Wendell Alfred, a Lewes resident, knows all about scams and con artists. He spent much of his career in law enforcement and is now an AARP Fraud Fighter in Delaware. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2015, Wendell saw how con artists were taking full advantage of the damage and destruction some residents saw in the beach communities in Sussex County.
“Home improvement scams were rampant,” said Wendell. “These scammers would go door-to-door claiming to be handymen, and then take people’s money claiming they’d return with the materials to make repairs to the homeowners’ walkways, lawns, windows and more.”
Unfortunately, these trusting homeowners never saw their money again and, needless to say, never got the necessary home repairs promised. Scams can occur door-to-door, online or by phone.
Into the Ether
When authorities ask convicted con artists to describe the trick to scamming people out of money, they all say the same thing: “Get them into the ether.” The “ether” is a heightened emotional state that makes it hard to think clearly and make rational decisions. Con artists ask questions that trigger an emotional response. Once they find something you care about that triggers your emotions, they will “throttle up” on that trigger, getting you to focus on it until you’re in a heightened emotional state and ready to open your wallet.
“Rocky” is a con man who worked as a consultant to a number of fraudulent boiler rooms (imagine an outbound call center set up to steal millions from unsuspecting people, which closes as quickly as it opened, the money long gone). He says a master closer gets a person into the ether by hitting their fear, greed and urgency buttons.
“I wanted to keep the victim up in the altitude of the ether because once they drop into the valley of logic, I’ve lost them,” he says.
Con artists have perfected the art of making a personal connection with a potential victim. Scammers will develop your “victim profile” by asking a series of personal questions in order to find your emotional trigger. Once they wrap you in emotion that blurs your logic, they’ve endeared you to them and you begin to trust them.
Another tactic is to dangle “phantom riches” – something you want, but can’t have – in front of you. Scammers are experts at getting you so excited that you’ll make an impulsive decision. Researchers say this is the number one tactic found in undercover audiotapes of con pitches.
Scarcity is yet another tactic. It is the idea that if something is rare or scarce, it must be valuable. The con artist will paint a picture that the offer is rare or available only for a limited time.
A common tactic to reel you in typically goes something like this: “Now John, back in 1860 from the Philadelphia mint, there were 22,625 of these coins minted. Of those 22,000, only four have survived. Only four for God’s sake, just four remain and are available only from me.”
This information and more can all be found in the “Con Artists Playbook.” The Con Artist’s Playbook is part of AARP’s Fraud Watch Network, which contains this interview and others, along with access to information to help protect people from theft and fraud.
The Fraud Watch Network gives you free access to information about how to protect yourself and your family. Membership in AARP is not required. It’s free and open to everyone – members, non-members and people of all ages. You can talk to a real, live person, learn about active scams, and find resources that teach you how to spot and avoid them.
In keeping true to its mission of protecting the financial security of older adults, AARP is launching this local campaign to fight identity theft and fraud in Delaware. Get this information, watchdog alerts and more by visiting aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork or call 877-908-3360.