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What is a Con Artist?

Ken Black
Ken Black

A con artist, also known as a crook, swindler, or scammer, is a person who tricks someone out of money or goods. He establishes trust with the victim and uses the ability to read people and a good sense of timing to carry the schemes through. Many have specific modes of operation, although they operate across a wide array of scam types and tend to be hard to pick out of a crowd. These criminals often come into their work because of financial hardship, seeing others model the behavior, or because of various psychological needs.

General Profile

Modern con artists often use texting to target teens.
Modern con artists often use texting to target teens.

Media and members of the public often portray a scammer as shady, but the reality is, his main trait is often that he has the incredible ability to blend into the crowd. In fact, a complaint that often echoes from victims is that the con man was the last person they expected to be a criminal. Crooks of this variety usually put on a friendly persona no matter what their appearance is or with whom they might associate.

Earning someone's trust is the main tactic of all con artists.
Earning someone's trust is the main tactic of all con artists.

People who carry out scams usually have a good sense of timing because they have to judge when to approach victims and when to retreat. They are excellent at reading people and have no trouble locking into emotional triggers. Patience is one of their virtues, as well, because following through with a plan can take time. Despite the capacity to tap into psychology, they typically lie pathologically and often believe that those who fall for their plots are “suckers” who are very gullible or unintelligent. The “smart people know better” mentality may allow them to keep a clear conscience as they carry out crimes.

Con Types and Categories

Con artists often use indirect methods, such as soliciting donations to a supposed charity.
Con artists often use indirect methods, such as soliciting donations to a supposed charity.

Swindlers generally choose from two major types of cons: indirect and direct. In the first type, the con artist contacts and interacts with victims from a distance. Scams in the direct group are much rarer, as they require the criminal to give away his anonymity and make face-to-face contact with the person he’s targeting, which is riskier to do.

Once a scammer decides which type of con he is more comfortable with, he gets more specific and selects a category. In indirect crimes, common categories include Internet and telephone scams, although some individuals work via regular mail. Texting scams are increasingly popular and often target teens. Examples of direct categories include selling poor quality items at auctions or other events and posing as a representative for a charity.

Pattern of Behavior

Some people believe psychics are merely con artists.
Some people believe psychics are merely con artists.

Even though scammers have many different categories of schemes from which to choose, many of them do things the same way time and time again. Police refer to this pattern of behavior as the crook's modus operendi (method of operation) or M.O. These patterns often let law enforcement officers detect the swindler's activity. In some instances, M.O.s also allow police to evaluate cases after they arrest a con man to determine which or how many crimes he committed.

Con artists may pit people against each other for personal gains.
Con artists may pit people against each other for personal gains.

The use of a specific modus operendi gives individuals a better chance to protect themselves because it alerts them to what they might need to be on the lookout for. New con artists are coming up with new schemes every day, however, so it is not always possible to use behavioral patterns to detect a potential problem.


Across all categories of schemes, the key element that makes cons successful is trust. A con artist uses this emotion to make his target victims believe he is looking out for their best interests. This makes it less likely that the victim will look closely at the scammer’s behavior and suspect wrongdoing. The fact that trust is so fundamental to the crime means that a con artist takes great pains to develop relationships, sometimes over many years.

Texting scams have seen an increase in recent years.
Texting scams have seen an increase in recent years.

After victims discover that they have been cheated in some way, they may have difficulty accepting what the swindler did. They often do not want to believe that someone they trusted took advantage of them. In some cases where trust was very deep and sincere, the experience of the crime may be so devastating that they later have trouble opening up to other people they meet. Targets of these crimes also may be so colored by the event that they assume that all crooks operate the same way as the one they knew.

Although cons always start out with the serious intention of scamming, as trust grows, some con artists become extremely emotionally invested with their target victims. If the criminal follows through with his plans, he may mourn the loss of his relationships as deeply as the people he tricked. Trust occasionally — if rarely — becomes so strong that the swindler cannot follow through with his plans, and in extreme cases, he might even admit his original intent and try to make amends for the dishonesty.

Motivations and Background

A common reason for people to become con artists is because they are in difficult financial circumstances. They may turn to swindling if they cannot find legitimate employment. Others have family members, such as parents, who engage in the activity, so they come to feel as though scamming is natural and morally acceptable by watching other people do it.

