The (Bad) Cons That Men Do
& One Hell of a Clever Woman
If opportunity breeds the thief, con men are born ready. Any seasoned pro will describe an one-trick pony like it’s the Mona Lisa. Or sound it as if it’s rocket science. Just keep an eye on your wallet. Few get away with it, though. For every Ronald Biggs, who robbed a train in 1963, and spent his life in Rio, there’s Andy Thoothmans, who broke into a Kentucky store and came out naked, covered in peanut butter.
There’s the Parachute Jumper, the unknown daredevil who jumped off a plane over the Pacific Northwest in 1971, with a lot of cash. And there’s João dos Santos, caught opening a banking account with a Jack Nicholson picture ID. Still, none is in Sarah Jane Cochrane-Ramseys’ league. She made us all proud turning tables on the notorious brotherhood of Nigerian scammers, by swindling one out of $30,000.
The sudden urge to raid Colltales files for this old post was prompted by the arrest of Geddel Vieira Lima, a former Brazilian government official and personal ally to President Michel Temer. As it goes, he’d had hidden a record breaking $16 million in cash.
Far from the sharpest tool in Temer’s circle, he released a tearful self-produced video. Not to explain the dough, but to thank cops for finding it, because, poor soul, he’d ‘forgotten’ where on earth he’d stashed it.
Fact is, in all crafts, there are highly-skillful artists and ridiculously inept blunderers who’d do everybody a favor switching professions. Point taken. But if you rob people for a living, while keep failing at it so spectacularly, a simple change of trade may not be enough to get you anywhere.
It’s another story for those who succeed. Even when they’ve never heard of Victor Lustig and his 10 Commandments for Con Artists, those are the ones who show a particular streak of sociopathology as to make them both incredibly talented at deceiving everyone around, and often times, very likable chaps too.
Some professions are actually text-book examples of such double standard. Wall Street is full of financial wizards whose amorality and disregard for rules are routinely rewarded with obscene personal wealth. Politicians and security experts too, with the added aspect that they can be either legit or criminal or both. And technology hackers are always looking for opportunities within the industries they hack.
Such is the nature of the beast, that often society is eager to incarcerate the inept and reward the clever. Persecute the meek but let the friend-of-a-friend walk. Go after the messenger but ignore (more)
* The Far Out Report
* Beautiful Bandit
* Police Blotter
the message. These days, there’s one too many foxes guarding the chicken coop; far too many lamb-attired wolves for comfort. It’s too easy for snakes to slither at will in the grass under your feet.
For this seems to be a time that one almost feels sorry for many a thin-skinned, garden-variety thief, who should have known better not to mess around with such a high-risk, albeit not devoid of temptations, occupation. For those left with a moral compass, though, it makes no difference whether one gets caught or a free pass. At the end of the day, we hate both for thinking that they could, even when failing, regardless if they succeed.
THE DUMB & DUMBER AWARD
“He was an outstanding young man,” someone close to Toothman said of him, but we’re glad they used the past tense. What’s not clear, though, is what was he trying to rob inside the grocery store, and how come he emerged covered in chocolate and peanut butter and wearing nothing but black boots? It no longer seem to matter. His family is brokenhearted, for sure, but at least where he’s going to he won’t be allowed to wear those boots.
The Brazilian forgery amateur may have won this senseless race, though. Not just for having picked, as his official pic, that of a three-time Oscar winner in the same month of the academy ceremony. But, at 41, for not resembling at all the world-known mug he used on the ID , and for, actually, being more than 30 years his junior. Besides, of course, not preventing Temer and his friend from joining him on the Hall of Shame so many years later. Oh, by the way, his banking application was rejected.
THE WOMAN WHO BEAT NIGERIA
By now, a huge percentage of Americans have been informed about their good fortune: someone needs to get rid of an enormous amount of unclaimed cash and all they need is a valid U.S. banking account, so they can transfer the funds. It turns out, we’re not the only ones who’ve been targets for years by what most law enforcement agencies believe comes from some kind of variation of Nigerian cons’ trademark get-rich-quick scheme.
Well, Cochrane-Ramsey decided she was not falling for it, and would make a little extra cash out of her anonymous would-be racketeer. One way or another (or you think we’re giving you details of how she did it?), she convinced them to send her the money, which she promptly moved away from the account she’d set for the transaction, and not only the eight percent they’d agreed she would get to keep.
She was, however, arrested and prosecuted by Australian authorities, since it became clear that she’d used some of her own less-than-noble tactics, to retain the illicit cash. But victims from all walks of life have applauded her gutsy counterpunch, no doubt, thinking about all the money they one day dreamed it’d come nice and easily for them. As Judge Judy would put it, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. But tell that to the Nigerian guy (who remains at large).
ONE TALENTED MR. LUSTIG
Victor Lustig was an Austrian-Hungarian immigrant who studied for years would-be robbers and entrepreneurs of the criminal kind. He became legendary even during his lifetime, for having talked his way into gangster Al Capone, gained his trust and swindled the sanguinary Capo out of five grand. And more: he was not killed by him (or anyone else; he died in prison of pneumonia in 1947).
It’s unclear whether he’d heard of New Yorker George C. Clarke, a man who spent his life trying to sell public landmarks to the unaware, and many times, succeed at it. But before arriving in Chicago, Lustig tried his hand at the scheme twice, managing to ‘sell’ the Eiffel Tower once, and evading altogether jail time, when he was exposed trying to sell it again.
His greatest contribution to the arts of evil and conniving skills, though, was his 10 Commandments of the Con Artist, a masterpiece of razor-sharp observation of the human folly wrapped in a set of highly-evolved and subtle tips to explore the gullibility of strangers.
* 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.
THE TWO THAT GOT AWAY
Ronnie Biggs was not even the leader of the famous Great Train Robbery. That was a never-identified character known as ‘the Ulsterman.’ But Biggs was the one whose face became known worldwide. That didn’t prevent him from escaping to Brazil, where he lived for several decades as a minor celebrity and from where he only returned to England voluntarily in 2001. He was released for medical reasons a few years later and has faced several health ailments. Before he passed away, in 2013, he apologized for the robbery, but the money stolen was never completely recovered.
The mystery of ‘DB Cooper,’ the robber who extorted $200 thousand from the FBI and dove in the dark from an airliner to never be found, remains unsolved. Recently reports attempted to identify him but proof remains elusive. The marked money has never resurfaced anywhere in the world, either, except for a small amount found buried on the banks of the Columbia River. Even though the bureau has speculated that he could not have survived the harsh conditions of the wilderness between the Washington and Oregon states where he presumably landed, his case is officially still open.
In both cases, there were factors such as planning, drive, a huge amount of luck, and happenstance that may have been crucial for them to succeed. But it’s questionable whether it’d be worthwhile for anyone without the specific kind of mindset and personality needed to undergo such a gruesome enterprise to what is, after all, moderate chunks of cash. To be honest, living as fugitive, even in Rio de Janeiro, would never do it for us. Would knowing that a whole government agency was eager to close a file on you, by any means necessary, make you, well, confess? Please don’t answer that.
Originally Published on Aug. 15, 2011.