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Alt Text: Con Men Lose Their Cool in the E-Mail Era

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Old 07-02-2008
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Alt Text: Con Men Lose Their Cool in the E-Mail Era
The online world has improved many things. Classified ads are simpler to search, obscure books are easy to get your hands on for the right price, and if you wish to see any two cartoon characters having sex with each other, you have only to ask.
However, I think even the most forward-looking technophile would have to admit that there's one area in which we have gone too far, sucking the humanity out of what once was a vibrant, personal endeavor: the realm of the con man.
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In the Golden Age of Hucksterism, an unsavory gent might try to sell you a bridge, or a large area of swampland, or perhaps a simple faux-Stradivarius violin. The first step, though, would always be to gain your confidence -- the "con" in "con man."
They did this the old-fashioned way, gaining your trust and even becoming your friend through an elaborate set of lies set one on top of another like Roman architecture. And when they departed, taking your money and your ability to trust your fellow man with them, you could take solace in knowing that this was your con, specially concocted for you and nobody else.
What do you get now? Form letters from deposed African royalty, handed out impartially like advertisements for prostitutes on the Vegas strip. Dry, clinical warnings of fictional eBay disputes. Mindless, soulless pop-up ads for "antivirus programs" that merely throw up more mindless, soulless ads.
The soul of yesteryear's con man may have been shriveled and caustic with disdain for humanity, but at least he had one. Can a computer cackle with glee as it fans its face with a stack of bills taken from your nest-egg account? Well, yes it can, but only if you build it especially for that purpose. Most of today's swindlers won't even take the time to do that.
And the stories! It used to be that a con man would leave you with a tale to tell passers-by as you held out your hand for a few meager coins: the Spanish princess in need of a young man to do double duty as her rescuer and her husband ... the briefcase that held thousands of dollars when it was shown to you, but somehow contained only newspaper once it was yours ... the betting store, bustling with gamblers, all of whom turned out to be in on the scam. The story itself might be worth maybe one-twentieth of the money you lost in your naive ignorance.
Today, of course, you're lucky if you get a few run-on sentences about Nigerian royalty. More likely, if you fall for a modern scam, the only tale you'll have to tell is some boring sob story about trying to sell a laptop and getting paid with a cashier's check. How many sympathy drinks can you get out of, "Well, this website asked for my login and password, so I gave it to them"? There's no epic sweep there, no sense of gravitas or adventure.
I call upon the grifters, schemers and flim-flam artists of this brave new age to step up their game! Don't just throw a form in my face -- get to know me! Befriend me, then let me in on the opportunity of a lifetime, something so juicy that I'd run off to tell my friends if I weren't concerned that they'd beat me to it. Then finally, with flair and grace, rip my heart out, take my money and tip your hat to me as you depart.
Anyone can cheat me, but only you can truly con me.
- - -
Born helpless, nude and unable to provide for himself, Lore Sjöberg eventually overcame these handicaps to become a rube, a mark and occasionally a dupe.

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