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Con artists are out to get you

Published September 21. 2013 09:00AM

I was performing a card trick for an activities person I met at a resort earlier this year. Basically I pulled out three cards and had him shuffle a deck and deal a pile onto the table. When he stopped, I had him pick up that pile of cards and to deal them into three piles. When he finished, we turned over the top card of each pile and as he exposed the cards, I turned over the predictions and each matched in color and suit.

In other words, the top card was a red 10 and I turned over the other red 10 from my trio of cards. This happened and worked for all three cards. He was quite impressed, but it led us into a conversation about grifting and hustling.

My newfound friend is a reformed pool hustler. He told me his conscience started bothering him so he no longer hustled to make a living, but he pointed out that he would build the mark's confidence up in his game and when the money was down on the table, then he would run the balls and win the games. This led us to discuss other types of gambling games and in a world as desperate as today, people are looking to make an easy score. This makes it all too easy to be scammed.

I'm a magician and not a con artist. I feel morally obligated as a magician to expose these cons whenever possible.

My friend talked about this acquaintance who was always playing and making major money at the Three Card Monte otherwise known as "Find the Lady". This is the old hustle in which the conman will show a red queen and two black aces. He turns the cards face down and mixes them on the table asking the mark (that would be you) where the lady is. Almost without fail, the mark will select the wrong card, but not at first. The first few times, the grifter will let the mark win until he has a decent size bankroll. At that point the grifter will offer up double or nothing or a similar type of wager in an "attempt to get his money back." It is at this point, the grifter plays his con and switches the cards so that the mark loses all the money he won plus at least as much from his or her personal bankroll.

One may wonder if that is the case, why in the world someone would play cards with an unsavory character like that to its inevitable conclusion. Would it not make sense to quit early while you were holding the grifter's money and leave the game? The answer is it would not matter. The grifter probably is not working alone and the minute the mark would leave or attempt to leave the game, he would get to around the point where the mark is out of sight and out of hearing range and other members of the racket would jump him , beat him senseless and steal back the money plus whatever else the mark had in his or her own pocket. There is no way to win when the fix is underway.

Con artists would make fantastic magicians because the best ones have incredible sleight of hand skills. I once witnessed a video tape from a store in which two women scammed the cashier out of $580 by stealing it directly out of her drawer. As the women talked to her and directed her attention away from the drawer, the older one boldly reached into the drawer and removed the twenties which were clipped together. She folded them in half and only unfolded half of them while the other half she spirited into her purse. It took me three views to see what had totally happened. It was classic misdirection and excellent sleight of hand. Unfortunately she wasn't a magician, she was a con artist, but she was impressive.

One must always be on their guard when it comes to scams and educate themselves as much as possible in order to protect themselves. There is no free ride in this world and many times it is pure folly to believe something too good to be true really is.

We are not just talking about the person stealing money from a bar or hustling a pool game. Con games go on at all levels of our society from the hoodwinked pool player to the people of the country who listen to people who feed them misinformation to control them. One must always think critically and question everything today. Those who do not think for themselves ignore this advice at their own peril.

It's sad to say that our society is this way in the norm and not the exception. Still there are pockets of decent people in the world. The problem is they are not as plentiful as we would like.

So in parting this week, I would ask you as I asked him to not accept things at face value and think for yourself especially if you believe the person trying to put one over on you has a motivation. If you do not, then you only have yourselves to blame.

Til next time…

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