Some individuals also engage in this type of criminal activity because of its psychological benefits. Certain people enjoy the rush of pulling of a scheme, while others look for a sense of superiority over those they target. Crooks also may be using their crimes as a way of lashing out or gaining attention.


With so many criminals engaging in scam activity, experts recommend that individuals never give out personal information to a company or person they do not know. They also suggest alerting the police the moment fraudulent behavior is apparent. Educational websites, such as the one for the National Fraud Information Center, can also provide useful information about specific cons.

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Discussion Comments


My mother and father-in-law came to me eight years ago saying that if I didn't help them pay for their house they would lose it. They said they needed help for four years. I agreed and their lawyer drew up an agreement that in exchange for my help, my name would be put on the title and if I ever decided I wanted out, that they would sell the house and pay me back.

It's now eight years later and I have paid all the costs of their house. They have lived in it for free during that time.

At Christmas, they demanded another $50,000 and threatened to declare bankruptcy if I didn't pay. They said that going bankrupt would mean I would lose the opportunity to sell the house to recover the money -- now $120,000 -- that I have paid.

I said no to the $50,000 and told them it is time to sell the house. I told them I would help put them in a smaller one they can afford on their own. Instead of getting out, they had a lawyer contact me and tell me that they were only willing to give back $60,000 and wanted my name off the title when I accepted the offer. I did not accept and have now put almost $10,000 into my own lawyer to get them to sell the house. It is still up in the air and may go to court now, which will cost me more.

I helped them because they are my in-laws. Now they have hurt me badly and I have come to believe they did a con on me.

Is it possible that they never had any intention to honor their end of the agreement?


I know a man who married into our family at one time. The marriage fell through and my parents felt sorry for him and let him buy some land from them for three times less than it was worth. He then started in on them to sell him more. I think he thought that they were old and he would eventually get a lot from them. I noticed over the years that he cozied up to many terminally ill people who had very little time left – people with cancer and such. He always ended up “helping” them, but seemed to take away much more than he ever did for them. He got money, cars, tools, furniture -- you name it.

I got worried after a time. He promised to do so much for my parents and then he just stopped, although he had pretty much taken over their land, running four wheelers over my dad's hay, killing deer off the land. He started shooting his guns toward the back part of the land so that it got to where we were afraid to walk back there. I tried to tell my parents that I thought he was trying to get to them for all he could, even though they didn't have a lot of money. He was using them.

Here are a few things he has done that I know for a fact: He got close to his first wife's dad when he had terminal cancer. He ended up with a lot of things because he was being so good to him. Then later they were divorced, and he came crying to my parents about it all. They took him under their wings. During this time, he went back and tried to repair his relationship with his real dad. His dad was dying. When his sisters refused to let him take everything his dad had owned, he was so angry that it looked to me like nothing but greed.

Then he met a woman and her step-dad was dying from cancer and was very well off. He ended up with a lot there too. He married the daughter and the mother in law was so grateful for all he had done, she was letting him have all kinds of things. When his mother in law met a man, the giving stopped and he accused her new boyfriend of taking her for everything she had. I believe the new boyfriend opened her eyes.

Later, he decided to make up with one of his step-dads and he got all of the man's gun collection and more. Then he got close to a man whom I have known for years when he got cancer. He would go out and help him, but it turned out he profited quite well from the little help he gave and the treatments were causing bad judgment for the man he was conning.

Finally, after all these years, my parents saw that he was trying to buy the land behind him from them and refused to give them a decent price. He got smart with them and finally I think they saw him for what he was. I am their only surviving child and a woman too. They just wouldn't believe that he laughed behind everyone's back about how stupid they were and that they were dumb for falling for it so they deserved it. He really never tried to hide what he was from me. I think he thought that because I am quiet and not a money grubber, that I just wouldn't get it. But I did. He wanted to take my place. My parents tho have lived a lot longer than I believe he thought they would and he just got tired of hiding his true colors or made a slip up while dealing with them and I am so glad.

I feel as though I have my parents back again. It was not that they ever treated me badly; it was just that I could feel him pushing me out. I am not worried if I get a thing when they are gone. I wish they would be here forever. I love them. But I could not stand to see them listening to him and falling for his bull. Finally, it is over. He still lives on a corner of their land, but he stays off of the rest. I know he is always looking for someone new to get to. I don't understand why. He has a good job with great pay, his wife works and they have one child. Why in the world would he have such a need to take from people who need help?


