Inside the Mind of the Scam Artist: The Trickster Archetype

Jan 12, 2023

A man holds a mask against the lower half of his face, revealing only his nose, brown eyes, and eyebrows.
PhotoCredit: Sander Sammy via Unsplash

Conned, swindled, or bilked, about 50 million Americans were ripped off by scammers in 2020. What deadens a person to preying on another? Tricksters commit crudely constructed fraud. Jung said they are “not really evil [but do] the most atrocious things from sheer unconsciousness and unrelatedness.” Cheaters may have behaved decently until tempted by need and opportunity and then become caught in a web of deception. Narcissists exploit others due to an inflated need for admiration and status that forecloses empathy and relatedness–and crooks turn predation, power, and risk-taking into a career. They lack authentic affiliation with others and an abiding sense of self; egotism and performative grandiosity substitute for feeling and being. The scammer unwittingly scams himself by seeking false gold in the external world. Real gold lies within.

Here’s the dream we analyze:

“I’m with my family in a grand dining room, around a large table with lots of food on it. It’s going to be dad’s funeral. I hear that mum is really upset because she wants to see dad’s body before they bury him. Some men bring dad’s body directly past the table where we are sitting, and as they bring the body past, I recite the lyrics to the Kenny Rogers song “The Gambler” to my brother. I look at him sincerely, and I clearly say: “On a warm summer’s evening, on a train bound for nowhere, I met up with a gambler, we were both too tired to sleep. We took turns in staring out the window at the darkness Until the boredom overtook us, and he began to speak. He said, “Son, I’ve made a life out of reading people’s faces Knowing what the cards were by the way they held their eyes. And if you don’t mind me saying, I can see you’re out of aces, and for a taste of your whiskey, I’ll give you some advice. You’ve got to know When to hold ’em, Know when to fold ’em, Know when to walk away, Know when to run, You never count your money When you’re sittin’ at the table, There’ll be time enough for countin,’ When the dealin’s done, Now every gambler knows, The secret to survivin,’ Is knowin’ what to throw away, And knowin’ what to keep, ’Cause every hand’s a winner, And every hand’s a loser, And the best you can hope for Is to die in your sleep.” Then I stop, and we start to eat the food.” 


Bernie Madoff, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernie_Madoff

Elizabeth Holmes, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Holmes

George Santos, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Santos

John Carreyrou. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup. https://a.co/d/3Gv3NMJ

Maria Konnikova. The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It Every Time. https://a.co/d/gWd18xR

Podcast: Dr. Death. https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/dr-death-s1-dr-duntsch/id1421573955

Sam Bankman-Fried, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Bankman-Fried


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1 Comment

  1. Simcha

    Yet another TJL “classic,” which means (for me):

    I started this podcast thinking that it had nothing to do with me (in other words, with the innocence of Snow White).

    But then came your exchanges from “find your own gold” to Pinocchio (!), which were unexpected and utterly spectacular. Wowsa.

    Listening to these exchanges felt like watching figure skating jumps but done with three people, with ideas and with voices. Synaesthesia and then some!


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