Not all con-men are obvious.
Some of them are quite successful and well-regarded.
But they’re still con-men.
The best con-men… you’d never think of them as one. You’d never consider it. They go by different labels.
Some con-men call themselves authors, teachers, marketers, salespeople and speakers.
I once almost got sucked into a cult.
I’ve wasted thousands of dollars on online courses.
How about you?
Have you ever let someone’s confidence and big promises open your wallet and waste your time and money?
There are a lot of con-men in online marketing
Not surprising, is it?
Marketers love being persuasive and learning more about influence.
Some well-known teachers and authors are actually con-men.
They make big promises, take your money and you don’t end up with much in return.
People who are taken in by con-men feel hopeful and motivated for a while.
Hope can be valuable. Who wants to be depressed?
But the con-man’s promised future never materializes.
His system or tool or strategy doesn’t yield the big changes in your life or business that got you all excited.
Even if the con-man helps you make some progress, it’s not to the degree they promised.
Maybe they said you could become a millionaire but you barely broke even with their plan. In fact, considering what you spent, you’re in the hole!
Maybe they offered you a magical new tool that was supposed to solve all your problems, and then you found out it wasn’t that simple. You needed training, or experience or had to hire someone to help you do it.
Maybe you didn’t take action, plus now you have credit card debt from buying it! You might blame yourself for your inaction. That guilt and fear is why many people don’t ask for refunds. But maybe you didn’t take action because you knew deep down there was something wrong with the training.
So how widespread is the con?
What I discovered
I’m a searcher.
For the last two decades, in order to learn what really works online and what doesn’t, I’ve been…
- Exploring and trying things
- Taking courses
- Reading books
- Doing experiments, and
- Analyzing the results.
I always share what I’ve learned with my readers, podcast listeners and keynote audiences.
I naturally love learning and testing things out, and I keep discovering:
There are tons of BS, myths, lies, and things that just simply don’t work.
There are more things that don’t work than things that do.
That’s why I keep testing everything to see what really works.
One of the topics that keeps coming up for me is con-men…
I believe that:
Con-men are one of the most destructive forces in the marketing and sales world.
Con-men can be women, too, but what should we call them: “con people?”
Con people? You mean inmates?
They should be inmates!
But more often, many of them continue to steal money from unsuspecting business people without any real consequence.
The con-man can turn their criminal past into a selling point.
Even con-men who’ve been fined by the Federal Trade Commission just get smarter about how to bend the rules. They continue to fool a lot of people.
In fact, your con-man may be totally upfront about their FTC fines and use it to persuade you even more!
People who are aware of a con-man’s shady past make two common mistakes:
Mistake #1: Being too forgiving. “They’ve changed! Let’s give them a chance.”
Mistake #2: Thinking they can get something from the con-man without being the bigger loser. “I’m smart enough to play with fire without getting burned!”
What is a cult of personality?
I know about cons personally, because I almost got sucked into a cult in my early twenties. It was a very disorienting experience.
It led me to study cults and con-men, so that I could understand how I had almost been convinced, and arm myself against that kind of thing repeating in the future.
I thought this experience had totally immunized me against con-men.
I became extremely skeptical about people who have magnetic personalities and are naturally persuasive.
And by the way, charisma is a gift.
But charisma, likability and influence are powers that can be abused, and often are, by those who have them.
What’s stopping from abusing their power? Everyone is telling them they’re awesome!
A cult of personality is when someone uses things like mass media, propaganda, the big lie, spectacle, and the arts to create an idealized, heroic, and worshipful image of a leader, often through unquestioning flattery and praise.
We have all kinds of heroes. We love heroes.
We want to see people rise. We want to follow great people.
But the “cult” personality and the con-man is a lie.
For me personally, it turned out that the near-cult-experience was not enough to immunize me to con-men.
The online course con.
I ended up buying a couple of those $1,000 online courses when I started my new freelance business in 2010 (what eventually became my agency, BCG).
I was in a vulnerable place, because I had been let go from a great job, and I was afraid I might not make it solo.
I got sucked in by con-man confidence and promises.
It turned out to be a complete waste of money. The teaching wasn’t bad, but the strategies were not nearly as effective as the teachers promised.
Now, don’t get me wrong- there are some super useful courses out there and many teachers with great integrity.
Some of the big names in internet marketing courses are con-men who are better at selling the promise of value than actually delivering it.
Still, finding out those two courses were lame was not enough for me to fully learn the lesson.
“I’ll show you how to get what you want- first just compromise your morals a little.”
A year or two later, I bought a course that promised to teach how to get high-paying clients.
Once I got it and started learning, I realized that the guy’s system could plausibly work… if you were ok with lying to people!
I wasn’t comfortable with it at all. I asked for and received a refund.
“Turn your life story into a lie.”