Con artists are amazing. They will frequently go somewhere, and lie low while they are getting the lay of the land, and when the opportunity is ripe, they will begin their con, and everyone is left trying to dig themselves out from the carnage they leave behind, which is generally pretty profound.

Because government workers are generally not very sophisticated, they are prime targets. One in particular worked his way not just up the food chain in local and state politics, but became very influential in the White House.

When he was finally picked up as a result of an outstanding warrant for his arrest, the damage he did has yet to fully unravel.


I have been conned. It happened recently and I am still so depressed. Circumstances made me get close to this man. I thought I was in safe hands but he ripped me off. I gave him all my savings. He said he is running a business and is investing my money in a very good deal and that I would get double the amount within ninety days.

Later on, I found out that I was not the only one. I don't know his real name. I have nothing in writing from him, and there's nothing that I can do. He disappeared and is not in touch anymore. People know where he is, but they can't really do much. He played it safe and clean. I feel like I should cry, scream, and tell everybody, but I can't. I can't tell anyone what happened and how foolish I acted.

His name was fake, and he told tons of lies, but the worst part is he was a friend, someone I felt I could trust, someone I would say could change my life, who had a deep concern for me. He acted like he cared, but he didn't care and he has no shame.

Do these monsters have double personalities? How can they live a peaceful life after such horrendous crimes? This particular person had a son and said he had a mom and other family members, too. Some was true, but some information was wrong. How could he put his mom to shame by doing what he did? How could he put his innocent child to shame, who he said he wanted him to be a great man? I think about it over and over and over, sometimes all night. I feel totally depressed and frustrated.


If you act like you will never get scammed, you might get scammed. If you act like nobody ever scams, you might get scammed. If you keep your eyes open and let your friends know what you are seeing, you can avoid getting scammed. Don't get scammed!


@anon77839: Will you please inform me as to what type of lawyer you got and what legal processes are you going through? I fell in love with an older man, and I am ashamed to admit that he conned me out of thousands.

I am young and he lied and told me he loved me and tricked me into giving him money "that would be for us or he would pay me back."

I feel so stupid and I trusted him and now he's leaving me in the dirt with nothing and no money to buy books for school. I'm really scared and don't know what to do and have been keeping it secret. I need some advice badly.


Just curious, is it possible to be a con artist who scams people out of sex? I know one such individual who presents himself as a church-going, family-oriented, wants-to-settle-down kind of guy. He usually targets lonely women with depression, very young girls and other vulnerable groups. He tells these people he's in an exclusive relationship with them but that could not be further from the truth. By the time they realize they've been conned he's moved on to new victims.

I believe he is a con artist, everything he does is typical of a confidence trick, except not being after just money.


@anon266538: Can you get your mom and brother out of the house, say on a trip to the grocery store? If you can, get them out of town, maybe to a relative's house, then call the FBI. It's a federal offense to impersonate a federal officer.


Please help me. No one or agency can help me. These people have lived in my mom's house for five years now. They have my mom brainwashed that they are protecting all her family from corrupt police and they are working with the FBI.

My mom has given all her money, they totaled her car and now they are getting my brother's Social Security money. My mom's scared. She's lost weight and looks terrible. My mom's too scared to tell them to leave because we will be killed. She will not evict them. She's living in fear every day. What can I do besides hire someone to physically take them out?


My brother is a big con artist and rips off our father and says he's sick or makes up other stories that are really not believable at all.

Because he lives in another country he can con our father and gets away with it. He put our father in debt and doesn't give a damn and still continues this financial abuse today. He is such a compulsive liar and user!


I have been conned twice in my life by two men. The first was when I was around 18. I met him at a bar, he latched on to me. At first my gut instinct was to run and I tried to many times. He told me he was a business man, took generous interest in what I was doing. Bunged on the nice guy act. He was after sex and a relationship.

I gave him my name and number foolishly but said no to sex. He is a stalker and obsessive, manipulative sociopath. I live in a small town. Whoever thought there were so many con artists, He backed off after I told him straight I didn't want sex.

