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The Big Con [Format Kindle]

David Maurer

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A Word About Confidence Men

The grift has a gentle touch. It takes its toll from the verdant sucker by means of the skilled hand or the sharp wit. In this, it differs from all other forms of crime, and especially from the heavy-rackets. It never employs violence to separate the mark from his money. Of all the grifters, the confidence man is the aristocrat.

Although the confidence man is sometimes classed with professional thieves, pickpockets, and gamblers, he is really not a thief at all because he does no actual stealing. The trusting victim literally thrusts a fat bank roll into his hands. It is a point of pride with him that he does not have to steal.

Confidence men are not "crooks" in the ordinary sense of the word. They are suave, slick, and capable. Their depredations are very much on the genteel side. Because of their high intelligence, their solid organization, the widespread connivance of the law, and the fact that the victim must virtually admit criminal intentions himself if he wishes to prosecute, society has been neither willing nor able to avenge itself effectively. Relatively few good con men are ever brought to trial; of those who are tried, few are convicted; of those who are convicted, even fewer ever serve out their full sentences. Many successful operators have never a day in prison to pay for their merry and lucrative lives spent in fleecing willing marks on the big-con games.

A confidence man prospers only because of the fundamental dishonesty of his victim. First, he inspires a firm belief in his own integrity. Second, he brings into play powerful and well-nigh irresistible forces to excite the cupidity of the mark. Then he allows the victim to make large sums of money by means of dealings which are explained to him as being dishonest--and hence a "sure thing." As the lust for large and easy profits is fanned into a hot flame, the mark puts all his scruples behind him. He closes out his bank account, liquidates his property, borrows from his friends, embezzles from his employer or his clients. In the mad frenzy of cheating someone else, he is unaware of the fact that he is the real victim, carefully selected and fatted for the kill. Thus arises the trite but none the less sage maxim: "You can't cheat an honest man."

This fine old principle rules all confidence games, big and little, from a simple three-card monte or shell game in a shady corner of a country fair grounds to the intricate pay-off or rag, played against a big store replete with expensive props and manned by suave experts. The three-card-monte grifter takes a few dollars from a willing farmer here and there; the big-con men take thousands or hundreds of thousands from those who have it. But the principle is always the same.

This accounts for the fact that it has been found very difficult to prosecute confidence men successfully. At the same time it explains why so little of the true nature of confidence games is known to the public, for once a victim is fleeced he often proves to be a most reluctant and untruthful witness against the men who have taken his money. By the same token, confidence men are hardly criminals in the usual sense of the word, for they prosper through a superb knowledge of human nature; they are set apart from those who employ the machine-gun, the blackjack, or the acetylene torch. Their methods differ more in degree than in kind from those employed by more legitimate forms of business.

Modern con men use at present only three big-con games, and only two of these are now used extensively. In addition, there are scores of short-con games which seem to enjoy periodic bursts of activity, followed by alternate periods of obsolescence. Some of these short-con games, when played by big-time professionals who apply the principles of the big con to them, attain very respectable status as devices to separate the mark from his money.

The three big-con games, the wire, the rag, and the pay-off, have in some forty years of their existence taken a staggering toll from a gullible public. No one knows just how much the total is because many touches, especially large ones, never come to light; both con men and police officials agree that roughly ninety per cent of the victims never complain to the police. Some professionals estimate that these three games alone have produced more illicit profit for the operators and for the law than all other forms of professional crime (excepting violations of the prohibition law) over the same period of time. However that may be, it is very certain that they have been immensely profitable.

All confidence games, big and little, have certain similar underlying principles; all of them progress through certain fundamental stages to an inevitable conclusion; while these stages or steps may vary widely in detail from type to type of game, the principles upon which they are based remain the same and are immediately recognizable. In the big-con games the steps are these:

1. Locating and investigating a well-to-do victim. (Putting the mark up.)

2. Gaining the victim's confidence. (Playing the con for him.)

3. Steering him to meet the insideman. (Roping the mark.)

4. Permitting the insideman to show him how he can make a large amount of money dishonestly. (Telling him the tale.)

5. Allowing the victim to make a substantial profit. (Giving him the convincer.)

6. Determining exactly how much he will invest. (Giving him the breakdown.)

7. Sending him home for this amount of money. (Putting him on the send.)

8. Playing him against a big store and fleecing him. (Taking off the touch.)

9. Getting him out of the way as quietly as possible. (Blowing him off.)

10. Forestalling action by the law. (Putting in the fix.)

The big-con games did not spring full-fledged into existence. The principles on which they operate are as old as civilization. But their immediate evolution is closely knit with the invention and development of the big store, a fake gambling club or broker's office, in which the victim is swindled. And within the twentieth century they have, from the criminal's point of view, reached a very high state of perfection.

