How to Spot a Con Man

During my career as a freelance copywriter, I’ve encountered a few exceptional negotiators and a handful of con men.

How do you spot a con man? First, it helps to know the definition.

According to Princeton’s WordNet, con man is short for “Confidence Man: a swindler who exploits the confidence of his victim.”

With that in mind, here are three traits to watch out for.


This is the first and foremost thing to look out for. A compliment is normal. Flattery is not.

Whenever somebody flatters me, I watch my wallet. Flattery is normally a prelude to an unusual or out-of-the-ordinary request.

The psychology works like this:

Flattery makes you feel all puffed up and great about yourself. But this is a set up so you’ll agree more easily to whatever request comes next.

You are more likely to make a bad decision when you are feeling overconfident. Flattery is an easy way to build your confidence.

“…a flattering mouth works ruin.” Proverbs 26:28


A person who brags is not necessarily a con man; he could just be insecure.

It’s the type of bragging that matters.

Some people brag about how good they are at a specific skill. This is your garden variety braggart, relatively harmless.

Others brag about their good character or how much money they give to their church, poor people, etc. This is your con man variety of braggart.

It is designed to get you to lower your guard… to get you thinking about what a good person it is you’re dealing with. Next thing you know, the con-man lowers the boom.

Watch out for people who brag about their good character.

“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.” Matthew 6:3,4

Unrealistic Promises

A common negotiating tactic is to build neediness in the other party.

For instance, a potential client might tell you that there’s “huge” potential, and that you could make “tens of thousands of dollars.”

He’s building your confidence to the point where you believe this future pay-off will really happen.

The next thing he’ll do is ask you to work for free for an indeterminate amount of time. If you believe the vision he’s painted, you might agree to unreasonable terms, work hard for months… then never see a single cent.

“Like clouds and wind without rain is a man who boasts of gifts he does not give.” Proverbs 25:14

Safeguard Yourself

A con man uses all kinds of techniques to build your confidence in yourself and in him. Once your confidence is high enough, you’re in a vulnerable position. That’s how you get conned.

Ask yourself: “Am I feeling overly confident? Why?”

Ask yourself: “Why is this person flattering me? Why is he telling me all about his good deeds? Why is he promising me a huge pay-off somewhere down the road?”

Answer these questions. Be honest with yourself. Don’t be taken in.

-Ryan M. Healy

P.S. The truth is finally coming out about certain marketers who do business on the Internet. Here are three posts you may be interested in:

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Ryan Healy

Ryan Healy is a freelance copywriter, list manager, and the author of Speed Writing for Nonfiction Writers. Since 2002, he has worked with scores of clients, including Agora Financial, Lombardi Publishing, and Contrarian Profits. He writes a popular blog about copywriting, advertising, and business growth, has been featured in publications like Feed Front magazine, and has been published on sites like,, and

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