"I wasn’t just stealing; I was striking a blow for
the common man against Big Business."
A petty thief who fancies himself a con artist writes about his cons. This story provoked an outraged response in the letters section of Salon, with many attacking the writer’s amoral attitude (which to them hadn’t seemed to have adequately changed by the end of the story) and Salon’s amorality and stupidity in publishing it. Some thought the story itself was a con.
What does the author write about? He performs low-level cons that are not artistic – he’s simply lying to people, like waltzing into a health club as if he was a member, or buying used books and returning them as new to bookstores.
This scam demanded a little more effort. It required "the pre-con," as I called it, when I scoured my local Salvation Army and Goodwill for 75 cent paperbacks with sharp, clean edges and un-blemished pages. I’d buy 15 or 20 at a time and then organize them into semi-thematic groups to sell back to one of the chain bookstores. It was best to keep certain types of books together — self-help with chick lit, biography with history, science fiction with mystery. Trying to return Walter Isaacson’s biography of Einstein with, say, a book from the Harry Potter series could elicit enough suspicion to blow the return. Instead, I kept things simple and precise — three or four books that fit with whatever persona I was trying on that day — and I’d use the store credit to buy the paperbacks I really wanted. I must have pocketed $150 to $200 in books every month for the better part of a year.
My biggest single score came when I discovered a dollar store that sold remainders. I bought a hardcover about Richard Nixon with a list price of $35, walked it to the bookstore and left with a gift card for the full amount. Then I went back to the dollar store and bought all eight remaining copies, returning them sporadically over the next year.
I did have two basic rules: I only conned corporations, never individuals — and I did not shoplift. Shoplifting wasn’t any worse morally; I just thought it was too easy. Instead, I was after a challenge. Sure, it was nice to get a few bucks or a gift card, but the real thrill came from my ability to manipulate, to outwit a large corporation. I wasn’t just stealing; I was striking a blow for the common man against Big Business.
How I became a con artist. I scammed department stores and gyms and book chains. You’d be surprised how easy it was to lie – and get away , Salon>>