Monday, July 12, 2010

Genius…evil, but genius.

I've always been fascinated by conmen. I'm not talking about the guys who try to sell people a couple of cinderblocks in a high-end TV or speaker box or email some old granny while claiming to be a displaced Nigerian prince. I'm talking about the 'Big Store' cons that are so intricate and clever that they almost stop being a crime and become something more like art.

For example, one of my favorite cons is something that's incredibly simple, but super effective and you have to give props to the sort of mind that could think it up.

Here's the scam:

You send a mass email out to 500 people, claiming to have 'inside information' for predicting the outcome of sporting events (and make vague allusions to the possibility of match fixing). You pick a game and send 250 of the people a tip that Team A is going to win, and send the other 250 a tip that Team B is going to win.

Then, you take the 250 people who received the winning tip and split them into two groups of 125. You send one group a tip that Team C is going to win, and the other group a tip that Team D is going to win.

Then, you do it again with another sporting event.

What you end up with is a group of 60 people who have received three winning tips on the run. Now that you've 'proven' your system works, you offer them a fourth tip…only this time it isn't free, it costs $500 dollars.

Even if only three or four people out of that remaining 60 are willing to pay you for the next tip, you've made around two grand for sending an email.

Of course, you can take it further. If enough people are willing to pay you the first time round, you can still split them up into two groups and carry on. With four correct tips in a row (and, of course, a healthy win from gambling on the game), next time you can charge even more. Plus, even if the next game loses, the 'system' might not be bulletproof any more, there are people still willing to pay for a tip that's four for five.

As usual, the beauty of this con is that even if the victim realizes they've been duped, there's little they can do about it. They can't exactly call the police and claim to have been cheated by someone who charged them for illegal information (which there's a high chance they used to make an illegal bet).

So, the moral is simple. If you get an email claiming to have rock-solid information on an upcoming game, ignore it, even if you get three correct tips in a row.

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