The second, more recent time was my neighbor. He said he has health conditions and put on the nice guy act. Conned me out of food and money I needed because he said he was stuck. He had a gambling addiction. He got personal information about me he used against me. He came to my father's funeral and all he wanted was a free ride.

If he didn't get his own way he ended up in the psychiatric ward or emergency room feigning illness. I felt sorry for this poor disabled man. I was silly. Now he is nasty and making my life hell, making up stories against me. He rang the police and used my name and I tried telling them it wasn't me and he sat there and said I tell lies.


My 84 year old father is being conned by a 63 year old "sharp dressed woman"! She dresses and acts like she is 30 years old, has him wrapped around her finger, has her buying him a $23,000 diamond ring and expensive clothes and meals and does nothing in return for him other than call him on the phone and go to dinner or lunch during a typical month.

She has never stayed at his house and wouldn't. She has never offered to let him meet her family - only her "boarder" - a 52 year old man who has "lived" with her for six years now with a lease (she says).

We have been told by an anonymous caller that this lady and her boarder are out for his money and he refuses to believe it. He trusts her completely and wants to re-write his will to include her after three years of "dating". What to do?


Sometimes the con man doesn't truly acknowledge he is one. I met a man 10 years ago; I was the one who denied his drinking problems. Long story short, the relationship was funded by me. For my own reasons, I helped set up the parameters of what we gave to each other.

He seemed to be capable of working, since he did work for his brother throughout the years in a tree service business. His life had been formed by his addictions in his late teens and when I met him he had already carved out a past of leaving people and using them for his alcoholism and drug problems.

Anyway, after five years, he crashed and needed rehab and chose to got to a center nearby where I lived. He went in with the hope of recovering from his alcoholism and drug and he did for four years. However, his using people, namely me, because his family was worn out from the use, did stay on track.

I knew though, that I would never be able to marry him because of the addiction problems, but I hung on and went on to spend money over a period of the next five years. The last year he moved back to the distant cousin family and I further helped him with money, to the tune of $12,000 to this point in time.

He has since fallen again to the alcoholism and it has taken me 10 years to see what I did to myself in my own co-dependencies. I didn't realize the extent of what an alcoholic will do to those who love them to get what they want.

This particular man, I feel, conned me, but he did so with my denial of who and what he truly was in the beginning.

Lesson learned. I daily have to remind myself that there are many people who con people for their addictions and that there are many of us who love them and give wrongly. So I have to accept my decisions and move on. Not without a great deal of sadness that the alcoholic doesn't truly love back; they are not capable of seeing past their addiction.


Be aware of the cons that use churches as their front. Unfortunately, I was scammed for several years by a con that boldly used large churches as his cover. He claimed to be an author, pastor and some even called him "prophet". I think "profit" might have been more appropriate.

He used the term "love offering" and even claimed he was a former satanist that had been saved. I guess that makes his story more exciting for his target population - those that want to believe he is healed.

Sadly, this is a man that has been doing this act across the nation with followers of both sexes and likes to aim big, really big. The best cons are so believable, especially to those that want to believe in the good of humanity.


Thank you for this.


my father got scammed by a woman, who was my mother's carer. He gave her gifts like a new kitchen and a brand new bmw and now she's done a runner. And we are left to pick up the pieces. As now he is destitute with no money No charges can be brought against her through the police of civil law. So we are stuck. Everyone just be careful and do not be taken in.


My elderly father was conned by several girls he met in AA. They had no place to live and came in to take care of him, supposedly. They had him paying all their bills, giving them money, using his credit cards and they stole from him. They said they would "never steal from him" and "they loved him".


Beware of guys in Longwood, FL. These cons will do anything to get into your wallet. There are very trashy neighborhoods in the area that I didn’t know about

In my case, I met a guy at a popular bar, very tall, blonde, said he’s German and Scottish. All he did was to tell me how beautiful and wonderful I was. Introduced me to his whole family; cried misery: how he can’t find a job, how his son is a poor little boy, not having what he deserves. I felt sorry, plus he’s a good looking, well mannered guy. I really wanted to help and make a difference in his life (the poor thing)

I paid him $150.00 in advance to have a screen door installed at my house, $40.00+ for gas, took him to dinners and lunches. I gave his kid $25.00 for good grades, etc. He declared his everlasting love for me and all.

In the end, even his friends were coming around expecting me to pay for their drinks, which I didn’t.

