How Americans Can Con a John: An American Guide to Grifting

“Boy that’s a right nice dog yer got there.”

~A not-honest-John

We once accidentally stumbled onto a track by a British (ugh) group called “The Streets” which was called, “Never Con an Honest John.”  The entire song was step-by-step directions on how to grift someone using a dog from the kennel and convincing a stranger to assume the dog is worth several thousand dollars before tricking him into trying to buy it from you.  That’s because British people suck, and centering your scam around a dog is no way to go through life, EnglandGod.

That scam is called the Pedigree Dog, and it basically hinges on whether or not the bartender or store owner you leave the dog with is greedy.  You have the victim watch a stray dog you bring in on a leash, and have another con artist come in and claim to be a dog breeder willing to pay top dollar for the dog.  The victim greedily tries to buy the dog from you for less than the expert will pay, and the expert never comes back, leaving you with cash, and him stuck with a dog.

This is a fairly obvious example of a Con Job.  Like the great American film The Sting, swindling gullible and greedy people for money is a classic American institution.  While it seems unrealistic that someone would fall for this particular Con (some Con Men prefer to use a violin for this scam instead of, you know, a living goddamn creature), they absolutely do.

And we support the hell out of it.

And here’s to you, Mrs. Robbing-son

The term “Con Man” is short for “Confidence Man” because they have to gain the confidence of their mark, or target, in order to succeed.  And while we think that the Pedigree Dog is not that good of a con, and hate that we found out about it through the British, we do agree with the sentiment that you should never con an honest John, and therefore feel it is the duty of every American to know how to take advantage of those greedy-yet-naïve pillars of our society.  That’s why we are here with…

AFFotD’s Official Guide to Grifting, Conning, and Swindling

The first Con Man  was, of course, an American.  In the same way that people who live in certain places don’t understand the whole “people steal shit” concept and leave their doors unlocked, before 1849, no one really thought of being a Con Man, so the first grift was laughably simple.  William Thompson, who inspired the term, would dress up all fancy like and go to upper class Americans, starting a conversation and pretending he knew them.  He would then say, “Have you confidence in me to trust me with your watch until tomorrow?”

Instead of giving the correct response (namely, “Why would I do that?  Fuck off!”) they would give him the watch and be shocked, shocked, when he’d walk away and never return the watch.

Seriously.  That was the con.  “Hey buddy, I totally know you.  Can I hold onto your watch for a day or so?”  Compare that today, where if mother’s didn’t lock down their TVs 60% of their children would steal the TVs and sell them for drug money (according to Requiem for a Dream).  Those people deserved to lose their watches, is the point we’re trying to make, and we can only safely assume that Thompson used that money entirely on booze.

Ah, tastes like other people’s hard earned money…

Cons have evolved greatly ever since Thompson unearthed the inherent dishonesty in the core of every American.  So now here is a list of Confidence Tricks, so you can take advantage of the gullible, or simply know when you’re being made.  We’d put a disclaimer about not using these to break the law, but why should we give a fuck?  Besides, if you donate ten bucks to our paypall account, we become your legal proxy and you then cannot be imprisoned for any Con Man related crimes.  For only ten bucks!  How can you afford not to give that money to AFFotD?  The peace of mind is priceless.


The Pigeon Drop

We’re going to come right out and say it, if you fall for a Pigeon Drop you’re kinda dumb.  The premise is simple- the Con Man and the mark spot something valuable at roughly the same time (this valuable item had been planted by the con man previously).  A second Con Man may become involved at this point, but it’s not necessary.  The valuable item can be an envelope of money, or a phony ring.  If it’s an envelope of money, after declaring that the two of you should split the money since you both found it at the same time, you suggest that each of you put your own money to the pile to prove you’re honest.

Right here is when most Americans smart enough to read this would back the hell off, because telling someone to put money in a communal pot to prove that they’re trustworthy makes about as much sense as having unprotected sex with someone to prove they don’t have Syphilis.  Of course this will end with a slight of hand, where the two envelopes of evenly split money turns into the con man having both envelopes and the mark having an envelope of fake money slipped to him.  The mark would feel like a chump, and fucking good, because you’re retarded if you fall for this one.

