EXECUTIVE PRESENCE & POWER: The History of the ‘Confidence Man’ & How to Protect Yourself

I’m a coach specialising in presence, power & influence based in Hong Kong coaching internationally. I believe that good people should learn to observe others and seek power. I know you will agree with me that the world would be different if great people making an impact were in powerful positions… I help good people be more powerful!

Here is something that will help you be observationally astute

Let’s discuss the origins of a con man:

A confidence trick is an attempt to defraud a person or group after first gaining their trust. Confidence tricks exploit victims using their credulity, naïveté, compassion, vanity, irresponsibility, and greed. 

Confidence game, confidence scheme, ripoff, scam, and stratagem are some synonyms. The perpetrator of a confidence trick (or “con trick”) is often referred to as a confidence (or “con”) man, con-artist, or a “grifter”.

Samuel Thompson (1821–1856) was the original “confidence man”. Thompson was a clumsy swindler who asked his victims to express confidence in him by giving him money or their watch rather than gaining their confidence in a more nuanced way. A few people trusted Thompson with their money and watches. Thompson was arrested in July 1849. Reporting about this arrest, a reporter of the New York Herald publicized Thompson by naming him the “Confidence Man”.

A confidence trick is also known as a con game, a con, a scam, a grift, a hustle, a bunko (or bunco), a swindle, a flimflam, a gaffle, or a bamboozle. When accomplices are employed, they are known as shills.

Confessions of a Confidence Man: A Handbook for Suckers By Edward H. Smith was first published in 1922, Confessions of a Confidence Man remains just as relevant today for its timeless observations on human nature. Both the con man and his victim are laid bare in this classic study of the intersections of psychology and crime. This still-relevant but rather simplistic…

Foundation work

Preparations are made in advance of the game, including the hiring of any assistants required and studying the background knowledge needed for the role.


The victim is approached or contacted.


The victim is given an opportunity to profit from participating in a scheme. The victim’s greed is encouraged, such that their rational judgment of the situation might be impaired.

Pay-off or convincer

The victim receives a small payout as a demonstration of the scheme’s purported effectiveness. This may be a real amount of money or faked in some way. In a gambling con, the victim is allowed to win several small bets. In a stock market con, the victim is given fake dividends.

The “hurrah”

A sudden manufactured crisis or change of events forces the victim to act or make a decision immediately. This is the point at which the con succeeds or fails. With a financial scam, the con artist may tell the victim that the “window of opportunity” to make a large investment in the scheme is about to suddenly close forever.

The in-and-in

A conspirator (in on the con, but assumes the role of an interested bystander) puts an amount of money into the same scheme as the victim, to add an appearance of legitimacy. This can reassure the victim, and give the con man greater control when the deal has been completed.

The victim’s vulnerabilities:

Confidence tricks exploit typical human characteristics such as greed, dishonesty, vanity, opportunism, lust, compassion, credulity, irresponsibility, desperation, and naïvety.

8 ways you can protect yourself from a con artists

1. Be aware of your vulnerabilities- know you can be taken advantage of

2. Learn to read people- Verbal & nonverbal tells

3. Look at onlookers and those provide references- they may be in on it

4. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

5. Ask more questions- you rather offend someone than not protect yourself

6. If it is too good to be true, it probably is

7. Don’t get carried away by hype or trends

8. Trust your instincts

Stay safe & Stay well- Get in touch if you’d like to know more

About Devika Das:

Devika coaches executives on power, influence, impact & executive presence.


1.NICHE AS A COACH: A coach and trainer specializing in psychodynamic transformations for leaders. She is an expert in enhancing self and interpersonal awareness to develop an impactful global executive presence in leaders worldwide.

2.TOP BUSINESS SCHOOL: A graduate of INSEAD’s Masters in Consulting and Coaching for Change (EMCCC). Research thesis at INSEAD was on the psychodynamic study of ‘Global Executive Presence’ which included developing a coaching tool to enhance sustained and evolving presence in leaders.

3. GLOBAL EXPERIENCE: Has twenty-plus years of global experience – lived and worked in India, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Indonesia, China, and Hong Kong. Nearly 20 years of coaching and training experience, 10 of which were in Mainland China.

4. AUTHOR: She is the author of the Reflective Edge Series for senior executives which helps leaders enhance self-awareness for impact, influence, presence, and power. Is currently working on a book on executive presence for women leaders.

5.COACH FOR A TOP BUSINESS SCHOOL: Devika continues her engagement with INSEAD as a learning coach for their executive program on gender diversity and inclusion.

6. HAS A NERDY MEMBERSHIP: A member of the International Society for Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations.

7.WRITES: Adds insight on leadership for LinkedIn and INSEAD Business School. Contributes on Medium and Thrive Global.

8.HUMAN/MOTHER/WRITER ON A JOURNEY: loves spending time with her daughters, practicing mindfulness, writing, exercising, and connecting with people.

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