I’ve been in this online marketing world for 18 years now, and I’ve seen a lot of gurus, authors, speakers, marketers and teachers come and go.
And some who should go who, shockingly, continue to stick around.
I’ve actually saw a video where a guy was teaching marketers how to be better liars…
He was a storytelling expert who has great information. I had a ton of respect for his story structure expertise.
But he was recommending that marketers outright LIE about their personal stories to increase the sales impact.
At that point I lost all respect for him.
Why are con-men successful?
I’ve seen con-men
- Get complained about online,
- Reported to the Better Business Bureau,
- Exposed in blog posts…
Yet they keep going, lying and successfully making money because:
Con men leverage our weakness for confidence.
“How could they be so confident if they weren’t genuine?”
They’re super confident and we love confident people.
But the best liars are extremely confident.
Any the mac daddy version of this is the con-man who sells courses to help you become more confident…
There are a lot of gullible rookies.
“There’s a sucker born every minute.”
There are 6 million new small businesses created in the U.S. each year.
These rookie business owners don’t have the experience to avoid getting suckered.
Some people are addicted…
“This time is different.”
Some people just don’t learn from getting suckered over and over again.
Just like gambling addicts, they’re addicted to cults of personality.
The three things are the main reasons con-men keep making money online.
Con-men in the marketing world
I’ve seen con-men get published by the big publishing houses. I’ve seen them get chosen as speakers at big conferences. I’ve seen them claim to make millions.
I had some of my own research and work stolen by a fairly well-respected social media author. He talked about my research in his book without giving me any credit whatsoever. And when I confronted the guy, he had absolutely no remorse. He wasn’t willing to change anything to make it right. And he said that my confronting him about it was “annoying.” I found out later from a friend in the business that this same guy has stolen multiple people’s work. This is his modus operandi. Instead of following the responsible academic method of giving credit where credit is due, he played fast and loose with other people’s work for his own gain. This is a guy that many people respect, and nobody knows his true character. He’s built his reputation up by stealing other people’s work and accomplishments. It’s dishonest and unfair, but he still does well.
Another guy was exposed by multiple bloggers for being a fraud. He said it was a misunderstanding. Of course, they will always say they did nothing wrong. He started several businesses and took their money and never did the work for it. He built his company with workers who were young, insecure, gullible and cheap, if not free. Clearly, he had not changed his stripes. Still, a large conference was charmed by the guy and not only had him speak but recommended him to me as an authority. I felt I couldn’t bad-mouth the guy even though the conference was being suckered by a con-man. It is amazing how our sense of decency keeps us from warning others about bad eggs.
How do you stop a con man?
It’s tough. If you want to be the cranky guy who is calling everybody else out, yeah, try that.
Maybe people won’t dismiss you for just being “negative.”
That might work out. Or you could get sued for libel.
People may not believe you.
Once someone is “big” and respected by a lot of people, we tend to give them the benefit of the doubt. Politicians exploit this all the time. If they are confident and deny all accusations, then the people that want to believe in them will defend them.
It’s he-said-she-said, and you have to choose who to trust, and typically, we trust people who have authority and confidence.
- Their confidence may come from narcissism. They may be a sociopath. Many sociopaths are charming.
- Their authority may be a house of lies. Is anyone checking it? And again, we get into a he-said-she-said, and people take sides.
Why do we fall for it?
- If they’re attractive
- If they’re rich
- If they’re successful
- If they’re tall
- If they’re likable
- If we think they will help us reach our dreams
- If we’ve invested money in them and we’re embarrassed to admit we made a mistake…
…then we stand by our favorite con-men. We’re complicit in their lying and stealing.
That’s why this is such a sticky problem.
Cons work, we get sucked in, and con-men aren’t being stopped.
That’s why I made this list…
10 Ways to Avoid Getting Duped By Internet Con-Men
#1 Google them.
Do your due diligence.
If you’re accepting a teacher or mentor, you’re making a huge decision. Is this person really worthy of your trust and money, or are they just a slick lie?
- Do they have any criminal history?
- FTC judgments?
- Complaints from people in the blogosphere? Look for any review sites you can and read up on them.
- Use a tool like Moz’s link explorer to see if their main website has any links and authority- or is it totally new?
#2 If they’re an author, read their Amazon book reviews.
Check their reviews of their books on Amazon.
Even if they have 100’s of 5 star reviews, that can be faked.
There are sites like Fiverr where authors can pay people to post book reviews they themselves have written. Do the reviews seem authentic? Would a real person write that? Or do the reviews sound like marketing material?
Read the 1, 2 and 3 star reviews. Do any of these people find the 5-star reviews suspicious?
If previous readers think the 5-star book reviews are a lie, then I would pass on that book and author.
Here’s more about how to spot fake reviews.
#3 Beware the millionaire bait.
