Tag Archives: Victor Lustig

On deliberately lousy cons and the (selection) logic behind them

We’ve all had emails from the sons or daughters of Nigerian dictators asking your help to get a load of cash out of the country, with a nice little reward for you yourself.    And then there are the ‘you’ve won the lottery’ ones.  There are variations, all collectively known as advance-fee scams.

If you’re like me (you poor sod), you’ve wondered why they are just SO badly written, so implausible.  Can the crooks behind them be that incompetent? Surely they’d starve.

A good friend whom I visited last week had heard an intriguing hypothesis – that they’re deliberately bad to weed out anyone who isn’t gullible, greedy, desperate or demented (literally) enough.  If your initial con is too plausible, you’ll have thousands of potential marks to wade through.  That costs you time and effort. And time is money.  So, by doing something that only a ggdd person would respond to, you’re setting up a selection pressure, and making your own job easier.

That came to mind when I saw this;



Now that is EPIC in its badness.  I wonder who they catch, if anyone?


On getting conned:  I got done in Amsterdam in 1988, and in Harare in 1992.  Have (as far as I know!) been less conned since. Of course, have been cheated and lied to, but I think I developed better bullshit radar. Of course, that’s what ALL marcs think.  As the saying goes – ‘if you sit down to play poker and you can’t figure out who the sucker around the table is, get up and leave, because it’s you.’

See also the excellent 1952 paper by Erving Goffman “On Cooling the Mark Out” about the sociology of the con.

And google threw up Menand, L. 2015. Crooked psychics and cooling the mark out. The New Yorker,18 June.

On the selling of the Eiffel Tower –  (Victor Lustig)

And wikipedia says –

A set of instructions known as the “Ten Commandments for Con Men”[8] has been attributed to Lustig:

  • Be a patient listener (it is this, not fast talking, that gets a con man his coups).
  • Never look bored.
  • Wait for the other person to reveal any political opinions, then agree with them.
  • Let the other person reveal religious views, then have the same ones.
  • Hint at sex talk, but don’t follow it up unless the other person shows a strong interest.
  • Never discuss illness, unless some special concern is shown.
  • Never pry into a person’s personal circumstances (they’ll tell you all eventually).
  • Never boast – just let your importance be quietly obvious.
  • Never be untidy.
  • Never get drunk.