Why Do We Love Scammers So Much?
But most of us are not like Mr. Meehan, my former swain or the serial fabulist Frank Abagnale, Jr., whose life story spawned a cottage industry of deception: a book, “Catch Me If You Can,” a movie of the same name, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and a Tony-nominated Broadway show. Nor are we Dan Mallory, a.k.a AJ Finn, the best-selling novelist who was the subject of a recent New Yorker profile. Mr. Mallory had claimed that he had cancer, which had also killed his mother, and that his brother had committed suicide. He also said he had a Ph.D. from Oxford. None of it was true.
People who break the social contract in such a protracted and consistent manner inspire both admiration (for the chutzpah it takes to dissemble consistently) and fear.
“These stories make us ask, ‘What if nothing is as it seems?’” said Kevin Balfe, a partner at Red Seat Ventures, which produces CrimeCon, a three-day true crime convention held annually in New Orleans. “What makes someone willing and capable to do that? And what it would mean if more of us had that same capability? Society is built largely on human trust, and when that’s shattered we all suffer.”
In December 2016, Bravo conducted a survey with Research Now of 1,500 people ages 18 to 54, called “Truth and Deception in Relationships.” More than four in 10 wondered if their partner could have another side to them; more than one in three often suspected that their partner was being dishonest about something. Fifty-one percent said they’d kept a secret from their partners, male or female. And 41 percent of online daters had been lured into a relationship by means of a fake online persona, or “catfished,” said Dave Kaplan, the head of strategic insights and research for lifestyle networks at NBCUniversal, which owns Bravo.
It’s not that people were so exemplary in years past — think of ye olde hucksters, snake-oil salesmen and “The Wizard of Oz” — but there weren’t as many avenues for letting our dark sides run wild. And though digital footprints and identity-verification programs like Spokeo might make it easier to track down deceitful people, the internet presents more opportunities to transgress and, upon being caught, to create a new virtual identity.
CareerExcuse.com provides fake reference letters from fake bosses for fake jobs you’ve never had. For as little as $69 a month, Paladin Deception Services will offer character and personal references, landlord referrals, and “verification of specific skills.” Ninety-nine dollars gets you verification of a white lie or “exaggeration,” along with voice mail, a dedicated phone line in the city of your choosing, and a male or female operator — whichever suits your fancy.