This scam can be done with a ring instead of money, and it takes some cues from the aforementioned dog trick, in that it requires another con man to walk by and say, “Oh, I am a jewelry expert.  This ring is worth this much money,” or if you want to be really ballsy, the first con man can claim to find the ring while claiming he knows how much it’s worth.  Either way, the con man pretends he is in a hurry, and has the mark pay for half the price of the ring, so he can go forth and sell it himself.  Again.  If you fall for this you’re a dumbass.

The False Good Samaritan

This is among the more fucked up scams out there.  It involves two Con Men.  The first Con Man mugs the victim (or, if life is The Wire¸ shakes a ladder while they’re on it), while the second man stops the first, regaining the wallet and returning it to the victim.  The “robber” naturally gets away, and the victim, grateful that the attack was foiled, will offer the second grifter a healthy reward- sometimes even cutting a check that would give the two Con Men more money than they would have received just by stealing the wallet.  This is the reason why we never give rewards for any service done to us.  Once, one of the office pet dogs ran away, and we posted “Lost Dog” signs all over town promising a reward, and this nice young couple found the dog and returned him to us.  And we were so serious about not being the victim of this scam that when they asked what the reward was, we said, “Your reward is a punch right in the eye socket” and then we punched each of them, right in the eye socket, and robbed them for good measure.  You don’t grift the grift masters.

The Ponzi Scheme

Ponzi Schemes are complicated and require a lot of math, but they were most recently seen in the media with Bernie Madoff.  An investor convinces people that he will invest their money, when really he keeps it in a bank account for himself, adding more and more people to give him money as he uses other people’s investment’s to pay the dividends that earlier investors are looking for.  Ultimately, this becomes unstable, so most Ponzi schemes include an escape plan.

Woah, our writer was blackout drunk when he wrote that last sentence.  Hopefully that makes sense, or didn’t say anything offensive to the seven documented groups that you can get in trouble for saying offensive things about (well, eight now, ever since that whole Norway thing happened).

Three Card Monti

We’ve mentioned this before in our discussion of gambling, but really it belongs here.  There is no gambling involved in three card monti- it’s all sleight of hand.  There are two black cards and one red card, and they will absolutely make sure you only see a red card if they absolutely want you to.  This is another instance of someone being greedy, trying to double their money in a street game with someone who is very clearly a hustler.  The moment you think, “Oh this seems easy,” you’ve already lost.

The Badger Game

The Badger Game is one of those scams you’ve probably seen on a few TV shows, if you get HBO.  This one dates back to the 19th century, but now mainly happens with online dating sites.  An attractive woman seeks out a married man, seduces him, and brings him back to their room.  A doorman at the establishment makes a series of suggestive noises while showing them to the room, possibly while raising his eyebrows.  At this point, well, sex is probably going to happen, which makes the victim lucky in the sense that he gets laid, but unlucky in the sense that the con woman totally recorded it on video and extorts the victim by threatening to show it to his wife.

Now, members of the AFTSOM(ANINAAGTGMITFAPNTSBAI)* would applaud this, saying that the person being unfaithful to his wife deserves what he gets, and we’d probably agree.  The scam gets funnier when a second con man (usually a scary looking dude) shows up and pretends to be the con woman’s girlfriend to make the man more pressured into paying money.

*AFTSOM(ANINAGTGMITFAPNTSBAI)= Americans For the Sanctity of Marriage (And No, It’s Not An Anti-Gay Thing, Gay Marriage Is Totally Fine and People Need To Stop Bitching About It)

The American Dream is to be a single male who tricks the con woman into thinking he is married.  When she sleeps with him for extortion purposes, he can go, “Ha ha, I’m not really married, I have absolutely nothing to lose in this scenario.”  CAUTION:  If that happens, the other con man will probably show up and break your legs.

