How You Know You’re Being Conned

How You Know You’re Being Conned

Con-artists have been around since the dawn of time. From old school street hustles to the modern day internet scams, it’s amazing the lengths some people will go to in order to profit. 

With the popularity of last years ‘Generation Hustle’ and more recently ‘The Tinder Swindler’ we decided to take a look at similar documentaries and the tell-tale signs you can look out for to know you’re being conned. 

Such documentaries feature anyonefrom well-off wine dealers to dating app catfishers, however they all use similar methodologies – which makes a con artist easier to identify and thus avoid.

It all starts out with a fake personality, which is usually accompanied by a fake name – think Simon Leviev from ‘The Tinder Swindler’. Each one of these documentaries start off with a ‘too good to be true’ character who, on the surface, seems to be the best thing since sliced bread and the answer to the victim’s problems. 

Once the victim is introduced to this larger than life personality and drawn in by their seemingly perfect charm, they need to be blinded and distracted by the con-artist so they don’t realise what’s really happening. In the majority of these cases, this is done using money and excitement. Whether it be Richard Smith wining and dining women in ‘Love Fraud’, or the financial stability and endless gifts provided by Robert Hendy-Freegard in ‘The Puppet Master: Hunting The Ultimate Conman’, the goal is still the same. Distraction. 

Everyone knows that trust is the foundation everything is built on – especially con-artists. That’s their next step, gaining trust. All of these cases have their own individual trust building tools, from Naya Tuiasosopo using religion in ‘Untold: The Girlfriend That Didn’t Exist’ to the trust built by the external validation of the wine-world in ‘Sour Grapes’. In both of these cases, the con artist successfully managed to establish common ground with the victims, which is then used to build a trusting relationship. 

Like all good stories, there is always a turning point in these cases. This is the way the perpetrators will try to justify their actions and manipulate the victim – the trigger point for the con. We mostly see this as either a sob story or reason to feel sorry for the con-artist, such as in ‘Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist’. Alternatively, the trigger point can be the threat of danger, just as Simon uses in ‘The Tinder Swindler’. Both of these methods attempt to alienate the victim, making them feel vulnerable. 

The top and most common theme within these documentaries is the motive of money – the end goal for most con artists. If you see someone exhibiting one or more of these signs, it’s probably time to get out of there and save yourself from the consequences… 

Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist 

The most recent of the documentaries mentioned is about American football player Manti Te’o, who was catfished by Naya Tuiasosopo by using a fake profile filled with pictures of a girl from her high school. Strung along for years with excuses not to meet and stories of having cancer, he stuck by her through their fictional strong bond of religion.
Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn't Exist | Official Trailer | Netflix

The Tinder Swindler 

This is a British documentary, centred around Isreli con man, Simon Leviev, who used the dating app Tinder to meet various women who he then charmed with a lavish lifestyle and expensive gifts. He used extravagant dates and luxury presents to build up an image of a multi-millionaire diamond dealer, reinforced by his affectionate messages. In doing this, his female victims fall for him and into a false sense of security. Eventually he tells them he’s been attacked by his enemies and needs money to get to safety, rinsing their savings and racking up huge debts before ghosting them and disappearing.
The Tinder Swindler | Official Clip - The Man With Many Names | Netflix

The Puppet Master: Hunting the Ultimate Con Man 

This documentary follows the story of Robert Hendy-Freegard and his 20 year long escapade of masking his identity in order to steal money from multiple women. He masquerades as a British spy in order to isolate his victim and extort money from her family through her fear of needing protection from their fictional enemies. Years later he moved on to coercively abusing Sandra and manipulating her into falling in love with him in order to alienate her and extort money from her family.
The Puppet Master: Hunting The Ultimate Conman | Official Trailer | Netflix

Sour Grapes 

The entertaining story of Rudy Kurniawan, an Indonesian counterfeiter who built up a persona of a wealthy wine expert and attended auctions to bid on old and rare wines for record prices. Once he had built up his reputation he befriended wealthy wine collectors who saw him as an expert in the wine-world. In doing this, he was able to fraudulently sell counterfeited collectable wines for millions of dollars.
Sour Grapes - Official trailer

Love Fraud 

Love Fraud follows Richard Scott Smith and his serial, low-rate ‘Tinder Swindler-esque’ romance scam that charmed women and manipulated them into ‘falling in love’ with him. He moved very quickly from wining and dining them on the first date to moving in and even marrying these women in certain cases. Once they were isolated and dependent on him, he’d drain them of their money, rack up huge credit card debts in their name, and move onto the next victim. Smith blinded his victims with rush and thrill, leading them to fall right into his trap.. Always remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Love Fraud (2020) Official Trailer | SHOWTIME Documentary Series