Scammers and Schemers


Pretty frequently these days there is a big news story about the latest con artist who seemed to have pulled off an amazing scam until the glittering house of cards collapsed. Bernie Madoff comes to mind, referred to in Wikipedia as “the confessed operator of the largest Ponzi scheme in world history, and the largest financial fraud in U.S. history.”

More recently, Elizabeth Holmes, described by Forbes as “the youngest and wealthiest self-made female billionaire in America,“ had her day in court. Her bogus company, Theranos, was “outed” and Holmes was indicted by a federal grand jury for fraud and conspiracy. Then there’s Billy McFarland, whose Fyre Festival turned out to be a total fake after he had successfully borrowed over $7 million to fund the supposed lavish event.

Who Are the Con Artists?

Who are these people and others like them? How can we understand them? And why are we so fascinated with them? I was interviewed recently for the Huffington Post article, “Here’s
 Why You’re So Obsessed With Scammers,” along with several other experts. I suggested that the appeal of these larger-than-life characters may be, at least in part, because they stir up magical get-rich-quick fantasies like winning the lottery, inheriting a fortune, or getting in on a multi-million-dollar windfall investment. Who hasn’t daydreamed at some time about getting that really, really lucky break?

These fraudsters almost always have magnetic personalities with a shrewd capacity to be persuasive, charming, convincing and responsive to the particular interests of highly influential people. Before they are revealed, we may envy the skill and chutzpah of these lucky dogs. But once we know it was all a huge con, then we’re really interested! The downfall of the super-talented and super-rich golden ones! Secretly I always knew there had to be a catch. After all, pride goeth before a fall. Icarus flew too close to the sun. And it would never have happened to me!

The Personality Style of a Scammer

In the language of the New Personality Self-Portrait, which personality traits might characterize these “fake-it-till-you-make-it” scoundrels? My guess is that the most prominent ones would be the Adventurous and the Self-Confident styles, perhaps laced with some of the Dramatic.
The Adventurous style reflects persuasiveness, toughness, no regrets. The Self-Confident style adds talent, ambition, high self-regard. And the Dramatic style includes a love of attention and melodrama.

But don’t worry–most people who have a combination of these styles don’t even come close to being con artists!

There is a spectrum for each personality trait, from mild to extreme. And the extremes of some styles are where the troubles lie. Once in the extreme zone, healthy and useful traits or styles almost always start to backfire.

Take the New Personality Self-Portrait test to learn where you fall on the spectrums of Self-Confident, Adventurous and Dramatic styles.