The Pig in a Poke

This one is pretty archaic, but if you ever wonder what the idiom “Pig in a poke” stands for, it’s an old con trick from back in the Late Middle Ages, when meat was scarce.  Someone would offer to sell the mark a baby pig, giving them a bag with an animal very clearly wiggling inside of it.  Instead of being a pig, the bag would contain either a cat or a dog (basically, an animal people don’t eat).  If you ever fall for this trick, congratulations, you’ve traveled back in time, much like the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, or Black Knight.

The Embarrassing Check

While Americans who adhere to the tenets of idleness would not be inclined to take part of this scam, the Americans who love to embarrass the shit out of people would absolutely love this.  First, you create a fake company, selling something embarrassing (think Sex Toys).  You get customers lined up, and promise to deliver under a very discreet name, though your company has the official name of something no one would want to see show up on a banking statement, like “Ass Play Sex Plugs” or something of that sort.

After you receive payment, you mail everyone involved saying that there was a shipping error, and you will not be able to make the purchases.  You send back a refund check, clearly marked with the embarrassing name of your business.  The hope is that people will be so worried about their bank statement saying something like, “You received thirty dollars from ASS PLAY SEX PLUGS” that they would just choose not to cash the check, leaving you with the extra money.

(This method is also completely legal, which we think is fucking hilarious.)

The Spanish Prisoner

“Advance Fee Fraud” has been around since the early 1900s, when wealthy people were told that a rich man was wrongly imprisoned in Spain, and needed bail money discretely, which he would of course pay back with very generous interest.  You are more familiar with this scam as it has evolved from “Wealthy man in Spain” to Nigerian Prince, and the only people you know who have fallen for it have been 45 year olds with no family and seventeen cats.

Foreign-Food Scam

This scam is pretty lazy, and invovles putting something gross in your food, complaining to the waiter, and trying to get your meal comped, or maybe extort additional money from the restaruant.  We have two problems with this- one, it wastes food that could very easily be used to get you fatter that very evening, and two, it’s usually dumbasses who try to pull it off.  Case in point, a woman tried to extort our sponsor, Wendy’s (Their executives are surprisingly considerate lovers, given that they pay us right after!) by putting a severed finger into her meal, claiming she found it in her meal.  Most people’s first reaction to this plan would be, “Isn’t it pretty fucking easy to determine where a finger could have come from!?”  The woman’s husband bought the finger from an injured coworker for $100 bucks (dude, you got ripped off there) and she was eventually busted and put in jail for nine years.  So like we said.  Dumbasses try this one.


You’ve seen variations of this grift in a lot of films, most recently in Zombieland, but we’re going with the original form of the scam, because it involves a fucking fake eye!  While this can be used with cheap fake engagement rings, etc., the original version requires a man with only one eye, so we’re sticking with that one.  Seriously, you need a fucking Cyclops (and no, it’s not like when John Goodman robs George Clooney in O Brother Where Art Thou!?).  A one-eyed man goes into a store and pretends to have lost his eye.  Everyone will search for it, and not be able to find it, at which point the one-eyed con man will declare that he will pay a one thousand dollar reward if it is found, and will leave his contact information (fake of course).  Then, an accomplice comes in, pretends to find the glass eye, and when the store owner offers money for it, it is sold off at a price lower than the reward money (which will never be given out) but much higher than the cost of, well, basically a marble.

But seriously guys.  A CYCLOPS!

While there are numerous other cons, those will have to wait for another day and another fun fact, because we really can’t allow ourselves the disservice of trying to top a scam that involves a one-eyed dude.  Call us old fashioned, but it just seems wrong.

Besides, we have a free dog we need to procure, so you’ll understand.

3 responses to “How Americans Can Con a John: An American Guide to Grifting

  1. Pingback: Copper Theft, America’s Favorite Crime | affotd

  2. Pingback: Soapy Smith: America’s Con Artist |

  3. Pingback: The 5 Most Expensive American Guns Ever Sold In Auction | America Fun Fact of the Day

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