Confidence trick

A confidence trick is an attempt to defraud a person or group after first gaining their trust. Confidence tricks exploit victims using their credulity, naïveté, compassion, vanity, irresponsibility, and greed. Researchers have defined confidence tricks as "a distinctive species of fraudulent conduct... intending to further voluntary exchanges that are not mutually beneficial", as they "benefit con operators at the expense of their victims ".


Synonyms include con, confidence game, confidence scheme, ripoff, scam, and stratagem. The perpetrator of a confidence trick is often referred to as a confidence man, con-artist, or a "". Samuel Thompson was the original "confidence man". Thompson was a clumsy swindler who asked his victims to express confidence in him by giving him money or their watch rather than gaining their confidence in a more nuanced way. A few people trusted Thompson with their money and watches. Thompson was arrested in July 1849.
Reporting about this arrest, Dr. James Houston, a reporter of the New York Herald, publicized Thompson by naming him the "Confidence Man". Although Thompson was an unsuccessful scammer, he gained the reputation as a genius operator mostly because Houston's satirical tone wasn't understood as such. The National Police Gazette coined the term "confidence game" a few weeks after Houston first used the name "confidence man".
A confidence trick is also known as a con game, a con, a scam, a grift, a hustle, a bunko, a swindle, a flimflam, a gaffle, or a bamboozle. The intended victims are known as marks, suckers, stooges, mugus, rubes, or gulls. When accomplices are employed, they are known as shills.

Short and long cons

A short con or "small con" is a fast swindle which takes just minutes. It typically aims to rob the victim of everything in his wallet.
A "long con" or "big con" is a scam that unfolds over several days or weeks; it may involve a team of swindlers, and even props, sets, extras, costumes, and scripted lines. It aims to rob the victim of huge sums of money or valuables, often by getting him or her to empty out banking accounts and borrow from family members.

Stages of the con

In Confessions of a Confidence Man, Edward H. Smith lists the "six definite steps or stages of growth" of a confidence game. He notes that some steps may be omitted.
;Foundation work
;Pay-off or convincer
;The "hurrah"
;The in-and-in
In addition, some games require a "corroboration" step, particularly those involving a fake, but purportedly "rare item" of "great value". This usually includes the use of an accomplice who plays the part of an uninvolved third party, who later confirms the claims made by the con man.

Vulnerability factors

Confidence tricks exploit typical human characteristics such as greed, dishonesty, vanity, opportunism, lust, compassion, credulity, irresponsibility, desperation, and naïvety. As such, there is no consistent profile of a confidence trick victim; the common factor is simply that the victim relies on the good faith of the con artist. Victims of investment scams tend to show an incautious level of greed and gullibility, and many con artists target the elderly, but even alert and educated people may be taken in by other forms of a confidence trick. Researchers Huang and Orbach argue:
Accomplices, also known as shills, help manipulate the mark into accepting the perpetrator's plan. In a traditional confidence trick, the mark is led to believe that he will be able to win money or some other prize by doing some task. The accomplices may pretend to be strangers who have benefited from performing the task in the past.

In films