Some people look at the world and just see what is right in front of them. But others look around and see loopholes waiting to be exploited.
Being a con artist is a secretive business, and It's rare to get an inside look at how they think. But these scammers went to Reddit to explain some of their most devious successes. It's fascinating to hear how they pulled them off!
(Content has been edited for clarity)
That’s One Expensive Phone Call
“This guy I took a math class with in college told me about how in the 90’s he set up a fake IT help hotline, and charged the highest rate per minute that the hotline provider would allow. Let’s say he was allowed to charge $100 per minute. For a two-minute phone call, he would bill the business $200.
He would then go downtown dressed in a suit and go to a random office pretending he had an interview. He’d then act surprised that he was in the wrong place, and beg to use their phone to figure out where he needed to go. He would then call his own hotline and pretend to have a conversation for just over a minute (so that he got paid for two minutes), thank the receptionist and leave.
He did this a dozen times, and made a few grand easily. It was a small enough amount that the businesses never looked into it. Even if they did, they had no idea it was from my friend’s innocent phone call to another employer.”
The Luck Of The Irish
“Back in the 80s, when Ireland started being on people’s radar a bit more (because of U2 and Boomtown Rats, maybe?) and there were very few Irish backpackers compared to now (this is in Australia), I would score massive amounts of free drinks in faux Irish pubs by pretending to be from the Emerald Isle.
I was in the restroom of one using the urinal when a guy came up next to me and asked if I was having a good day. For some reason, my subconscious decided to answer with an Irish accent.
He was excited to meet an actual Irish person in a fake Irish pub (where there were never any Irish, not even the staff) and invited me back to his table to meet his friends.
I didn’t have to buy a round all night.
I kind of forgot about it for a few months until I again found myself in another Bridie O’Reilly’s, and a pretty girl pulled up next to me at the bar and said hello.
One ‘Hello my darling’ later and I was drinking for free again.
The act became perfected over time. You had to give the audience what they wanted. Many wanted a dangerous Irishman, maybe someone who had been peripherally involved in ‘The Troubles.’ For those, I would refuse to say if I was Protestant or Catholic and would be vague about my surname and employment. I’d also get evasive if asked about the scar above my eyebrow.
For others, I would admit to being Catholic and maybe tear up if asked about my hometown.
One time, a girl told me she’d been to Londonderry and I corrected her hotly, ‘That’s just Derry, tanks very much.’ I have no idea if that’s actually a thing.
So every few months I’d do this, for years.
After maybe a decade of it, I was sitting in a (non-Irish) pub with a new friend. Something about Ireland came up and I started to tell my usual story, when suddenly he calls me out for making it up.
Without responding, I turned to the booth behind me, interrupted the girls talking there, and said, ‘Hello darlings, are ye havin’ a good time tonight?’
After they replied in the positive, I introduced myself as Dylan and my friend as Murphy. Did I know if he could do an Irish accent? Nope. Did he clue into what was happening and put on an accent immediately? Yes, he did. We quickly moved to their booth and had our drinks bought for us for the next few hours.
On the way home, my still shell-shocked friend and I wandered past a house party, with door security. I stopped and ask the guy if it’s a private party.
He said it is, but nobody can resist my fake Irish charms, so after a few minutes, we’re inside.
The highlights of the next few hours: free drinks, kissing the birthday girl, forgetting which one of us is supposed to be Dylan and which one is Murphy, the live musical act composing a song about everyone’s two new Irish friends, and me grabbing a leftover case of drinks (two dozen bottles) at the end of the night.
That was the last time I did it because I wanted to go out on a high.
The only downside was that the first few drinks I was offered were always Guinness, a brew that I actually hate. But after a couple of them, I would say I’d like to try some local brews.”
‘If You Really Like Me, Then Prove It’
“I made a fake OkCupid profile of this insanely hot girl I went to high school with, just to get a feel for my competition as a guy. It was a weird thing to do, but before I knew it, I ended up getting 100+ messages per day.
I added an Amazon wish list to the profile and told all the visitors to get me something if they wanted my attention.
I got a $280 Coach watch and a $400 purse in the mail a few days later. I gave them to my mom and sister for Christmas that year.
Apparently, dudes get pretty thirsty.
This was a few years ago before catfishing and Tinder became really popular, so I don’t think it’ll work anymore. I deleted the profile right after I got the stuff, and I wasn’t struggling for money. I was just bored and tired of girls ignoring me on dating sites. Never really felt bad about it because I like lying to strangers and conning them out of free stuff.
