Con Artists and Scams When SHTF

The Wild West was a playground for con artists and scammers. SHTF scenarios displace many scared, vulnerable people allowing for a resurgence in scams. Con artists will be like wolves in the middle of a herd of sheep, easily swindling bewildered people out of money and other resources.

While online scams may still exist, the majority of the tricks will take place face-to-face as they did in the 1800s. Confidence tricks (Cons) are varied, but they all involve interactions. When you are dealing with people and trading goods during a disaster or SHTF, keep your head on your shoulders and be naturally suspicious.

Common Cons and Scams During Disasters and Emergencies

Some scams will be more prevalent than others given the dire situation most people will be in. We picked out a few of the more common tricks con artists would use to separate people from their resources:

  • Salting – Planting gold or other high-value assets leading the buyer to assume there is more.
  • Fortune Fraud – Promising ‘mystic cures’ or ‘blessings’ to cure bad luck or heal diseases.
  • Pig in a Poke – Selling something that is covered up, claiming it is one thing when it is actually something not valuable.
  • Clip Joint – Getting people to pay for services, but never actually delivering since it cannot be enforced.
  • Insurance Fraud – This is when someone tries to purposefully damage property to have the insurance reimburse them.
  • Fiddle Game – One con artist leaves an invaluable item with the mark and another convinces the mark of its high value. The mark then buys the item from the first con artist for more than it’s worth.
  • Rip Deal – The con artist offers to buy something at a markup in exchange for favors or other items. They follow through, establishing trust. Then they do it again with higher stakes and steal the goods with sleight of hand or force.
  • Unsolicited Goods – A con artist gives you goods or services you didn’t ask for and then demands payment afterward.

Don’t let these get in the way of your emergency and disaster response! Knowing what to expect is a good start, but being prepared is better.

Historical Examples of Scammers

History is littered with examples of people taking advantage of others during and after disasters. Many of these scams occurred during wartime which can make people impulsive and lean towards groupthink. Tumultuous times make it hard for rules and laws to be enforced, and criminals can take advantage of the chaos. Here are a few examples:

  • Storm Chasers – These guys follow destructive storms around with the pretense that they are helping those impacted by the storms. They take advance deposits without doing the work. They can also price gouge by charging way too much even if they do complete the work. Even reputable companies have been known to price gouge after a storm to take advantage of desperation and lack of competition.
  • Gold Rush “Salters” – The gold rush caused a mass migration of people looking for prosperity in America. A few clever scammers convinced prospective buyers that mines contained a wealth of gold. They took worthless mines that had been tapped out and blasted shotguns loaded with gold dust into the sides of the mine. This led buyers to believe that they were buying a gold mine for a steal.
  • South Sea Company – This ‘company’ somehow managed to get the majority of England to invest in the early 1700s, including the royal family, despite the fact that the company sold no goods or services. It was an artificial financial bubble, fueled by national reinvestment during the War of the Spanish Succession. Turned out that it was a giant Ponzi scheme and (as all Ponzi schemes do) it collapsed and nearly obliterated England’s economy. Be wary of investing like a lemming.
  • Trojan Horse – Although the term is used for many things today, such as online viruses, the original Trojan Horse story is worth knowing for disaster events. Though the Trojan Horse was less of a scam and more of a war tactic, the Greeks caught Troy by surprise and the execution went down in history. Be wary of gifts and don’t let pride and success let you have your guard down.

It’s not all doom and gloom during disasters- many times people will band together in a community to overcome obstacles. Being aware of potential con artists and scams while working with others is the best solution to be prepared.

Becoming a Scammer When SHTF

A few individuals and groups may relish the collapse of law and order. If you are planning on joining these ranks during a disaster, emergency, or when SHTF- I urge you to reconsider. The same absence of laws that allow scammers and con artists to run rampant also will affect the punishments afforded to those that are caught.

Those caught stacking decks in the Wild West weren’t put on probation- they were shot. Besides the moral implications of stepping on others to increase your situation in life, know that the consequences of immoral behavior will be much more grave without the protection of the law.

The Final Word

Con artists and scammers are just a few types of criminals that will flourish when there are disasters and civil unrest. An increase in theft and harder crimes is also very likely. Compassion and caring for others is a great way to approach emergencies and disasters, but that should not keep you from being careful. Be smart about trust and who you deal with during trying times.  

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Keep exploring, stay prepared, and be safe.

Cons and Scams When SHTF Text over SCAM ALERT warning sign.

Rusty Collins

I am an engineer, Air Force veteran, emergency manager, husband, dad, and experienced prepper. I developed emergency and disaster plans around the globe and responded to many attacks and accidents as a HAZMAT technician. I have been exposed to deadly chemical agents, responded to biological incidents, and dealt with natural disasters. Check out my full story here: Rusty's Story

One thought on “Con Artists and Scams When SHTF

  • also. ” The Sixth Column.” where you have a group or protected area. they come in one’s or small groups an gradually take over..


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