Friday 31 May 2013

Scam Art Sam : The Powdered Milk for Baby Scam

Dear Scam Art Sam,

This is a good one, with decent dividends and a high success rate.  You’ll need to employ some charm and play your cards right, but unlike many others, the Powdered Milk for Baby Scam works best when you don’t rush it. 

You Will Need
You, and an agreement with the clerk or owner of a shop which stocks, perhaps especially for this scam, large buckets of powdered milk.  Optional: tattered photograph of your starving baby.

Your Grounds
Could be any country that visitors (ie, potential Marks) preconceive as poor, or with a great divide between the rich and the poor.

Appear poor with a starving family.  You are probably a working man – say, a mechanic or a gardener – but the recent economic downturn (there are always hard times somewhere and for someone, so don’t think this is topical) has unjustly thrown you out of work.  Maybe the corrupt government or police were involved, and you were discriminated against.  Injustice is always a winner.  Essentially, you are trying but failing to feed your family, especially your baby, because where you were born is pitted against you.

Your Mark
Is any visitor from an apparently wealthy country to your apparently poor country.  Probably a young and solo Western male, but this is variable.  The most important thing you’re looking for is a fresh face and a desire to make a tangible difference in the world.

Your Target Emotion
Could be pride (ie, the Mark must do this in order to save the world), but typically, it is sympathy; but not so much sympathy for you – for your starving baby.  That’s what makes this one so effective.

The Routine

Step One: The Approach
This is just as crucial as a pick-up line.  You want to break the ice, but not with a sledgehammer that telegraphs your punch.  Don’t be waiting for the Mark.  Be walking somewhere (looking for food for your baby), and grab him as he passes you.  Hey, it’s you! I saw you at the…  Subtext: you look interesting, definitely more interesting than all the other tourists here.  Maybe you saw the Mark at a café earlier, or walking by the market / museum / beach / historical site / etc.  It doesn’t matter if the Mark spots the lie – you mistook him for someone else, someone with blonde hair / green eyes / big muscles / polka-dot skirt.  Meanwhile, the Mark’s first impression of you needs to be of someone charming yet downtrodden, filled with stories yet empty of money.

Step Two: The Chat
Be patient.  By the time they get to you, most Marks will be somewhat hardened against hustling.  The first few minutes of conversation are critical in establishing that you are a friend, just looking for a chinwag, not seeking help or sympathy – in fact, you might try being insulted at the suggestion.  It’s good here to have a few anecdotes.  Maybe about how the police mistreated you, how you met your wife, or what happened while you applied for a visa (and were rejected, of course, because you didn’t have the money) to the Mark’s home country.  Swear and then right away apologise for swearing.  Condemn your country and the system, and then say how great it is to have a country and a system like the Mark’s.  Tell jokes, quote Shakespeare, be yourself.  Make the Mark feel like he is having a cultural experience by just being in your presence.  And, be sure to balance your talking with questions for the Mark: about where he’s from, his wife, his job, his travels (always implying, of course, how lucky he is).  Don’t talk too much or he’ll get disinterested, because you’re not interested in him; and don’t ask too many questions, or he’ll feel targeted.

Step Three: The Bait
When the moment is right, ask for help.  It might be a good idea to pretend you’re busy and need to go soon, and so you pop the question before heading off.  Immediately tell the Mark that you do not want his money.  If he offers, refuse.  Push his hands away, get insulted.  Trust me, the return will be bigger if you hold out.  Tell the Mark that your baby is starving and that you need to buy powdered milk.  Will the Mark go with you to the shop to buy the milk?  If the Mark offers to give you the money to go buy the milk, refuse.  Tell the Mark that you want him to know that you are trustworthy and not using the money for anything else.  It is for your honour.  Tourists always assume that honour means more in the country they are visiting than it does in their own.

Step Four: The Walk
You will be relatively close to the shop, but not next door, so you will need to get the Mark across that distance without time to think.  So, here’s where you pull out your best and juiciest whopper story, the one you’ve refined and perfected with all the tragedy and comedy of the ages.  If you get to the shop before you finish the story, wait outside, as if the story is more important than him helping you – everything for the punchline of that great gab.

Step Five: The Sell
This will depend on the shop, but it’s best if you get the Mark to ask the clerk for what you’re looking for, and for the clerk to fetch it.  Alternatively, you can get it and bring it to the till, but this is less effective.  Just make sure that the Mark does not learn the price until the item is scanned through and ready to be bought.  The price, obviously, is high – but not outrageous considering the size of the bucket of powdered milk.  You want the bucket to be more surprising than the amount, because you want the Mark to think of how long that will feed your starving baby.  Don’t rush the Mark but do make him feel that this is a special moment in your life and, without saying it, that you can’t wait to bring the gift home to your desperate family.  At this step, you’ll need less charm, more emotion.  If possible, a clever partner in the clerk can be a tremendous asset: they can tell the Mark what a great service he is doing, make the deed feel legitimate, and help you out if the Mark has second thoughts.

Step Six: The Reward
Lose the Mark, but give him a fake number if you want him to feel like he’s made a friend and thus to cover your back.  When he’s safely away, return to the shop and give back the bucket of powdered milk in exchange for half of what the Mark paid, or whatever you’ve negotiated.  Everyone wins.

  • If the Mark acts suspicious or asks questions about your motive, get offended, and make to leave.  This is a general rule anyway: if you’ve been charming enough, he’ll chase you.
  • If the Mark tries to purchase a smaller container, say it is not the right kind.  Get the shop to stock, or at least display, only the kind of powdered milk you need in the bucket size.
  • If the Mark decides at the last minute not to buy the powdered milk, act incredibly deflated and disappointed, as if life-saving fortune teased you and then turned its back.  You may here want to ask for money in order to save up to buy the bucket, or you could hold out and put all your cards on the solemn and slow walk-away, in which you hope to be chased by a Mark who has changed his mind.

And that’s it.  Happy hunting and let me know how it turns out,