There was really no way for me to get caught. The fake profile didn’t have my real name, address, or email on it anywhere. At the most, they could call Amazon and cancel the order, but the stuff that they knowingly ordered and sent to a stranger had already been delivered.”
He Came, He Soldered, He Conquered
“I don’t know if this qualifies as a scam, since the people I sold to weren’t getting ripped off, but I definitely was getting money that should have gone to other people.
Back in the late 90’s, the original PlayStation was THE BEST. All the best games out were on it, and everyone in my high school was all about it. Too bad that for a high schooler, $49.99 was a lot of money.
Fortunately, I had been exposed to THE INTERNET recently. And being a super nerd, I was exposed to all sorts of early tech sites that talked about pirating like it was discussing the weather. I learned about mod chips, and how a simple chip with a couple wires soldered to parts of the motherboard on a PlayStation would let me play copied games.
COOL! Too bad I didn’t know anyone with a CD burner, as they had just come out, and computers were still $2,500 for what would now be considered a base model with equivalent specs and would only sell for $400-500. Getting into computing back then was a legitimate investment.
I filed the info away, but I forgot to mention that my dad is a super-nerd too! A few weeks after I started learning about the black-hat side of using computers, my dad came home with a shiny new 266mhz Gateway computer with all of 4 gigabytes of hard drive space and a FRIGGIN CD BURNER!
I immediately started hearing the ring of cash registers. Nobody in my entire high school knew what a modchip was, much less a cd burner.
I found a site on the net that sold modchips. It was in China, and would take three weeks to get a shipment to me, but I could buy the chips for $7 each. I was working as a busboy at a crummy hotel restaurant at the time, and only had a couple hundred bucks saved up, but I said ‘screw it’ and went all in. I bought $350 worth of chips, which was 50 of them, plus a couple bucks for shipping. They came in a simple padded envelope with a bunch of chips, with wires soldered to the chips themselves, but all just tossed into a packet and mailed out.
I had never done any soldering, ever. My only experience was watching my dad solder a couple things a couple times, so I understood ‘soldering iron gets really hot, don’t touch the metal with your fingers, and when you touch the wire with the iron, it melts immediately and turns to liquid.’ Fortunately, the original PlayStations had no idea about modchips. The soldering points had literally nothing around them for 1/4″ in all directions. I could vomit solder on the board and still manage to not cross the connection between the point where I was putting the chip and any other points. This was very, VERY good for someone that had no training and had to learn in a trial-by-fire.
I tried it on my personal PlayStation first. I installed the chip, which took about three hours because I had to stare at the picture for 20 minutes to make sure I was in the right spot every time. Putting the PS back together took another hour because I was so nervous. It worked, and my normal games could be played with no issues.
I went to Blockbuster, rented a random PlayStation game, and made a copy of it with the burner on the new computer. The copied game worked perfectly. IT WAS ON.
Every day, I went to Blockbuster and rented another game. I was paranoid at the time and didn’t want to rent more than a single game at once, so I’d rent a game and copy it at home, then return it and get another. In the end, I had one of those 500 CD binders almost filled with copied games.
I went public in my school. I gave my sales pitch to anyone that even mentioned games. I had a friggin’ MENU! For $50, you bring me the PlayStation, I’d fit it with a modchip. I just needed to make sure it came with a serial number on it that showed wasn’t one of the redesigned ones, which Sony had released later to fight modchips (Those ones had the soldering points SUPER close to other points). For $300, I’d get you a hand-picked PlayStation from FuncoLand’s used stock (I had friends that worked at the store and would look for specific serial numbers for me, I bought every one and they made a profit) and had a chip installed already with 5 games. If they already had a chip, I charged $5 per game.
I made money no matter what. I paid $7 per chip, so a $50 installation was pure profit for me, plus $5 per game as a bonus. At the time, blank CD’s were $0.75-1.00 each, so me clicking two buttons and coming back 20 minutes later was easy money. Hand-picked systems made me boatloads of money; I talked to FuncoLand (you know you’re old if you recognize this name before GameStop bought them), and people in my neighborhood, and told them that I’d buy every system that had a specific model number ‘SCPH-1001’ which was the super easy system to mod. I gave them a commission on each system I bought. It wasn’t much, but $20 on a $100 profit was worth it for them to do the work for me and call me when they got one. Then there were the games as well. After I had a game, I charged people $5 per game, and $3 per extra disk. So Final Fantasy VII, which was 3 discs, was $11. Metal Gear Solid was $11. And so on.