Présentation de l'éditeur

'Of all the gifters, the confidence man is the aristocrat, ' wrote David Maurer, a proposition he definitively proved in The Big Con. A professor of linguistics who specialised in underworld argot, Maurer won the trust of hundreds of swindlers. They let him in on not simply their language, but their folkwrys and the astonishingly complex and elaborate schemes whereby unsuspecting marks, hooked by their own greed and dishonesty were 'taken off' - i. e. , cheated - of thousands upon thousands of dollars. The products of amazing ingenuity, crack timing and attention to every last detail, these 'big cons', as thoroughly scripted and rehearsed as any Hollywood production, richly deserve Maurer's description as 'the most effective swindling device which man has ever invented. ' The Big Con is a treasure trove of American lingo (the write, the rag, the pay-off, ropers, shills, the cold poke and the convincer) and indeliable characters (Yellow Kid Weil, Barney the Patch, the Seldom-Seen Kid, Limehouse Chappie and Larry the Lug). First published in 1940, The Big Con makes compelling reading whilst being the most authentic and utterly authoritative study on the con artist and his game.

Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 653 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 337 pages
  • Editeur : Cornerstone Digital; Édition : New Ed (31 août 2011)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ASIN: B005F3GL6E
  • Synthèse vocale : Activée
  • X-Ray :
  • Word Wise: Activé
  • Composition améliorée: Non activé
  • Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon: n°621.802 dans la Boutique Kindle (Voir le Top 100 dans la Boutique Kindle)

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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 étoiles sur 5  41 commentaires
51 internautes sur 52 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 I Read It The First Time Around and Never Forgot It 22 juillet 1999
Par Un client - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
I read this book when it was first published in the '40s and I have thought of it often since then because it impressed me so much. Of course, I was a kid then and it was fascinating because of the people descriptions. It was so rich in characterization it caught my imagination. It was also a lesson for a young man; "If it seems to good to be true, it probably is." I've always remembered that lesson. It is an excellent description of the con games that were popular up to that time. Most of the current ones are not much different in their basics, only in their methods. Although the characters were fascinating, the message was even more so: Beware your wallet if someone wants to give you a large amount of money. I will buy this newly released edition just because of my memories of it some 50 years ago.
30 internautes sur 30 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A reader 30 décembre 2002
Par Un client - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
"The Big Con" is an excellent read from several perspectives. It is extremely well written. The pages fly by, which is saying something considering that it is non-fiction. As a 40's period piece, it is a must read for any fan of the crime/detective genre. Lastly, for anyone interested in the "confidence game" or related artforms, it is an esstential primer that considers the con at its most developed level. If the text has any weakness, it is that it leaves one with a craving for more details on the "short con." This may be forgiven because the point of the book is to examine the "big con," but as the author often notes, the masters of the big con nearly always get their start with the short con.
24 internautes sur 24 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Outstanding nonfiction 31 juillet 2000
Par omarbukka - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
Interesting study of con games, starting from early (and primitive) set-ups around the turn of the century (1900 that is) to more elaborate operations later. Focus on the lingo of con games, but with many entertaining examples and anecdotes.
Particularly interesting are the idiotic repeat victims who, after being conned again and again, keep coming back for more.
Lest you think that the book is of historic interest only, many of the (small-scale) cons described therein are still be practiced today. My local Chicago neighborhood newspaper carries periodic reports of victims of the "pigeon drop" con.
11 internautes sur 11 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Fascinating read 23 décembre 2010
Par Kindle Paul - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Format Kindle|Achat vérifié
I was a bit worried that the book would be too dated - mostly in the language. I was expecting something like Dashiell Hammett. Enjoyable, but you're constantly reminded that those days are gone. That's not the case here. The book could have been written yesterday from a language perspective, and any linguistic idiosyncrasies are specific to the language of the con man.

As some people have noted, it can be repetitive, but that's because most "big" cons (those where the con men work in large teams and have established locations) are very similar in essence; only the execution and specifics are different.

I found it to be very interesting, both from a technical perspective on how things were done, as well as a sociological perspective.
18 internautes sur 20 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 "The Sting" was one of the stories taken from this book. 1 octobre 1999
Par Un client - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
I have been looking for this book for about forty years. I read it originally in the 1950's. When the movie "The Sting" came out I said "that's a dead steal from 'The Big Con'". It was a great read then and I'm looking forward to re-reading it.
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