Book Review: The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It Every Time. By Maria Konnikova. Review by Helen Mitsios

Book Review: The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It Every Time. By Maria Konnikova. Review by Helen Mitsios

. 3 min read

Conned once? Not me. Conned twice? Not in a million years. If you think you’re too smart to get conned, then consider yourself forewarned, because the “it can’t happen to me” attitude makes you the con artist’s perfect target. According to both the author Konnikova and psychologist Daniel Gilbert (not to mention other experts she sites), just about everyone thinks he/she/they are smarter than they really are.

This enlightening and fascinating book is based on a compilation of real-life anecdotes as well as academic studies and observations. There’s not a dry minute of reading. In fact, it’s a must-read because you’ll learn to look out for warning signs – and learn how the con artist ensnares the mark. Note that reading the book might just end up making you suspicious of everyone (for a short while). Chances are you won’t ever want to get your fortune told, tarot card reading, or meet a potential date online who is just too good to be true – there’s a reason that saying exists.

In The Confidence Game Konnikova enlightens readers as to the why, when, where, and how that allows grifters, con artists, swindlers, and by any other name, to practice their nefarious talents. And a black magic art it is. So, how does a Bernie Madoff get to run a $64.8 billion Ponzi scheme? How does fraudulent German heiress Anna Sorokin Delvey or the Tinder Swindler get away with it? Indeed, Delvey said in an interview that she doesn’t steal or coerce, she simply “asks them” and they comply or not. The thing is, most people do.

Maybe you’re wondering what kind of person becomes a con artist -- is it nature or nurture? Or you might want to know when someone is most likely to get conned. These answers and more are in the book. There’s some red flag information, too. For example, how easily a con artist can learn about a person from social media and in real life. The con artist can be the friendly face you see every morning when you get your latte at Starbucks. In fact, familiarity breeds trust. Even if the person is a perfect stranger, just seeing that individual day after day makes your brain register it as, Hey, it’s okay to let down my friend-or-foe guard.

Konnikova tells us we unwittingly give ourselves away with “every flicker of the eye, every choice of the phrase” because con artists are adept “at reading faces, bodies and minds alike.” Though not all con artists try to romance their victims, they’re exemplars of The Police’s tune “Every Breath You Take,” as they’ll watch your every gesture and hang on your every word. Masters at the game hold out the promise that your life will inexplicably be better, more exciting, richer and – just fill in the blank – if only they are in it. Like all humans, con artists are individuals who come in different shapes and sizes. But they have one thing in common. As Konnikova says, “Ultimately what a con artist sells is hope.”

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