Con Artists Have A Conscience, Too

con artist

This guy artist wasn't so slick. He got caught wine-handed. Troy Holden/flickr hide caption

itoggle caption Troy Holden/flickr

For longer than I'd like to admit, I worked in the clothing retail industry for part of high school and college. The job was pretty simple — fold clothes, greet customers, ring them up, sell credit cards. And most of my colleagues were fun to be around. But the one thing that excited me the most was when we nabbed a con artist.

These guys or gals weren't shoplifters per se. Yet, they always came in with the same sob story: "But the sweater cost $20 less yesterday" ... "I promise that I didn't wear these pants yet! Any chance to make a sales associate look like a horrible person in front of other shoppers brought the masters of deception one step closer to a done deal.

Leave it to the managers to thwart the enemy. After all, they were always pressing us to keep the store's numbers up. Through training DVDs, we learned ways of spotting "suspicious" shoppers — scoping out their paths through the store, the types of bags they carried, and observing how they handled their business with the cashiers. Whenever we caught someone in the act (which was few and far between), I always wondered how they came up with their seemingly elaborate schemes.

That's why I was pleasantly surprised to come across Jason Jellick's tell-all account of his amateur con artist schemes in Salon the other day. The fact that he accomplished so much on his own is fascinating to me.

Why is Jellick such a good con artist? Leave it to Mother Dearest to start him off on the right path.

Her defining scam was the Christmas special, when, on the day after Christmas, she'd gather up the presents from under the tree and return them to the stores along with the masses — poor Mommy forced to return all of her thoughtful gifts. But unlike most of those people, she'd circle back to the stores (once the shift change had taken effect) and repurchase those same presents for vastly reduced prices.

From retail stores, to gyms he didn't even have memberships to, to book stores, Jellick was all about the quick 'n dirty deals. He succeeded at conning, due to his knack of channeling the right type of characteristics:

I discovered that if you called the front desk of a certain five-star hotel and told them that every time you turn on the TV you were assaulted by images of pornography — and your wife is pregnant and she doesn't want to see this crap, for Chrissakes — they'll gladly upgrade you to a suite at no extra charge. But what I really learned is that people will believe just about anything you tell them, if you channel the right persona.

Jellick was always about conning "the man," or big companies in this case. But one day,  he realized that:

... they may have been individuals working for large corporations with deep pockets, but they were also people, real people who trusted me, whose paycheck might have been docked if the registers didn't add up correctly, or if anyone ever caught on. I'd been screwing with these poor people for years, never once considering that my actions could have a direct impact on them. I'm sure I've been responsible for more than one firing or demotion, and that is not something I can make right with some twisty moral rationalizing.

I don't want to ruin the rest for you, since Jellick's story is filled with cliffhangers, so feel free to read on for the rest. The encounter at the hotel will leave you on the edge of your seat.

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