I ran this business all through high school. My greatest accomplishment was giving my chemistry teacher a modchip, installed, along with Metal Gear Solid. He gave me his PlayStation, I put the chip in, and gave him a copy of Metal Gear Solid. I didn’t charge him anything, I just thought he was super cool for a teacher at the time and wanted to hook him up. The guy was awesome even before he hooked me up, and I loved him as a teacher. But when it came time for grades, I pulled an A when I should have pulled a C or a D.”
He Saw An Opportunity And He Took It
“I was in the 2nd grade. I had horrible eyesight but didn’t know that. My desk was at the back of the class, where I couldn’t see anything on the board in the front. So I did badly in school.
My teacher had a token system for giving out extra goodies to kids who finished assignments or did other ‘good student’ things. The tokens were these pink computer punch cards, cut roughly into squares. But I never got tokens, because I sucked at being teacher’s pet back then.
So, coming in from recess one day, I am walking in line like a good sheep into the classroom, and I notice a stack of these pink punch cards on the counter in the back of the room where I sat. I sneakily grabbed a bunch, and as the teacher read ‘Mr. Popper’s Penguins’ to us, I sat at my desk with my crappy scissors, cutting those pink cards into little squares.
Now, my teacher did not exactly track who she gave tokens to or how many she gave. I just went up to her a few times a week after that with my counterfeit tokens, and got candy and puzzle time and a bunch of other stuff. It was nice and I never got caught.
I’ve since gotten LASIK surgery, so no need to follow a life of crime over poor eyesight.”
Drowning In Coupons
“I made fake coupons for anything within a store with a UPC barcode, for which I could generate a fake code. This was in college, when energy drinks were insanely popular. I made lots of Buy One, Get One Free coupons that I traded for those drinks. These coupons worked for buying pretty much anything and everything, from smokes, to bagel bites, to Xbox 360s.
The key was printing the coupons on gloss paper to make them look and feel real, no matter how ridiculous the discount was. They all scanned, and only high-priced items got turned down due to suspicious discounts, such as getting 50% off an Xbox 360 and controllers. I even had a Cuecat (barcode scanner) at home that I tested them with. It got to be such a huge thing that it made the local news, and then I stopped. You can learn a lot of cool and illegal stuff on the internet when you’re bored during summer break.”
There’s A Lot You Can Do With Photoshop
“It all started on IMVU. Some might know about this site. It’s a chat room for teens and adults, and you get a little avatar. I had bad luck on this site when I was around 14, and I decided to make a female avatar (I’m a guy) to trick guys into chatting with me, and then make fun of them.
Well, then I learned I kinda liked it. A few years go by, and I’m doing it on a different site. This time, my avatar is a 16-year-old girl, and I meet this man who wants to buy me tons of stuff. I figure this is my lucky day, and so I chat with him and pretend I’m super interested. He immediately starts buying me stuff on Amazon and shipping it to my house. Honestly, I don’t know how I got away with it, because I gave him my real name, saying it was my boyfriend (he apparently didn’t care that I supposedly had a boyfriend).
He wanted to webcam, but obviously, I couldn’t do that. I had been photoshopping pictures of random girls to look like this person I was pretending, going so far as to put fake sticky notes with his name on them.
Eventually, we cut it off because I was asking for too much money. I retired the girl and started using a different one. Lo and behold, the same guy messages the new girl. It’s insane, but somehow I got him to believe that I’m the ORIGINAL girl’s cousin. He started buying more crap for a while, and then we cut it off again.
I don’t do that anymore.”
We Feed Phil, And He Feeds Us
“I am no con artist, but there was a time many years back when I had no choice but to run a con. You see, if I didn’t run this con, my friend and I would have never enjoyed as much Taco Bell as we did.
I went to a small college in the far north. There was a guy who used to hang at the edge of our group who talked constantly about loving getting high, reading Hunter S Thompson, etc. There were few pills around to be had, but we would take a few of the vitamin C tablets we had in our dorm room and occasionally sell them to Phil for a few bucks a pop, claiming they were the pills he was looking for.
Then we’d go get Taco Bell. Our master caper happened when one night we needed a lot of Chinese food. So we ground up all the baby laxative that my roommate had been given by his mother, because his tummy was off, and sold it to Phil as ‘blue’ uppers, since the chopped up pills were blue.
That was some great Chinese food, and only ran us forty bucks. Phil later reported he had been up for days on a binge. I imagine he had other things keeping him up.
10/10, would sell pills to Phil again. And there was no harm done: his immune system rocked and his stomach felt great.”
