So you want to be a con artist!

Congratulations on choosing a career path with a long and colorful history! Many people believe that prostitution is the world’s oldest profession — we here at Scam University think that in all likelihood, the prostitute in question handed her john change consisting of counterfeit clamshells, thus beginning the world’s second oldest profession.

There are a lot of ways to make money without actually offering anything of worth, like starting up a dot com or going into marketing; but even in these fields, you may accidentally end up providing a real service and bettering the world.* Contrary to what may be represented in Hollywood movies such as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Spanish Prisoner, and Leap of Faith (all starring Steve Martin, not coincidentally), con artists rarely if ever actually improve the health and well-being of others — and we say that means more health and well-being for you, future con artist!

There are many career opportunities that fall under the “Con Artistry” umbrella. Consider the following short list:

  • Psychic
  • TV Psychic
  • Homeopath
  • Free Energy Inventor
  • Miracle Diet Pusher
  • “Consultant”
  • Internet Blogger
  • Pickpocket

Not only are all these fields well-established, but the more creative among you can even devise your own clever way to score big bucks! Your target market could be:

  • Elderly
  • Mentally Retarded
  • Children
  • Gullible
  • Paranoid
  • Ignorant
  • Trusting
  • Any Combination of the Above

For inspiration, consider the case of the German Institut fur Empirisch-Statistische Diagnostik, located at**. It’s not just a funny name — it’s also a fantastic idea for getting money for nothing, courtesy of people who are both Gullible (about numerology) and Ignorant (of basic statistics)! We call this the GI demographic — a very wise choice, as it is a large market willing to spend a good deal of money despite the lack of any actual benefit. SchwangerSchwangerCraft provides a deceptively simple concept: they will tell pregnant women the gender of their babies, a mere week after conception, for just $23 (or half-price during the winter sale). If they are wrong, they will refund 100% of the money. In other words, this company makes at least about $11.50 (or $6 during the winter sale) every time a parent orders a test. The work required for this fee: sending the customer an e-mail randomly assigning a gender to the unborn child. To put it another way, imagine a company based on this idea: you pay them $5 to flip a coin. Every time the coin comes up heads, they keep your $5. Every time it comes up tails, they give you your $5 back. Now there’s a business plan that just can’t fail! No fair using that as your final exam project for Creative Business Scams 301 — we’ve heard it before!

The Institut fur Empirisch-Statistische Diagnostik even backs up their business with a cleverly worded FAQ. Study this carefully and you’ll learn some wonderfully creative tactics:

QUESTION: Of what degree of probability could you say that your research will be correct to identify the correct gender of my child?

ANSWER: Due to our optimized statistical-empirical method a maximum likelihood can be achieved. Continiously we are working to improve the method aswell. Our marksmanship is exceptional high. Just test it yourself. We are so sure about our method that we will give a 100 % Money-Back-Guaranty

See, despite the fact that the actual answer is 50%, the GI demographic will read the above statement and assume the answer is 100%. Brilliant, wouldn’t you say?

We at Scam U hope that this case study has not only taught you a few things about the growing industry we serve, but also has inspired you to constantly strive to improve your own scamming abilities. If you wish to learn more, Scam U has a multitude of classes to help you succeed in whatever field of con artistry you wish to pursue. Please check back at this space often for future opportunities to learn more.
*Please see author bio

**English version at Special thanks to Shevek for the link.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. So why is it not coincidental that all those movies were starring Steve Martin? Is it because you only watch movies starring Steve Martin? Is there a conspiracy to put Steve Martin in movies with titles that start with D, T or L?

  2. Why even go to Scam University? For the one-time fee of $39.95 we here at U. Sucker Online College can certify you in any of these excellent fields:





    -Psychic Friendship

    -Psychic Detectiveship

    -Astronumeropsychic Detective

    -Or ANY obscure version of homeopathy you may wish to pursue!

    And, if you're not 100% satisfied with your degree, we'll give you, for no money down, a 50% deduction on a future certificate within 30 days! Absolutely free of charge.

    So why LEARN to be a scam artist when we can certify you as one RIGHT NOW??

  3. I would go on said TV show.

    Oh and Expatria, you forgot Animal Detective Psychic Chimp Rocket Ranger!

  4. Although, "Internet Blogger" shouldn't be on that list per se, because of the lack of money made that way (unlike all those other "professions").