It lasted two weeks, but early on (about $450.00 later) I told him that my bank accounts were locked up and I couldn’t make any withdrawals with my cards until I went to the banks in person. Well, his everlasting love was over in about three days.

I’m ashamed of myself for being conned, but at least I got out of it before it mushroomed into the thousands of dollars.


Women, don't be coned by Jose Ray Luberza Collazo or Jose Ray, Jose Collazo, Jose Elegua Ray. He uses internet sites to hook up with women. He claims he is a retired military Air Force Lt. Colonel of 22 years. He is a dark skinned puerto rican and wears glasses most of the time. He uses colored contacts too, when he has the money to purchase them. He has two tattoos: one on his back (happy face/sad face) and one on his leg (samurai warrior). He has a scar on his cheek and one on his back from supposedly having to put a stent in his heart.

He is from Ponce, PR and claims that Isabel La Negra is his grandmother and is fighting to get an inheritance. When actually she is his aunt and the monies are tied up because of back taxes and the monies were made by her in her bordetella in Puerto Rico.

He will smoothly move into your life and cause havoc. He uses his dancing skills to sweep you off your feet. He has done this to eight women that we are aware of, who have filed reports with the police, however he has not been caught.

He has cleaned out women's bank accounts, made fraudulent charges and checks, stolen and has used women's social security numbers to open credit card accounts. He owes back rents and monies to women and men that he befriends.

He uses a law firm's name from Florida to legitimize all his claims to you and has people call him acting out roles so you believe what he is saying. He has lived in Norcross, Georgia, Linden and North Arlington, NJ, Los Angeles, CA, Tampa and Orlando, FL, Moreno Vally, CA and Chicago. The last detail is now is will be posing as a Santero of many years, son of Elegua. Beware!


Be careful because there are many con artists out there! I was naive, and trusted people as I came from a loving family. Or so I thought! Boy, was I deceived when I learned that my own brother is a con artist. He conned not only me, but some other members of my family! So, for me, trusting anyone is a huge issue now.


People who are scam artists and use people should be ashamed of themselves. They will all pay someday because they will have to answer to god some day and he will not let them into heaven for doing people wrong.

They need to get a real job and earn their money like a real person does and stop conning other people out of what they work so hard for. Shame on them all.


Just to let you all know, we have con artists in every state there is. i was conned by a so-called friend but i wouldn't give in to him and give him money every time he cried wolf.

i was with him for eight months, but then got smart and moved out. He didn't get much of my money because i wouldn't let him have it. i also got conned by a person in the UK stating that a person was sick and dying and that they had a lot of money and they needed some one to give half to charity and then you could have the other half. Not true, so don't fall for things that sound right but are wrong.

They claim to be lawyers and all kinds of people, so just be careful who or what you get yourself into. If it is to good to be true, then it must be a scam. If you have to send money to make money then it is a scam or a con. Do not do it!


Thank god for this site. I thought I was the only victim of the love-con. I fell for a girl online. She was perfect. We were soul mates who were "connected".

When we met, she had recently lost her boyfriend in a car accident and I was still grieving the loss of my father. We bonded almost instantly. Then the stories started coming. She had brain surgery (twice) two bouts of cancer, broken leg, broken arm. Money was getting tight and I wanted to help her.

She never asked for a certain amount or to pay a certain bill, but she did let me know Christmas is coming or its back to school season. So I would send cash ($1000) at a time for ten years. All the while she claimed that the four kids that lived in her house were her sister's and that isn't is nice that "we" could help her needy sister.

Yes she had a sister, but she lived in another town and the kids were hers. Also, her "boyfriend" was really her husband and he was alive and well spending my money.

When I finally busted the love-con and confronted her she told me to "Go to Hell" and disappeared. I am the world's biggest fool. I did what I did out of a desire to help others. I pray at night hoping the good Lord knows that.


so anon 73290, she actually scammed you without having to see you face to face, and you were in love and thinking about marriage. Good grief.


I'm a con artist and if you do it right, it's not even illegal. So for the person who gave the conner 15 grand, you're not very smart.


I have the opposite, I was conned by a man. We were together for a little over a year. After about seven months we were in love. We talked about living together not necessarily getting married, but it was possible.

I met his family, friends coworkers. It all seemed just fine.

