The Anonymous Confessions of a Con Artist

A veteran scammer reveals how he made millions by ripping off unsuspecting investors—and how you can protect yourself from people like him.

By Doug Shadel from AARP the Magazine
Also in Reader's Digest Magazine November 2013

confessions of a con artistLluis Real /Getty Images

My name is Jim, and I have spent most of my adult life swindling people out of money—big money. I worked in 30 fraudulent business operations over a ten-year period, pitching everything from gold coins to timeshares to oil and gas leases and other “business opportunities.” These scams took in millions of dollars. No matter how much money we made or how far-fetched the deal was, I never got caught. That is, until September 30, 2004.

That was the day 40 U.S. postal inspectors and FBI agents with gold badges and guns burst into my office. This was on Biscayne Boulevard in Miami. We occupied two full floors of a nondescript commercial office building. The place housed numerous other scam boiler rooms I had worked in, but you would never have known that from the outside.

“Hang up the phones—it’s over!” one agent yelled.

The particular scam in my office was an Internet-kiosk business opportunity. We’d been running TV ads claiming that investors could make thousands of dollars from computer kiosks placed in high-traffic areas like airports and shopping malls. For a small fee, passersby could use these kiosks to check their e-mail or surf the Web. Back in the early 2000s, this was a hot idea. We told people they could earn a minimum of $30,000 to $35,000 per machine each year. This was pure baloney—the machines didn’t generate anything close to that kind of income. And we sold them at huge markups. We took in $17 million from 700 unwary investors in about eight months. At least 100 employees were in the building at the time of the raid, including secretaries and other clerical staff. A lot of them didn’t even know that the business was a fraud.

The agents gathered everyone in a big open area we called the Pit—where, moments earlier, dozens of salespeople had been pitching prospective victims over the phone—and started calling the names of employees. Each worker who responded received a letter explaining whether he or she was a target of the investigation, a material witness, or something else. When my name was called, things got quiet. I was the manager; people wanted to see how I would react. As I walked over to retrieve my letter, my cell phone went off. The theme from The Godfather (my new ringtone) filled the room. People couldn’t help but laugh.

The next thing I knew, a postal inspector took me into a side room and told me, “Your day just got [crappy], and it is going to get [crappier].”

That was the end of my last scam. The Feds sent a dozen guys to prison. I did 37 months, and it probably should have been longer.

You might be thinking, Oh, those get-rich-quick scams are obvious, and I would never fall for one. When I hear someone say that only stupid people fall for fraud, I feel like asking for that person’s phone number. But here’s the thing: I didn’t want to talk to stupid people, because stupid people don’t have $50,000 lying around to give me. You would be amazed at how many doctors, lawyers, engineers, and college professors I have ripped off. The bottom line is, fraud is a crime that can happen to anyone, given the right con artist and a victim with the right set of circumstances.

Make no mistake: I am a dangerous person on the telephone. If I choose to be fraudulent in my practices, nothing is going to stop me from taking lots of money from you. Period, the end. And the world is filled with people just as dangerous as I am.

I was what’s known as a closer: the guy who gets you to hand over the money. I’ll tell you how, so you can recognize and avoid the techniques I used. I can do this because I am out of the game now. If I were still in the game, I’d tell you only one thing: “You and I are going to make a lot of money together.”

Next: You learn what worked »

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  • Your Comments

    • sharjeel

      awesome. Gave some good tips

    • Robin S

      I remember that TV spot because we were in the Kiosk business at the time and knew it had to be a scam because a decade ago, nobody wanted those things inside their place of business.

    • TQ

      I found the part where the scammer mentioned about men being perfect victims as they are more emotionally weak due to ego problems was pretty interesting.