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This is a question Conned

swiftyisNOTevil writes, "I have recently become obsessed with the BBC Three show 'The Real Hustle' - personally, I think of it as a 'How To' show for aspiring con artists."

Have you carried out a successful con? Perhaps you hustled a few quid off a stranger, or defrauded a multi-national company. Or have you been taken for the wide-eyed, naive rube that you are?

(, Thu 18 Oct 2007, 13:02)
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Sponsored events - how I broke school records, and how I nearly got molested
This is long. Sorry...

Hmmmm.... well, I'm one of those ridiculously honest folk. If, say, I'm a penny short at a shop and the owner says "don't worry about it" I'll obsess about giving that penny back at some later date.

But, I had a phase in life, aged around 11, when I was largely unsupervised. An outsider in the town of Horwich, having not long arrived. My Dad had just divorced my stepmum, and I was living with some random family again. At school I was generally good... then sponsorship day came around. You were encouraged to get these forms and fill them in, asking for money from people to get you to do things, like run ten miles or something equally pointless. I'd always been very good at fundraising - often knocking on doors and persuading neighbours, but this time round, thanks to the lack of supervision, I'd failed to resist the lure of the Battlezone machine. Yes - I'd spent some of the sponsorship money.

That's how it started really. Fessing up to random family wasn't an option. I had a shortfall to make up, and panic was setting in. Then I realised, some people just handed me money and didn't pay attention to whether I filled in the form or not. I always did (being essentially honest) but suddenly I found an answer! So I continued my fundraising, carefully avoiding filling in some details. After completing my two forms I had all the money back, and about £20 for the school - a lot in 1980.

Thing is, it was going so well, and I did really enjoy Battlezone, and sweets, that I asked for another form from a teacher. And at that point I also realised that the distribution of forms was unaudited.

Now, I make no excuses for this, it was wrong, I'm ashamed, and I shouldn't have done it. I've tried to make amends, but also, in a way, I'm quite proud of the work I put into my by then large scale fraud.

I enlisted the help of a friend and fellow Battlezone enthusiast. Together we collected as many sponsorship forms from as many different teachers as possible - the more absent-minded the better. We then systematically worked every street in the town. Every evening we'd go out and spend about two hours collecting money. The idea was that 80% would go to the school, and the rest to us.

But Battlezone and sweets weren't enough. Oh no, once you've sampled the good life you want more. Yes, more! Before we knew it, we were buying packets of biscuits, pop and playing Galaxians. Our greed knew no bounds.

Of course, there's another downside to turning up at every stranger's house in a largeish town. I knocked on the door of an elderly-ish gentleman. Nice chap he was. Very friendly, beard like Santa, and he gave me a couple of quid. And would I like a nice warming drink? "Why of course!", says a rather naive me, following him inside. He handed me something called, I think, White Tiger. Enjoying the idea of illicit alcohol, I lapped it up, even taking a second glass. All this time he was telling me about his art - that he loved painting - especially, it seemed, young boys. He asked me if I'd like to model for him....

Now drunk for the first time in my life, I woozily felt it was time to leave and find my mate who was working the other side of the street. At this point the old fella became... shall we say 'clingy'? I just assumed he was lonely. But I needed to go and the spinning room feeling was getting to me. In the end I talked my way out of his cottage and into fresh air, where an anxious looking friend was found - him worrying where I'd got to for half an hour.

Excitedly, I regaled him with this tale of the lovely old duffer artist, who painted boys and gave me alcohol! "Maybe you should go in too?!" I asked. He went mental. It seems accepting alcohol from strangers is worse than accepting sweets. Nobody had told me this. I knew about not looking at rabbits in cars, and not crossing railway lines, but at school they never tell you not to take spirits of strangers. Ho-hum. I still don't know to this day whether he was dodgy or not. Probably not, really, but you can never be sure....

Anyway, back to the fraud... we continued it for another two weeks, stepping up efforts as the sponsorhip closing date approached. I even considered finding new recruits to help me clear the whole town out.

But, rather like a prepubescent Tony Montana (yes, I know this story predates his story, but humour me here), the good times and expansion were my downfall.

Random family's mother became suspicious of my seemingly endless personal source of Bourbons and Ginger Nuts. That, the weight gain, and disappearing every evening on 'business' led to her going through my room. Something I felt Mr Montana never had to put up with. Still, I knew my number was up - she found the stash of money. And, coupled to the fact that I kept scrupulous notes on where we'd been and what was to be kept aside, meant that the full scale of the sting was fully uncovered.

My forms added up to about £150, with £40 still unspent. So what did random family do? Well, they weren't going to pay off the school. That could have opened up another can of worms. So they did what any accessory would do in such a situation and hid the evidence, snitched my mate to his parents (he was found with about £50 missing, but poor notes - the amateur), told my dad and bollocked me. And we were both grounded. Dad said he'd have to dig into his pocket to pay it all off, but I knew only the non-fraud forms were sent in. I was leaving the town anyway, just after all this, so I never really saw the aftermath. I did have time to make a final (fully honest) collection, and hand over the ultimate and seemingly fully accounted takings of around £60.

It wasn't all bad for me - I left before the awards day, but I later learned that I'd been awarded a special mention for being the second best fundraiser of the year!

As an adult I've worked on corporate payroll accounts and finance systems dealing in billions. And of course, been completely clean with them - even advising on how to avoid fraud. I'm really quite glad I got caught - it taught me that no matter how much you desire a Kit-Kat, the social elevation of a Galaxians high score, or even that delicious cream slice - fraud isn't worth it - you get caught, and then get watched very carefully for years afterwards.
(, Fri 19 Oct 2007, 9:53, 1 reply)
You cock-er-roach
You should have gone round to the clingy old man's house and whipped out "your leetle friend" for him to say hello to.

With a spot of subtle (or not-so-subtle) blackmail, you'd have had enough money to become the Galaxians Grand Master, and possibly progressed onto Defender or even Track & Field!

And you'd have been able to give Frank Spencer a run for his money in the homoeroticism field too.
(, Tue 23 Oct 2007, 18:42, closed)

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