How To Understand Con Artist Psychology

How a collective understanding of con artist psychology could prevent catastrophe.

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In the documentary, My Online Nightmare, UK doctor, Liz Todd, outlines her romantic ordeal with barrister Chris Haynes.

Seemingly altruistic and genuine, Chris skewed himself toward whatever Liz had in her profile.

She had status and money, so he said he was a lawyer. Liz didn't want an alpha muscly type, so Chris was demure and non-stereotypical.

After only just a few months of dating, Liz and Chris were in an exclusive English manor home. Chris paid for everything. He offered to pay for all the new refurbishments and already paid the bond and rent.


Eventually, builders started asking for payment.

To her horror, Liz saw a mugshot of Chris online. He said he was framed by one of his clients for accepting a bribe and was imprisoned.

He pledged to pay for the renovations, before subsequently running away with £150,000.

He was indeed a con artist, wanted for previously defrauding two other women in Britain.

Silly girl, Liz. If only she didn't cave to the spontaneity and charms of online con artist, Chris Smith.

But seemingly spontaneous, practiced psychological strategies form a con artist's repertoire.

That's according to eminent psychologist and author of The Confidence Game, Maria Konnikova. "A con artist's method of control has already been tried and tested, so they become experts at duping others."


RELATED: 14 Warning Signs Someone Is Scamming You Online

Here are the three phases of a swindle, as explained by Konnikova:

1. The con artist gets to know you

As discussed in The Psychology of the Con: How Not to Get Fooled, the first phase is where the con artist gets to know you.

Much of your disposition is explored and you're also unwittingly being read.

Swift superficial connection is often a red flag, though abusive relationships can take years before they manifest.

2. The con artist gains your trust

The second phase, as discussed in this video, is gaining trust to conceal future intentions.

Konnikova describes this as "the hook." 

The perpetrator gains trust by demonstrating the complete opposite of what they intend — a gesture of love, the right words, even giving money and buying stuff.


The first two phases lend themselves to normalcy. Healthy relationships also form this way, making sinister intentions much harder to pick.

3. The con artist makes you question yourself

Konnikov's third phase is the most confusing.

As dialectical behaviors appear through various gestures, it is so difficult to tell what they symbolize. This makes us question ourselves.

This sort of shocking disjuncture has an uncanny parallel to abusive and or violent relationships.

RELATED: 15 Relationship Red Flags You Should Never, Ever Ignore

Social media can be blamed as a partial conduit.

Intimate personalities stream into our homes despite vast distance and secrecy. Anyone can operate in a social vacuum, which gives abusers much leeway to usurp an avatar.


The popular internet romance show, Catfishgives testimony to this existential conundrum.

Meaning to court someone with a false identity, creator of the show, Nev Schulman, was once a catfish victim himself. By seeking redress between parties, he unpacks much of the lies perpetrators spin in order to scam the unsuspecting.

Unfortunately, most of the information we get about potentially abusive situations is largely relegated to the internet or the occasional media story. Yet scamming people has become cliche. By educating the community at large, others can at least witness and observe abusers.

Abusers often keep their plight secret for fear of repercussion or embarrassment.


In fact, that's a way to swindle victims.

Embarrassed about being perceived as gullible, victims of all kinds of deception, often don't tell anyone about their ordeal. Thus, the abuser leverages impunity.

All the above dispels the myth that victims are credulous and stupid.

Rather, it's the thrill of pursuit and eventual conversion of those savvy, that provides an immense rush or which poses a challenge to the con artist.

Ignoring the signs

Despite growing awareness of how cons proliferate, the law does not always protect victims of dangerous and fraudulent relationships.

Stalking — culminating in murder — has become so epidemic that an American task force has been set up to identify and resolve it.


According to the Stalking Prevention, Awareness and Resource Centre, currently, 76% of intimate partner femicides, were proceeded by stalking in the previous year. 

While the entertainment show, Stalked: Someone's Watching might seem like escapist fluff, it gives incredible insight into the litany of laws that have undergone revision in order to be mandated.

Too numerous to mention, stalking can only be summarized as a legislated crime after many people needlessly died.

Startlingly, despite advertising campaigns against domestic violence, women are often not believed at all or even considered the perpetrator.

Men have either dismissed signs of violence themselves or been cajoled by authorities to their detriment.


At other times, con artist psychology has been actively police-sanctioned.

One of the most egregious examples of legal impunity on Stalked was dealt out to Iowa woman, Vicki Kuper.

After dating thirty-five-year-old Jack Tanner for six months in 2010, he wanted to move in with her, to which she declined. For "rejecting" him, Tanner progressively and forcibly moved in — driving past daily, bursting into her home several times unannounced, and making threatening phone calls.

As his mother knew local Delhi police, he continually received light treatment, such as very short sentences for his behavior.

So emboldened, he eventually beat Vicki up for reporting him again. He was subsequently allowed out on work release despite this being a breach of Vicki's personal protection order, and the police neglecting to inform her he was at large.


Finally, he was arrested and jailed for eleven years thanks to years of input from the Iowa Chief of Police.

RELATED: The Greatest Love Of My Life Turned Out To Be An Online Con Artist

Societal pressures

The backdrop to any relationship is also a smothering societal obsession with romantic love, making it hard to see red flags.


Romance is a booming industry. It is ingrained in us that non-attachment means failure.

People treat you differently depending on your relationship status. Popular media is saturated with it.

Even economically, society is geared towards relationships. Type in just about anything to do with partnerships on the internet. Most social analysis connects being partnered to affluence.

FOMO on account of relationships is grounded in pervasive reality.

I also stayed in my toxic relationship because I felt marginalized for being single.

About six months into our relationship, my beloved said something that I didn't expect. Out of nowhere, while looking at an actress on TV, he said, "You're not model material."


I was shocked. The man I loved, who seemed physically attracted to me, just undermined me. He also hit me once.

Without him, so-called friends thought I was going to take their boyfriends. I had far less money as a free woman. Bullying or being confronted in some way was more of a regular occurrence when I was unaccompanied.

A year into my relationship, I left. My ex-boyfriend didn't want me that much. He never came back for me or pursued me with fixation.

How lucky was I?

RELATED: 15 Delayed Red Flags That Show Up After You're Already Invested In A Toxic Relationship

Kerry Martin Millan is a freelance writer who writes about health and wellness, often from an intersectional stance. Her work has been published across Australia, America, and the UK.