We bought a camper and went camping last summer but I was actually the one who paid for it with my credit card. (how dumb was I?) Twice he told me he didn't want a committed relationship and we ended up talking and worked things out. I met his whole family, his son and it was wonderful.

Little by little I paid for things and he would pay me back some but only here and there. I am sickened that a real man could this to me, a single mother with two teenage daughters, working two jobs and barely making it. I thought I was totally in love.

Well, this went on till Thanksgiving. We went to his brother's house for dinner and after we left went back to his parents house. (Bad move, he moved back in with his parents after being in an apartment he couldn't afford and I paid two months rent).

This was the last time I saw him and I am now working with a lawyer to get my money back. Thank God I have receipts for all the money I loaned him because we will probably be going to court. This man is very sick and got a lot of things he wanted and just left me to foot the bill. What a scum he is.

I did see it all after a couple months of how I was so scammed. These types of people prey on innocent victims like myself, gain your trust and zap you are done. I did learn a very good lesson and am happy I got him out of my life.

The story is common and I definitely am very careful meeting anyone on line On the website we met on, his caption: I'm looking for someone real.

I will get most of my money. Total was 15,000, and I will probably get 10,000. but a very hard lesson. I'm moving on and this only makes me stronger. codonnell2002


i am afraid i fell for an internet con-woman. We had been on an internet dating site and started corresponding. We talked for weeks, exchanged pictures, talked on instant messenger for hours at a time every night and we finally (i thought) fell in love. This went on for about six months.

She then said she needed money to pay her light bill. Well, we had already discussed marriage, so i didn't have a problem helping her out. Well from there she needed 100.00 here and another 200.00 there. I finally said, hey I'm not married to you yet. I can't just keep giving you money. she says she won't ask anymore.

Well we decide it's time to come here to get to know each other and get ready to tie the knot. i get her plane tickets for her and her mother so we can all meet and discuss the future and such. When they get to the airport, her mother collapses, and has to go to the hospital. i understand that yeah, she's old. Well, she then calls saying that i need to send her 10,000 dollars for a life flight so she can get her here. I tell her i don't have that kind of money, but there are organizations that will be glad to help. Oh no she says, i don't trust those kinds of people. i say fine, then stay there till she is better then come.

So a week goes by and she says she needs me to help with the hospital bill. i said no, you live in the uk and it's socialized medicine there. you don't get bills. Oh no, she says. i got her in a private hospital, i said, no, I'm not paying anything like that. Sorry, but we are not married and by the way what hospital is she in? Oh, she's in a small hospital. You can't even find it if you google it. well i say you are on your own then.

she calls back in a day or so, to say she's sorry and she had no right to ask that, etc., but I'm still coming in a couple weeks to you and we will still meet if you want. i say fine (I've gone this far.) Well, she calls and says would i please send her some money, not a lot, just a couple hundred so she can get groceries and such? i haven't been able to work with mom sick and all. i say fine but I'm not giving you any more.

Now i get a call a couple of times a day, saying she's better we are coming. O.K., fine, you're coming here. She says she's going to be here one day, then calls and says i missed that plane be there in two days.

I said finally, they have 10 flights a day out of london. If you wanted to be here you would be here. She asks for money again and this time i tell her I'm not giving you anything, nothing.

i have, by this time over all these months, started adding up all these little expenses, and including the tickets, have spent over 5000 dollars.

i called it quits because i must have been just blinded by love and lost my common sense. In my right mind, i never would have done that. So look out for the love-con, especially you men out there. It all starts small and ends up big!

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    • Modern con artists often use texting to target teens.
      By: olly
      Modern con artists often use texting to target teens.
    • Earning someone's trust is the main tactic of all con artists.
      By: Tanusha
      Earning someone's trust is the main tactic of all con artists.
    • Con artists often use indirect methods, such as soliciting donations to a supposed charity.
      By: Nikolai Sorokin
      Con artists often use indirect methods, such as soliciting donations to a supposed charity.
    • Some people believe psychics are merely con artists.
      By: olly
      Some people believe psychics are merely con artists.
    • Con artists may pit people against each other for personal gains.
      By: avecfort
      Con artists may pit people against each other for personal gains.
    • Texting scams have seen an increase in recent years.
      By: visi.stock
      Texting scams have seen an increase in recent years.