The term “confidence tricks” comes to mind when someone attends a fair or exhibition, where many games of chance, notably the shell game, are confidence tricks. Over time, this simple game has escalated into many more complex and intricate scams that have taken people in, resulting in them losing money and damaging their self-esteem.
A confidence trick is an attempt to defraud someone or a group, by first getting them to trust the trickster. In other words, the goal is to gain their trust and confidence. The fraudster may work alone or with others, and their main goal is to take advantage of people’s weaknesses, such as compassion, vanity, greed, stupidity and/or irresponsibility. Whatever the target is, it is typically of more value than what the confidence trickster offers in return.
“Confidence man” first appeared in the English language in 1849 in the news coverage of the trial of William Thompson. Thompson would chat up marks, ask them if they had the confidence to loan him their watch or other personal items, and then walk off with the booty. The police apprehended him when a victim spotted him on the street.
Today’s confidence tricks tally up to a very long list of nefarious activities that include, but are not limited to: salting, the Nigerian scam, infomercial manipulation, cons by wire, missionary scam, romance scam, fortune telling fraud, coin collection, pig in a poke, white van speaker, Thai gem, and so on.