Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

 

We can't all be Michael Bloomberg.

Some of us actually like to order the biggest gulps of soda in the world.

The media billionaire, though, says he's from New York, so spotting a con man is very easy.

He believes Donald Trump is a con man. Oddly enough, Trump is also from New York, where the cons seem to be pros.

You, on the other hand, might be from somewhere else. Worse, you might be a decent, upstanding citizen who just wants to succeed with grace and not fall flat on your face.

How can you spot a con artist?

New Yorker writer Maria Konnikova -- that's with a "K", not a "C" -- has made a study of con artists and their techniques.

She's just released a Big Think video that offers some timely tips for you.

1. Beware The Small Favor.

A con man starts with trying to get his foot in the door. So, says Konnikova, you ask for something "really, really small." It could be two minutes of your time to get your opinion on something. A few weeks later, the con man might ask you to write them a letter of recommendation. Now you're much more likely to help because you've helped before. And we do like to come across as consistent people. Just saying no is not a terrible thing.

 

2. Beware The Absurdly Large Favor.

"I'm going to ask you to spend the day at the zoo with my students," says Konnikova. You, because you are not a con artist, will think this insane. But those classic few weeks later, there comes a second, far more reasonable request -- say to talk to the con artist's class for just an hour. The con artist is trading on the guilt you still felt from the first time, despite the fact that you were right to do so. And there you go agreeing to his request.

3. Beware The Promise Of Scarcity.

One fundraising strategy for certain political candidates is to say: "You must make a contribution by 8pm." Actually, this is a quote from an email the Trump campaign sent me this morning. The notion is that if you donate by 8pm, the campaign can announce that it's raised bank vaults of money and this will apparently send Hillary Clinton into a tizzy and put her off her Democratic National Convention speech. Employers try to do it too. They tell you that you only have a few hours to decide about their job offer. "That's a page right out of the con artist's playbook," says Konnikova. The impulse is to keep you emotional and stop you from thinking too much.

At heart, the one thing con artists focus on is, says, Konnikova "the human desire to say yes."

Our incompetence lies in the fact that we don't know how to say no.

This, then, is your task.

Spend the rest of your week saying no to everyone, even if everyone isn't a con artist.

You will be happier. You will not get conned.

Well, not unless the con artist is really, really good.  

Published on: Jul 28, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.