Over the weekend I drove up to Macorna to perform a show for the local football club.
Each year, they bring up someone a bit different to entertain the locals and get a bit of extra support for the club. Since there isn’t much of township and most of the residents are spread over farms and properties, the club is a focal point for the community.
On the drive up I was listening to the science show and a discussion on The Dunning-Kruger effect, a pyschological phenemonan that shows that, in the words of Bertrand Russel, “the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”
Dunning and Kruger asked a group of students to predict how well they had performed on a simple test. Those who thought they had done well, tended to perform badly whereas those who were more critical of their performance, tended to be underestimating their abilities.
The Dunning Kruger effect could also be applied to gullibility.
Many people I speak to about scams can not believe how the victim’s of fraud and swindles could be so gullible, so stupid. Yet it is this over confidence in their own ability to spot a scam that will, eventually, trip them up.
It’s very easy to pass judgement on others with the benefit of hindsight (fun too) but most victims of scams are intelligent people who got a little too careless and a little too cocky for their own good.
My old friend Pablo is currently living in Africa. He sent me this email.
I saw a cool con in Kitui. People had told me there were street performers in town who did circus stunts. Wow, I thought. Gotta find these guys. When I finally did, it wasn’t quite what I expected. They are snake oil salesmen. There are a few of them doing very similar shows. They start with acrobatics or something to get a big crowd. Then they mention that they are qualified doctors (they show their certificates!), and they spend ages expounding the benefits of their amazing cure-all blood purifier! Plus, they demonstrate it’s efficacy! They put some purple dye in a bottle of water, representing impurities in your blood. Then they add some of their cure-all, and the water turns clear again! Proof! I assume the purple stuff is .
It would be okay if they were ripping off tourists, but they’re not. There’s no tourists in Kitui. They’re preying on poor locals who are used to believing anything a ‘professional’ educated person says. And their potion is supposed to cure malaria, cancer, AIDS, TB, etc etc etc, so they’re also killing anyone who uses their magic liquid instead of going to the doctor.
I had an email this morning from a TV show in the UK wanting some history on the Melon Drop. The Melon Drop is a classic scam perpetrated against Japanese tourists.
The tourist is tricked into accidentally breaking a melon which they are forced to pay for. Since Melons are often quite expensive in Japan, the victim pays over-inflated prices for the cheap fruit.
‘The Melon Drop’ has become short hand for any similar scam. Here is my reply:
You’ve asked a bit of a loaded question there!
The idea of tricking a victim into ‘accidentally’ breaking an item is as old as time. It was particularly popular in the middle ages.
However, ‘The Melon Drop’ involving Japanese tourists and expensive fruit is far more popular as a story than it is as an actual real-world scam.
Most of the reports are anecdotal rather than from verifiable sources. I can tell you the following…
It most likely started in San Francisco in the early 1970s. After the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, Japan lifted the country’s strict post-war travel restrictions, allowing Japanese citizens to travel abroad far more easily. The Japanese have had a long history of ‘travel for pleasure’, stemming back to the seventh century, and huge numbers of middle- and upper-class Japanese were eager to travel for the first time.
A large number travelled to San Francisco, which has always attracted Southeast Asian people going back to the gold rush in the 1800’s. The modern Fortune Cookie comes from San Francisco, and the city is one of the few in the US to have a “Japantown”.
Most of my resources suggest that it was here that the scam first involving melons and Japanese tourists occurred.
I don’t need who this is, but this video is the best and most accurate portrayal of the shell game with matchboxes as it is done on the streets today. Most performances you will see of this will be little more than magic tricks dressed up.
AS FEATURED ON ABC STATEWIDE DRIVE WITH KATHY BEDFORD
The big Aussie scam story this week is reports coming in of con artists flying in from Eastern Europe to skim credit cards, pick pockets and generally cause trouble at the spring racing carnival.
As an Australian con artist I’m not sure how I feel about these Romanian and Bulgarian swindlers coming in, stealing jobs away from hard working local.
But it could be far worse. The current cost of an airfare to Australia is around $2000AUD. So only the most dedicated swindlers are making the trip down under. However, in Europe, thanks to low budget airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet, you can fly almost anywhere for under $50.
Now, all of the major European cities are hit by con artists who fly into town, make as much money as they can and then move on to the next city. In June, I bumped into the same con artist in Barcelona and Stockholm in the same month.
If you do go the races and you find yourself up against these Eastern European hucksters, here are a few tips:-
1) Always keep your wallet in your inside jacket pocket. Better still, keep it in my inside jacket pocket.
2) Don’t make a big deal if you win. Your “Watch-Me-Rub-My-Thousands-Of-Dollars-Cash-All-Over-My-Body” dance may draw unwanted attention.
3) Avoid women in head scarves and peasant dresses or men with a single gold hoop earrings and a puffy piratesque shirt. This is how all Eastern Europeans dress.
4) Avoid situations where people rub up against you. This includes lines for the toilet, public transport and the Lambada – the forbidden dance.
5) Be aware if someone offers to help clean a mark of some kind off your coat. This is a classic ploy of pickpockets. They secretly spill ice-cream on your jacket then offer to clean it off, stealing your wallet. This is a criminal waste of ice cream.
You might also enjoy this video I put together from earlier this year. It’s from the 1959 film The Pickpocket and features annotation by me…
AS FEATURED ON ABC STATEWIDE DRIVE WITH KATHY BEDFORD
I’ve been sitting on this footage from my trip to Barcelona in June but thought I’d share it with you now. I spent a day hunting down the Trileros, con artists who play the Shell Game on the streets with unsuspecting tourists.