One of our favorite movies is The Sting (starring Paul Newman as Gondorff, Robert Redford as Johnny Hooker and Robert Shaw as the bad guy, Doyle Lonnegan). In the movie, Hooker and Gondorff team up to get even with Lonnegan after his gang killed Hooker’s partner. They craft a complicated con game to get even with him.

We watched the movie (again) with friends this weekend and we got to thinking. Hmm…

The Sting

The Free Dictionary provides this definition:

confidence game (noun) – a swindle in which the victim is defrauded after his or her confidence has been won

It’s all about confidence, i.e. trust. The bad guys gain your trust and then they take advantage of you. The more they get you believing their story, the more they can steal from you.

So, why are we writing about The Sting in the Sticky Password blog?

First – it’s a great movie. Second – it does a very nice job showing the ‘art of the con’ that is used in scams – including online scams. We’re not talking about silly emails with a just a link and nothing else. We hope that just about everyone is smart enough to delete those right away!

We’re talking about Nigerian and other scams in which they try to draw you in as a participant. They want you to feel that only with your help can they be successful in getting that $85 Million. They need you to feel that you are part of the action. They spin a wildly complicated and sometimes contradictory story solely for the purpose of making you feel that you are part of the team. They want you to feel that you will receive your ‘fair share’ of the riches precisely because you actively participated (by sending an email, or providing some personal data, etc.).

By piling details on top of details, they want to a) convince you that it’s real (‘it’s so crazy, that nobody could make it up.’), and b) the crazier it is, the more likely you will believe that there really is a chance to get a chunk of those $85 big ones.

Notice that cons are all about emotion: their success is based on you feeling the excitement – and not thinking about what is going on at all.

The take-away lesson from The Sting: the bad guys know that it’s easier and much more lucrative to take advantage of someone who trusts them, than it is to steal from someone who doesn’t. If they gain your trust, then there’s a chance that they can get at least some of your money.

So, please, if you receive an email with strange grammar from a stranger who addresses you as ‘Beloved’ and proceeds to suggest that you join in a sure-fire scheme for getting funds from a hidden account that’s in a country you’ve never heard of – stop reading and press delete. Then empty your ‘trash’ folder and make sure it’s gone.

Soon, as you get better at recognizing these con games, you’ll be deleting similar emails just by looking at their subject line.

The 40th anniversary of the release of The Sting is December 25. It’s a great movie. Check it out on Netflix or wherever you get your movies.