needless to say, I didn't write back & alerted the matching service to a problem.

Sent by Kris | 3:29 PM | 8-29-2008

You long for the days of Prof. Harold Hill? Well, cheer up. He's leading the Democratic ticket with seventy-six trombones in the big parade.

Sent by jmm | 6:52 PM | 8-29-2008