  5. The website might reap even higher results than 50%. In order to get a refund, you need to send in the "original birth certificate" along with your receipt, which I doubt many people will want to do. Also, new parents are so busy that they may not want to go to the trouble of getting their $23 back. Mail-in rebates work on the same principle: advertise some money back, but make it so hard to actually get, that people will only go to the trouble in rare cases. Other people will fight the minefield of the automated-voice response system, bureaucratic confusion, and unexpected conditions for a few hours, then give up and eat the loss.

    Ashley Zinyk

  6. Evelyn said:

    'Rebecca, sounds like the name of a reality TV show. “So, you want to be a con artist?”'

    Well, Uri Geller DID have that reality show where he would pick a successor, after all…

    N. R. Miller said:

    'Oh and Expatria, you forgot Animal Detective Psychic Chimp Rocket Ranger!'

    Why does that sound like the sort of thing that'd be HUGE in Japan??

  7. The "make it hard to get refund" note does remind me of stories (dunnno how truthful) of sex-aid stores that advertise for stuff, get the money (say, $100 per person), declare themselves bankrupt and send back the money as checks with the company title of something like "Fetish wear and butt-plug anal reamings".

    Some people might hesitate before going to the bank with that!

  8. Thad spoketh thusly:

    The “make it hard to get refund” note does remind me of stories (dunnno how truthful) of sex-aid stores that advertise for stuff, get the money (say, $100 per person), declare themselves bankrupt and send back the money as checks with the company title of something like “Fetish wear and butt-plug anal reamings”.

    These stories are true… wouldn't always be sex-aid stores, and the business wouldn't bother going through the trouble of declaring bankruptcy. They simply would sell a very cheaply made product that wasn't as good as the ad would seem. Some people would realize they'd been scammed and not do anything… but they had a "money back guarantee", so a lot DID complain, and that's when the checks were sent out with things like "anal butt plugs, inc." and apparently very few of those checks went cashed.

  9. "Why does that sound like the sort of thing that’d be HUGE in Japan??"

    Just because you said that, the laws of japanese fandom dictates that there's already 3 seasons, action figures, and a hentai made from it. Not to mention the Super Animal Detective Psychic Chimp Rocket Ranger Plus-Power-Max spinoff.

  10. Apparently no other pregnant women are ready to speak up and defend the Awesome Oracle of Babies, so I guess it is up to me. You know, Rebecca, I think you are being a bit unfair to the prenatal psychics. These psychics can tell you the exact gender of your baby (50% of the time) within 1-3 days of your positive pregnancy test, and they are at least OFFERING a a money back guarantee.

    The "scientific method" of using ultrasounds to determine the sex cannot be used until at LEAST 14 weeks… and then it's not completely reliable… and there's NO money-back guarantee! Sure, there's genetic testing, but that is still only like 99.98% reliable, so if your 99% boy turns out to be a girl, unless they forgot to tell you your girl also has cystic fibrosis, you never see your co-pay again.

    Though I must admit I cannot imagine having a stranger peering into my womb is 100% safe for my unborn (or "preborn" if you prefer) baby. It has to run some risk of infection. I wish they could guarantee they use a sterile remote viewer. And I'm curious how they can determine the gender on the first day of your missed period when they cannot determine the gender of twins… and you can't know if it's twins until about 5 weeks at the earliest!

    I do have to admit, though, while the baby oracle may SEEM like the better option, I'm going the old fashioned route. I'm going to use technology to find out if I'm right that it's a boy (I'm about 50% sure it is).

  11. Actually, there is an even better scam here.

    The birth rate for boys is very slightly higher than it is for girls (the population is more balanced because women live longer). So if you told every customer that their baby is a boy instead of just picking it at random, you'd expect to make a very, very small profit. But it's a profit that requires no effort to make.

    The ratio is 1.05 males per female in the US, but it's 1.12 males per female in China, so the margin is a lot higher there. I bet there are plenty of sites in Chinese that do the same thing. The Chinese are really into their numerology, too.

  12. >>you’d expect to make a very, very small profit. But it’s a profit that requires no effort to make.

    I don’t consider ~50 cents on the dollar a very very small profit. They are selling an email for 11.50. Which roughly half of the time they may have to give back. Even if they do have to give it back, they are advertising that they can make the prediction in the first few weeks of pregnancy, so they get to keep your money for several months before you even get to start to ask for it back, each month collecting interest. The interest would probably be enough to cover any costs of returning the money. So even assuming that every person that deserves a refund actually applies for and gets one, they still have a better mark up than just about every retail market out there.

  13. 'Consultants' get a bad rap again! And in many cases it's deserved.

    Freelance computer programmers are usually called 'consultants' but the name has such a negative ring that I never referred myself as one, preferring the term 'contractor'.

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