Home Advice & How-ToSafety 15 Signs You’re Dealing with a Con Artist
Home Advice & How-ToSafety 15 Signs You’re Dealing with a Con Artist

15 Signs You’re Dealing with a Con Artist

by Nick Marshall

If there’s one thing that scammers, con artists and hustlers are counting on, it’s that most of us still believe we can spot fraud from a mile away.  The statistics suggest otherwise.  More than 2.1 million Americans reported fraud in 2020, and that’s just the ones who admitted to falling victim to online scams and similar ruses.  So what is a con artist and how can you distinguish them from a genuine salesperson, business partner or even romantic date?  Look out for these 15 common signs of a scammer. 

1. They Seem To Appear From Nowhere

One of the characteristics of con artists is that they turn up seemingly out of the blue — at least for you, that is.  They’ve probably done their research and marked your card well in advance.  But when they appear at your door or in your email inbox, it seems natural and coincidental, with a pretext or story ready-prepared to back it up. 

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2. The Name’s Other…A.N. Other

It’s no surprise that con artists rarely use their real names.  Serial con artist Samantha Azzopardi, for example, operated under assumed names in Australia, Canada and Ireland, claiming to be a Swedish royal and Russian gymnast along the way.  So even if someone has given you a business card, run a search online for the given name.  If no registered addresses or social media accounts show up, you might well have a con artist on your hands.

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3. Dressing the Part

Appearances can be deceiving.  British journalist Mazher Mahmood managed to dupe royals and celebrities by posing as the “Fake Sheikh.”  Less sophisticated scammers can trick their victims with a flashy suit, expensive accessories or even a fake badge or uniform.  The key question to ask is whether the image matches the backstory.  Suits can be hired, uniforms stolen and watches counterfeited, but if the person has “forgotten their wallet” yet again, something doesn’t add up. 

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4. Unfamiliar Address

Online con artists in particular will often use a business address that is not only familiar but also impressive.  In fact, the address listed on their card or website is either bogus or simply a mail drop that doesn’t match a physical address.  Running a reverse search of their phone number or the address they gave you on Spokeo should reveal whether they are legitimate or not.  A quick search on Google StreetView can even suffice. 

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5. They Are Often Unreachable

Your new acquaintance or business contact calls you relentlessly, but when you try to call them you either go straight to voicemail or can’t get through at all.  That’s probably because the number they are using is not theirs.  Con artists can hide their real number through VoiP software or withhold Caller ID features.  Reverse lookup their number to find out who’s really calling you. 

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6. Urgency and Pressure

According to legendary con artist turned security consultant Frank Abagnale, a clear red flag that you’re dealing with a con artist is that the offer is urgent, exclusive or based on a hot tip, rumor or inside information.  The person won’t give you time to breathe, even if the pressure is applied with charm and apparent concern.  Ask for time to think it over and discuss the offer with friends for a clue to the con artist’s real intentions. 

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7. Overly Friendly and Empathetic

Con artists use conventional sales techniques for their own wicked ends.  It doesn’t matter if the context is business or romantic; if the person seems to remember your name after meeting you one time, recalls an impressive level of detail from your conversations, and is able to zero in on you with disarming focus, be suspicious.  By itself, of course, excessive friendliness is hardly a smoking gun, but not if it’s supported by other concerns. 

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8. Storytime…

Con artists not only have highly developed interpersonal skills, but they can also spin a convincing yarn.   Extroverts by nature, they seem to have a story for everything, and deliver their patter so fast it leaves you breathless.  That makes them easier to catch out, however, by using a simple police interrogation technique.  Ask them to repeat a story they told you recently and check that the details match.  Even the best con artists will struggle to keep track of their lies without slipping up.  

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9. Name Dropping

Leveraging the psychological trick of social proof, con artists will often drop names to add legitimacy or authority to their story.  They may claim to know influential people or to be connected to you through a mutual acquaintance.  The only way to confirm is by following up on their references and testimonials, if they have them, of course. 

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10. Catching a Catfish

You’ve received a friend request on social media from someone you don’t know.  There are no mutual connections, the person does not appear to have any genuine followers, and their profile is thin on detail.  Should you accept?  Not without doing a reverse photo lookup of their profile picture.  Catfishing is a common con that starts with a bogus social media profile.  With a few simple tools from Spokeo, it’s easy to expose, however. 

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11. Return to Sender, Address Unknown

Meeting someone for a date in a neutral venue is a sound tactic, but if you’re still in the dark about where a person lives after the fourth or fifth date, for example, you might want to question their authenticity.  If they don’t share their address, or always seem to be on the move, their home might not be the only thing they’re trying to hide.  Run a reverse lookup on their phone number to confirm where they’re calling from.  If the area code doesn’t even match the city, you’re onto something. 

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12. Excuses, Excuses

Their phone is out of battery, they left their wallet at home, or their flight has been delayed.  To keep you off their trail, con artists will use a variety of excuses.  It might be genuine, of course, but if they’re less receptive to any excuses on your part and keep pressuring you into a decision, that’s a sure sign of a con artist. 

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13. Relentless and Impulsive Behavior

Yesterday you didn’t even know each other.  Today they’re showering you with gifts, messages and attention. Suspicious?  It might be flattering, but really short bursts of intense activity are just another hard sales technique.  Whether the goal is to accept a business offer or a romantic one, beware of anyone who won’t let you step back and assess. 

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14. Emotional Blackmail

Some of the most common scams are from con artists who appeal to our empathy, even if the person is a relative stranger.  That’s the feature of the Grandparent Scam, and numerous other online hustles that beg for help.  But faced with a new friend from a foreign country in dire need of assistance, it’s worth questioning why they came to you first and not someone closer to home. 

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15. Mirroring

Using the principle of similarity for persuasion, many con artists will forge a close connection by either mirroring your own gestures and speech patterns or claiming similarities between your life and theirs.  They will list experiences and anecdotal evidence that suggests they are just like you, for example.  The goal is to trigger your empathy and put you at ease when a better tactic is to be on your guard. 

Today’s con artists have a wealth of online and digital tools at their disposal, but most still rely on age-old persuasion and deception techniques.  Luckily, technology works in your favor too.  Use Spokeo’s suite of tools to reveal real identities, expose scams and protect yourself from con artists.