How do you spot a con artist? If only they would come brandishing neon warning signs and mug repellents to deflect the naïve and trusting. But they are skilled predators of the highest order. Their disingenuous ‘open’ nature is the pernicious lair, their personal charm and adroit loquaciousness, the treacherous bait.
Scams, as anyone that has found themselves on the side of the wronged party will know, are motivated by different forms of greed; your money, your trust, your faith, your worth; it all boils down to exploitation of your assets in one form or other.
With the advantage of hindsight, it’s all too easy to spot the warning signs but history has proven, even the best of us can fall prey to the machinations of a determined fraudster.
You only have to cast your mind back to the hundreds of Madoff victims out there, embezzled out of hundreds of millions of hard earned savings, frittered away almost overnight to the most extravagantly convincing crook who could have sold sand to the Arabs. Yeshiva University, one of the most hallowed and extraordinary establishments in the Jewish world, was seduced by the biggest, most audacious Ponzi scheme of all time. So just how do such brazen tactics achieve such phenomenal results?
It may be easy to unflinchingly deceive the average Joe but how do these swindlers conceive their outlandish exploits will ever succeed on a mass scale? Surely they must realise that getting caught is almost inevitable. The news last week of British fraudster James McCormick shocked the world. Defrauding international government agencies and multi-million dollar private companies of vast sums of money, McCormick reaped an estimated $82m from mass sales of a fake bomb detector which he based on a novelty golf ball finder. In so doing, he put thousands of innocent lives at risk.
Sentencing him to 10 years in prison, Judge Richard Hone described the convict’s attitude as a “cavalier disregard for the potentially fatal consequences of his fraudulent activity,” and attributed his swashbuckling success to a “callous confidence trick.”
So why did he do it?
Perhaps the judge’s assessment of this unhinged individual helps us understand it best; “You have neither insight, shame or any sense of remorse.”
Like psychopaths or any kind of delusional schemer, such people appear to lack all conscience. Devoid of empathy at the hurt and pain they wantonly inflict on others, they lack the basic DNA that makes other people compassionate, caring human beings.
One only has to watch Nicholas Cage playing an ingenious impostor in the movie Matchstick Men to see just how closely genius is linked to madness. Shrouded in a veneer of affable respectability and professionalism, it can at times, be near impossible to expose the real humbug beneath.
Researchers at University College London have recently discovered that early brain scans can identify potential psychopaths simply by detecting a person’s abnormal reaction to seeing people in pain since regions of the brain affected are those known to play a role in empathy.
Thankfully, I have yet to hear of a Jewish link to McCormick but unfortunately we have enough home grown cheaters and conspirators to beware of in our midst.
Compassion is the cornerstone of our morality. Acts of loving kindness, Torah and Avodah (service) are enshrined in our teachings as the primordial pillars upon which the whole world stands.
As much as every Jewish parent adulates over their child’s achievements in business, social standing and material wealth, we all too often overlook a fundamental parameter of success; being a mensch. A child that develops into a decent, caring, human being with a heart and soul that feels and empathises with others is perhaps the greatest success story of all.