Lessons from My Uncle the Con Artist

First let me say that anyone who steals from someone else using false pretenses is a giant a-hole. This post is meant as a character study for writing purposes, not an instruction manual. If you run an actual con and you get arrested, that’s on you, my friend. Shady business sometimes equals prison time. That’s the fact of the matter. That out of the way, on to fun!

My uncle puts the art in con artist. He’s been in the game for at least a good 20 plus years and please believe, the man is a hustler. He’s been in a variety of businesses, which I won’t get into here. Let’s call him “J”.

I’ve learned a few things about conning from watching J and hearing about his various antics. These are lessons in the art of living the con, not that I employ them or ever plan to. It’s a lot like acting in that you have to immerse yourself in a character.

1. Look the part. Being pretty helps. But the way you dress needs to be reflective of what you want the mark to think of you. Think – camera ready.

2. “Evidence” in the form of anecdote can be quite compelling. If you don’t have a story that supports you, make one up! Be sure to include details that surprise your audience or dispel whatever preconceived notions they might have about what you’re selling.

3. Actual evidence helps too, even if it’s really obvious common sense stuff. Present the obvious to build up that inner confidence in the mark and build rapport.

4. Be charming. Be friendly. Have a joke at the ready. When I was a kid, I thought Uncle J was the coolest guy ever. He always made my brother, my cousins and me laugh. I never would’ve guessed what he was.

5. Commitment is key. Never falter. If your mark wavers, lob another anecdote at them. Talk fast whenever possible. Whatever conversational obstacles present themselves, just barrel over them. If you speak well enough, not everything you say actually has to make sense. Shock and awe with words.

6. Be on TV if you can. This is for the real pros. Anyone can buy air time if they have the dough. Presence on a television screen builds credibility like nothing else can. Hey, you made it that far, how could you not be credible. AmIright? Even if people don’t see you on TV, you can still work that fact into the conversation, so they know they’re dealing with a superstar.

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