His Degree Isn’t What You’d Call “Real”
“A guy I work with lied about his age, in order to seem old enough to have attended a specific graduate school. It’s a very competitive school, which has a reputation for taking people over 25. Already, I’m giving too much away.
During his interview for his current job, he said he has a Master’s degree, but when I found out his real age (long story), I realized there was no way he has the degree. It’s not possible unless he did his undergrad at age 15.
He now works alongside me at a small arts organization, and my coworkers all think he has the degree. He probably never intended to keep lying, but it was just this given thing everyone knew about him, so he had to just go with it, I guess. I still said nothing, for some reason.
They’ve applied for government grants, which keep him employed. He doesn’t use the degree (it’s not like he says he’s a dentist and practicing dentistry), but for sure his degree is a benefit to the application. So basically, they (unknowingly) lied to the government, and one of their employees doesn’t have the qualifications he claims.
So basically, dude says he has a degree he doesn’t have and _nobody actually checked. _ The weirdest part is that he actually does really great work. But legally, I wonder what would happen to us if someone found out.”
No Need To Sneak In
“I used to see free movies in theaters in high school.
My friend and I realized that theaters will give you a refund for your ticket as long as the movie has not started yet, even if the ticket is ripped. We also realized that the person ripping the tickets gave less than zero cares about their job, and would rip a ticket without looking at the movie time. Put these two together, and you can go to the theater and buy a ticket for a movie that starts in 3 hours. You walk in and get it ripped, and go see any movie you want.
After your movie is done, you just go to the counter and make up some excuse for why you can’t see the movie. They give you a full refund and you walk out of there with zero money spent. Also, you can get the really nice fancy seats for free.”
He Took Advantage Of Their One Weakness
“Over a decade ago, a universally despised company, whose name I shall omit, was offering people one iTunes song (worth $0.99) for their email address so they could spam them with their products.
The way it worked was they sent you an email and you had to click the link to confirm that the email was valid. Then they sent you a gift code for one song. The way they checked you hadn’t done this more than once was through cookies. God bless their hearts.
I deleted the cookie. I blocked the website from sending me new cookies. I opened dozens of free email accounts. I automated the sign-up process via macros and had three computers running 24/7, getting about 15,000 codes until said despised company ran out of codes after a couple of days.
I had to spend many dozens of hours selling bundles of codes on eBay at a 30% discount, so it ended up requiring quite a bit of work on my part, but I did end up clearing $10K after a few months. I used the money to take my then-girlfriend on a trip to New York.
The Art Of Misdirection
“This was not me, but a friend of mine in college would steal those 375 ml plastic bottles from the adult beverage store.
Here’s how he did it. He would go to the store, stuff a 375 ml bottle down his pants and then grab a bigger-sized bottle. He would go to the cashier and use his debit card that had no money on it. Once the transaction had been declined, he would put on a sad face and give the cashier the bigger bottle, then walk out of the store with the smaller bottle down his pants. It worked for two semesters.”
Gimme All Your Gold
“I used an old hack of World of Warcraft Guild forms to get people’s password to that website. They often used the same password for their email. Then you recovered their WoW account.
Once you had the account, the fun started. You’d log in and start advertising that you had the WoW trading card game ‘Spectral Tiger’ card, which you could use to get an in-game mount. So people would start chatting with you. You’d get 3-7 different chats going, convince the buyer to pay you half before the trade, and then you’d work the rest of the crowd while telling anyone who’s already paid you half that you were taking a photo. You stall as much as you can to make some other trades.
If you got lucky, the account you logged into had a few tens of thousands of gold (one account had 250k). Once people found out you were a fraud, you’d sell all the equipment and crap the account had for the extra gold. You could go to a Chinese gold-buying website and sell it off at $5-6 per 1,000 gold.
My friend did this throughout one summer and made enough money to buy a $6,000 car and then some.”
They Had $80,000 In Debt, But They Made It Go Away In A Week
“My partner and I made an $80,000 phone bill go away without too much effort. One whopping lie, and some easily created documentation to back it up.
It was over 20 years ago when long-distance service was expensive. We did outbound telemarketing and could run up that much in a few months. There were hundreds of long-distance carriers back then, and they competed hard for business. Even the biggest carriers were pretty cutthroat because they were very loosely regulated. But that made them vulnerable, too.
The person in charge of collecting the debt had a soft spot, and we hit it hard. She should have sent it to an outside agency or their legal department, but she didn’t. She kept listening, and we wore her down in a week.”