Copywriters know that people get more excited by a “millionaire method” than by a system that helps you break 6-figures.
Think big, right?
Most millionaire methods are BS. Most people have a much better chance of making 6-figures in business than becoming a millionaire.
And food for thought: the research says
So it might not be smart to strive to be a millionaire anyway.
That’s not a popular sentiment, and that’s why con-men can make so much money promising you millions.
We all want an easy way out of work and into a life where we get everything we want. That’s how con-men hook you.
Becoming a millionaire is not reality for most people, but people don’t want reality.
They want to live their dream. They want positive inspiration.
Odds are, this person has not actually discovered a system that will make everyone a millionaire.
What’s the catch?
What aren’t they telling you?
Where are all these millionaires they’ve created? Can you talk to them?
What percentage of people achieved that?
What percentage failed?
Is the only millionaire the one who made money selling everybody the idea of becoming a millionaire?
#4 Check their case studies and testimonials.
Have they helped any students achieve the things they’re promising you?
Do they have testimonials? Could those testimonials have been faked? Is there any way to verify these people?
Try doing a Google image search of any testimonials from “regular” people. You might find something like this:
Google the people in the testimonials and see if you find real people who’ve achieved things.
If you do find real people, contact them and ask them about the guru, author or teacher you’re considering.
Did these real success story people struggle at all?
Is this testimonial person in their affiliate program and make money on the guru’s stuff? If so, they are incentivized to lie about the guru. Or at least stretch the truth, and gloss over the challenges.
In fact, even though affiliate marketing is a valid strategy, many of the con-men I’ve seen use affiliates, so having an affiliate program may be a red flag.
I know, this is work!
But it will save you a lot of money, time and heartache in the long run.
Please do it.
#5 Check their academic references.
Do they have anything to back up their claims? Research? Studies? Surveys? Click on their references and find out if they’re real.
#6 Do they have the endorsement of trustworthy people?
Almost anybody can put up a landing page with fake testimonials from people you’ve never heard of.
What’s harder is to get positive quotes from real authorities.
Keep in mind, before you decide that a quote from so-and-so is a big deal, some of these con-men go in groups. They all endorse each other, so they all seem to have a lot of authority together. But all of them are lying and cheating to some degree. There are groups of con-men helping each other look more credible so they can all fleece people.
#7 Have they published with a traditional publisher?
Anyone can self-publish. What’s harder to do is to get published by a big, traditional publisher (examples include McGraw-Hill, Pearson and Wiley).
These publishers vet authors pretty thoroughly to make sure they’re for real.
Still, some of the minor con-men slip through- or an author may get traditionally published before they try to con anybody online.
So this one alone is not enough.
#8 Do they teach at an accredited college or university?
Anyone can create their own course.
Few people teach for real universities or colleges where they live.
Again, these institutions will vet their prospective professors.
#9 Do they have mentions or interviews with the big name press and media?
Anyone can blog.
Fewer people are able to get on TV and into the big-name magazines and newspapers.
Editors and producers are skeptical and know that their own credibility can be permanently damaged by trusting the wrong source.
If someone has been in big-name press and media multiple times, there’s a good chance they’ve been checked out by multiple skeptical editors.
#10 Watch your emotions.
There’s really no 100% foolproof way to be sure. But you can watch your own emotions, if you trust them.
- Start believing this person and their system or tool is the key to your future.
- Think, “this is the only way.”
- Are afraid there’s a limited amount of time, or the seller is using false urgency to get you to act.
- Are afraid, “If I miss out on this, I’m screwed.”
- Are afraid they might be lying…
…then take a breath and sleep on it. A lot of these guys motivate through fear and urgency.
If you’re feeling adrenalized and stressed, you won’t make the right decision.
Talk to some people about it. Be careful: con-men isolate you from other influences. They tell you that your friends and family won’t understand because they’re not winners or don’t want you to succeed. This keeps you from hearing any second-opinions on the con-man’s ideas.
You need to be patient, take your time, talk to people and make the right decision.
Ask the seller to give you more time. If they won’t, ask why not. These guys are really good at coming up with plausible reasons. Ask them to make an exception. If they won’t, then they probably aren’t a good partner for you.
Sometimes they say, “I only want to work with decisive people.”
Why is that?
“Because they take action.”
Well, that’s pretty convenient for the seller, since that action is you giving them money.
Brian Carter is a popular business expert and keynote speaker with Fortune 500 clients like NBC, Microsoft and Humana as well as small businesses. He delivers motivational keynotes with practical takeaways with the comedic flair of his stand up comedy background. His agency, The Brian Carter Group, creates marketing that excites customers and increases brand visibility, sales and loyalty. Brian is a bestselling author you’ve probably seen on Bloomberg TV or in Inc, Entrepreneur, The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times. He has over 250,000 online fans and reaches over 3 million people per year.