The Nefarious Con Artist
A Look Inside the "Confidence Game"
The world’s law of human nature: There is absolutely, indisputably, no way you will be successful unless you are noticed, accepted, admired, complimented, pursued, and esteemed.
There are nefarious human beings who understand basic human psychology. Con man Simon Lovell once said, “I can spot someone’s weakness a mile away. In any room I can pick out the best target.” They know what to say, how to say it, and how to make it seem legitimate. They are pros at identifying a victim. Using empathy and rapport, they play on her desires to get what they want by building a strong emotional foundation. That foundation is laid before any scheme is set into motion.
None of us are immune to manipulators, exploiters, and con artists. Our only defense is to become more savvy about the system and learn how they play their games. Linda Smith wrote, “Predators are growing craftier and more brazen, stalking and deceiving and luring unsuspecting girls ... even from tight-knit faith communities.” If we remain in denial, we will be taken advantage of.
As there is no single profile of men who are abusers, there is no single profile of men (or women!) who are pimps or traffickers. Let me begin by saying, life experiences, mental illness, drugs, greed, environment, and dysfunctional role-modeling can turn out damaged and violent people, and generate darkness and exploitation. Regardless of why they are the way they are; the fact is they live among us.
Anyone who makes money off the commercial sexual exploitation of another person is “pimping” the person. It could be a pornographer, a member of organized crime, a business owner of a strip club, brothel, escort service, or massage parlor, even a parent. Many pimps are shrewd, calculating businessmen and permeate every aspect of pop culture. Like bloodhounds, pimps are great at sniffing out vulnerable children, identifying their needs, and then providing the solution. Kindness and attention are the bait; a few meals, rides in his fancy car, maybe a new outfit or manicure, and the emotional foundation is set. The victim thinks he cares and she wants to please him. He knows that once she crosses the line for the first time, it will be hard for her to go back.
The Confidence Game
Pimps and traffickers are con artists. The word “con” comes from the word “confidence.” To them, it’s a “confidence game,” states psychologist Maria Konnikova, author of The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It … Every Time. The “confidence game” is about our need to believe and to hope. Belief I can live “the good life;” hope that I’ll be happier, richer, healthier, loved, accepted, prettier, smarter (a deeper more fulfilled human being). Dr. Konnikova has years of experience profiling con artists. She wrote,
“The confidence game is an exercise in trust, sympathy, and persuasion. The true con artist doesn’t force us to do anything. He doesn’t steal. We give. He doesn’t have to threaten us. We supply the story ourselves. We believe because we want to, not because anyone made us...The con artist will find those things where your belief is unshakable and will build on that foundation to subtly change the world around you.” By the time things begin to look bad, we tend to be so heavily invested emotionally, and often physically, that we talk ourselves out of getting out.
The Best-Laid Trap
For con artists, the process of sizing up who someone is, what they’re made of, what they desire—it’s their livelihood. One of their great skills is to discern details of a victims’ life. They use those details to impress and groom the victim. One entry point is all that is required. All a con needs to do is successfully connect with a victim on a social network.
“Con artists are...human beings, with malicious intentions,” wrote Dr. Konnikova. “These people don’t care; they’re indifferent to our pain they cause, as long as they end up on top. … By lacking the emotional experiences that serve to deter immoral behavior, and by using deception and manipulation, these individuals may be able to successfully cheat their way through life.”
Governing our reality are two systems, one emotional and one rational. And the two don’t play by the same game rules. Emotion can be activated quite easily. As the con earns her trust he gets her to give up more information—to open up to him in ways she wouldn’t normally. Once her emotions have been captured, the con artist is able to identify what she wants and feels.
What I have just laid out are what psychologists call “identifiers.” Here are some more identifiers:
Cons are attuned to cravings for attention and affirmation
Cons pick up on body language, such as slouching or lack of eye contact
Cons know the victim’s name. This makes her feel important to that person.
Every trap is specifically tailored for the victim. After the victim’s defenses are lowered, then the hook (the persuasive pitch) comes out based on the lie, You deserve more! He convinces her that he is the perfect person for the so-called job.
Cons are after power. A con artist will make her feel powerful and in control.
Cons isolate their victims and keep on the move. They maintain a certain mystery to avoid being discovered.
God Gets Angry Too
God is love, but there are things that make Him angry. Romans 1:18 tells us, “God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, evil men who push away the truth from them” (TLB). He gets angry at injustice and willful disobedience. There are many examples of God expressing His anger. There are certain behaviors God hates. Proverbs 6:16–19 lists seven:
- Haughty (means proud, arrogant, overly conceited) eyes.
- A lying tongue.
- Hands that shed innocent blood.
- A heart that devises wicked schemes.
- Feet quick to rush into evil.
- A false witness who pours out lies.
- A man who stirs up dissension among brothers.
If these characteristics make God mad, then they should make us mad too. This is righteous, controlled, and purposeful anger. The difference between God’s anger and man’s is that God’s anger is intended to correct or stop destructive and evil behavior. It is not selfish, but an expression of His love and concern.
Just as a parent becomes angry at anything that would hurt their children, so God’s anger is directed at that which would harm His created and their relationship with Him. For example, He said to the Israelites, “In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you” (Isaiah 54:8).
The God Who Loves
Does God love the Judas Iscariots and the pimps and con artists of the world? This is a common question. It is hard to reconcile the idea of God loving His enemies with the following texts:
Psalm 7:11: “God is angry with the wicked every day.”
Psalm 26:5: “I have hated the assembly of evil doers.”
Scripture clearly says God is love (1 John 4:8). God loves all people, but He doesn’t always love what they do. We know from Scripture that God’s desire is, “… not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). We must recognize that God loves the pimp, trafficker, and John. While we believe Scripture’s standards are quite high, we also believe the Bible compels us to see all people as God’s children, made in His image. They too are most often victims of abuse themselves.
Consider Christ’s command: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:44-45). The implication is that God loves His enemies. He loves both “the evil and the good,” both “the righteous and the unrighteous” in precisely the same way we are commanded to love and pray for our enemies.
Let’s not forget that God is in the business of transforming people, even evil wicked people. The question is not whether the pimp or con can change, but does he desire to change and will he actually be transformed? There is no question that a desire to change is a requirement. There is always hope. Meanwhile, we have an obligation to pray for their souls.
For more on “The Nefarious Con Artist,” read Deadly Love: Confronting the Sex Trafficking of Our Children by Kimberly Davidson. Shared with permission.