It was the Christmas season of 1993 when I decided my personal computer needed an upgrade. One limitation of PCs at the time was they couldn’t talk or play real music. Floppies also weren’t spacious enough to store large files like audio. I had to buy a Sound Blaster upgrade kit, which I knew came with a CD player and an electronic version of the entire contents of the Britannica encyclopedia!
So I went to a computer store in Virramall (the go-to mall in Manila for tech gadgets) carrying what probably was my life savings.
“I’d like to buy a Sound Blaster kit,” I asked the merchant.
“Today is your lucky day. I have the last one!” he replied.
He took the box from the shelves, appeared to open it with a box cutter, and briefly showed me what’s inside. I thought he was acting strange, but I quickly bought it anyway and went straight home, too excited to try my purchase.
Once home, I installed the kit on my PC, only to discover the encyclopedia I’d been eager to try was missing and the CD player wasn’t working! That’s when I realized I got conned, and the guy pretended to open a “sealed” box when in fact, it was already open.
I was so mad I went back to the store the same day to return my purchase. “I want my money back!” I demanded, warning other customers about what happened. Fortunately, the conman-merchant gave 100% of my hard-earned cash despite the “No Return, No Exchange” policy.
And his customers all ran away like ants in a hot pot.
The etymological origin of the word “conman”
Regardless of race, creed, or color, conmen are everywhere. We see them on the political stage all the time. A few of them are so cunning they end up in the White House. Many pretend to be financial advisors but are actually insurance salesmen. But do you know that the word conman is short for confidence-man?
In 1849, Newyork Herald published the arrest of Samuel Thompson, who asked his victims to express confidence in him by giving him money or their watch. The details of the confidence trick aren’t clear, but a few people trusted Thompson with their money and expensive watches. They got swindled in the process.
According to Wikipedia, “A confidence trick is an attempt to defraud a person or group after first gaining their trust. Confidence tricks exploit victims using their credulity, naïveté, compassion, vanity, confidence, irresponsibility, and greed.”
In hindsight, that’s exactly what happened to a naive young version of me. I was so confident of the purchase, I trusted an unscrupulous salesperson.
Avoid getting conned shopping online
Fast forward 28 years, we now can ask Alexa, like a genie in a bottle, any stuff we or our loved ones desire. Your order travels via the Internet at lightning speed. The package arrives same-day in many areas. Or even within 30-minutes if you’re one of the few covered by Amazon PrimeAir drone service.
Technology has advanced by leaps and bounds. So are the ways these swindlers steal your money when you’re shopping online, unfortunately.
Black Friday, of course, is the busiest shopping day of the year, which means scammers will be there trying to get your hard-earned money. And many people will rely on apps to get the best deal possible.
According to ABCNews, “One in 25 Black Friday apps is a scam, designed to steal personal information or download malware onto the user’s phone or laptop.”
Besides apps, you need to watch out for fakes on social media. You’ll see posts advertising gifts, such as clothes, jewelry, and some of the most wanted items this holiday, but if you click ‘buy’ before you research, you could lose your money and never get that gift.
Never, ever, click on a link sent to you! Go directly to the site by typing the secure URL (i.e., starts with “https”) on the browser’s address bar.
Or better yet, skip the presents, and give cash on Christmas day— no greater gift is there than cash!
Ways to bolster your anti-con defenses
In an article in Psychology Today, Neil Farber and Andres Munoz listed seven ways to bolster your anti-con defenses:
- Accept your vulnerability.
- Be skeptical of get-rich-quick schemes.
- Recognize that your generous nature could be exploited.
- Supplement your intuition with the latest information.
- Be vigilant with online requests.
- Ask for more information.
- Help without giving money.
They wrote, “In some situations, we remain vulnerable to cons despite evolved defense mechanisms. Does this vulnerability mean that we should stop trusting people? By understanding the science behind conning, we can better protect ourselves from con artists while still allowing us to reap the benefits of the trust.”
I’m not even going through each one because they’re pretty much self-explanatory. But what strikes me are #1 and #3.
Not long ago, a good friend of mine called from out of state to borrow money. He told a convincing story, he’s stranded on the side of the road and needed to pay the tow truck driver. He promised to pay me back on payday. Payday came, and went, he was nowhere to be found. It became clear: I’ve got conned by a freaking friend and he’s now avoiding me, ugh!
Everyone is vulnerable, including a self-proclaimed “money expert” like me.