Master of Illusion - The Con Man by Jerome Mayne

by 20 May 2010

Tricked into committing fraud

Once upon a time I was a loan officer and I got involved in a gaggle of mortgage fraud activity. It didn’t end well.
I was originally contacted by a guy named Milt (or so I thought). Milt had a plan; a scam, and other players in place – straw buyers, appraisers and title agents. He presented himself as a real estate investor who simply needed a good loan officer to handle all his business. He’d heard great things about me. I was in.
I never wanted to admit that I was recruited – it just doesn’t resonate well with me. It sounds like a cop-out; like I just wasn’t smart enough and allowed myself to be tricked into committing fraud. If someone told me that they were recruited into a fraud scheme, I might think they were implying that they couldn’t help it or that it wasn’t their fault, or worse – they were a victim. It just sounds lame.
It’s been over 10 years since I was indicted on fraud conspiracy charges and more than 15 years since the actual crimes took place. Since then I’ve had the opportunity to rub elbows with some pretty top notch fraud experts and ethics gurus. I’ve gotten quite an education and now have a better understanding of con men and how they operate.
Of course you need to be on your toes and of course you need to know your profession. You can be smart, attentive and be the best at what you do, but someone can still beat you.  Unfortunately, this is an exception to my theory of, “It is unlikely that you will be beat at your own game.”
Enter, the confidence man. Con men, for short, are smart, clever, crafty, likeable and sincere. They are fearless, driven and don’t ever doubt themselves. They will do everything they can to gain your confidence and take, not earn, your trust. They will get you to do what they want you to do. They do know how to play your game and they will beat you.
They are designers of illusion and masters of influence. They will construct façades – personas of sincerity and honesty – and for most of us, it will not be transparent. They do not care about you or your families; both are disposable to them. They are patient and they are survivors, and they will not stop.
This is a strong warning, as well it should be. I believe you are smart – probably the smartest reader who has ever read something that I’ve written (and I don’t say that to all readers), but even the smartest can be fooled.
There is a great book by Robert B. Cialdini called, “Influence – Science and Practice.” [1]  After reading it, I was able to look into my past and identify certain methods of influence that were used by a certain con man over 15 years ago.
My con man, Milt, was sincere, likeable, fearless, driven and had plenty of confidence. He created the illusion that he was a big-time real estate investor who bought and sold masses of residential real estate in Minneapolis, Chicago and Atlanta.
He first contacted me in March of 1994 because he needed a good loan officer who could handle a lot of business. This initial conversation was lengthy, and was full of compliments and promises. After that, he called me at least 10 times a day; sometimes just to chat about sports, music or movies. He became someone I looked forward to talking to. We seemed to have so much in common; he kind of became my brand new best friend.
After about a month of courting, he sent me his first borrower. It was a guy named Josh who needed a loan to buy a house that Milt was selling – a house that Milt had just purchased for thousands of dollars less than Josh’s purchase price.
During the loan approval process, Milt provided me with income documentation for Josh that seemed a bit too perfect. I questioned the authenticity of these documents, but only to myself. I certainly didn’t want to accuse my new best friend of trying to commit fraud.
So I didn’t.
I rationalized and justified my inaction in lieu of asking Milt the tough, uncomfortable questions. I don’t think I rationalized and justified because I was weak or because I was raised wrong; without moral integrity. I wasn’t a newbie in the industry, and I wasn’t struggling for business or money.
The best explanation I have is that I was afraid of offending him or letting him down. I wanted to do a good job and live up to the “good things” he’d heard about me. I wanted to get this loan closed for him.
I did it because I liked the guy – he was a friend. We had the same tastes in sports and restaurants. Heck, we even liked the same kind of gin.
Here’s the real embarrassment – throughout our seven month relationship, he never asked me to do anything illegal for him. I just did it.
I do regret my actions and inactions of those “Milt” days. I do feel remorse for the losses incurred by the lender and the suffering of my business associates, my employees, my friends and my family. I can’t undo the past. I can’t un-light the match. But, you could learn from my experiences. Take this knowledge with you as you scurry about your busy days.
Con men’s Methods of Influence
Obligation & Reciprocation
If I do something for you, perhaps completely unsolicited, you will most likely feel obligated to do something for me. Be mindful of favors done for you. Ask yourself what the ultimate cost will be of accepting this favor, and can you afford to repay it.
If I act as if I am in charge, have more experience than you or simply assume a position of authority, it is likely that you will comply with my requests. I recommend questioning the motives of those who are constantly reminding you how long they’ve been in the business.
Personal Connection
  • Attractiveness – we are much more likely to be influenced by those people we find attractive. Think about it. Why do you think title reps and wholesale reps are always so good looking? Hmmm?
  • Similarity – We tend to trust people who, we believe, are similar to us. Birds of a feather don’t stick together by chance, they find comfort in commonality.
  • Compliments – Men, even more than women, crave praise. We are much more likely to do favors for someone who gives us praise; even when we know that the complimentor stands to gain something from giving us the compliment.
­Convenience and Distraction
This industry is very fast paced and it is easy to get bogged down. This makes you vulnerable. Be wary of the client who seems a little too knowledgeable about your business process. Watch out for the client who seems to swoop in at just the right time help you.
About four months into my relationship with Milt, I realized that the lines had gotten blurry and every area was gray to me. I decided to cut ties, but it took almost three months to do so. By then, I was in deeper than I thought and my role in the conspiracy was rock-solid. 
There are plenty of people out there who would ask the tough questions and wouldn’t be squeamish about confronting or accusing a client, business associate or friend of lying. Be the person I was not.
Four years later, in federal court, I plead not guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. As I sat back down in my seat, the bailiff called up another person who was being charged with the same crimes as me. It was my old friend Milt, but they didn’t call him by that name.
If you feel you have been recruited by a con man, I urge you to disengage. They need you in order for their scheme to work. And, resist the urge to close that one last loan.
I can admit it now; I was recruited by a con man. But I was not a victim. It was my choice.  I stayed too long and did too much.

Jerome Mayne is a keynote speaker and author. He works with Fortune 500 companies and associations helping their people make the right decisions, and stay out of prison. He is the author of the book, Life Saving Lessons – the diary of a white collar criminal and the co-author of Mortgage Fraud and Predatory Lending – what every agent should know (Kaplan Publishing).    Visit Contact him at or 612-919-3007 to speak at your next company or association event.
[1] Source, “Influence – Science and Practice”, by Robert B. Cialdini, Allyn and Bacon (2001).



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