An immaculately dressed woman confronts a man at Copa Cabana in the city centre looking stranded.
The man out of pity takes $1 from his wallet and gives it to her. The woman repeats the same trick to a string of other men.
“Can you please help me my brother? I have lost my transport fare and I want to go to Mabvuku. I just need a dollar,” she says to almost every men she accosts.
By the end of the day, she would probably have pocketed $20 or even more. Female con artists are on the increase in the city centre and are using all sorts of tricks to swindle money from their victims.
“We do not cheat people. They give us money out of pity. We just lie about our problems and they are moved to help us. Women usually get attention from men and we usually take advantage of that,” confessed a woman con artist after she was confronted by this reporter for trying to dupe him for the second time.
Men are not excluded from the game as they too have also honed their conning skills.
Conmen usually say they are not feeling well and need money to find something to eat because they have to take medication.
“I am not feeling well my brother. Look, these are my pills, but I haven’t taken any food. Can you please help with even as little as R5 so that I can buy something to eat,” is usually the catch phrase, designed to stir people’s sympathy.
There is also a group of four elderly women who operate in Central Avenue. These women usually ask for money saying they are coming from a funeral and they want to go to their home in Epworth.
Many people have fallen prey to these women because of their age. No one suspects they are con artists.
Other con artists use clutches and wheelchairs as their tools of work.
There was pandemonium recently at Fourth Street when a person who was well known to be “blind” was caught counting his money in a public toilet.
The dictionary defines a con artist as an individual who is skilled and experienced at devising and executing scams and other fraudulent schemes.
The purpose is normally to get as much money from a victim as possible, but to do so in a way the victim actually believes they are doing a social service.
Thus, often the con artist is gone a long time before the victim realises they had been duped.
A police officer at Harare Central Police Station said they were reports of people who had fallen victim to con artists and urged the public to desist from “giving” money to strangers.
“We have these reports everyday of people who are being conned. People should not just give money to strangers,” he said.
“For those who have yet to be victimised, con artists often repeat things the same way over and over again. Therefore, the most popular tricks of the trade are quickly discovered, allowing for individuals to have some chance at protection.
However, in order to protect oneself from a con artist, it is first necessary for the giver, or potential victim, to be educated on some of the more common types of scams.”
Psychologist Sharon Mugava said con artists weigh their potential targets and try to build trust in them.
“Once the con artist has gained the person’s trust, the conning will begin. If successful, this will eventually lead to a possibly large sum of money changing hands, but the return to the victim will be minimal, if anything at all.
In such cases, the victim must willingly give the money,” said Mugava. Sociologist Pardon Taodzera said Zimbabwe was witnessing an influx of con artists because of poverty.
“People are trying to survive on anything. This is a good way of making easy money. There are deep-rooted social problems when these things start to occur. Employment is another issue which can breed con artists,” he said.
Confidence tricksters exploit typical human characteristics such as greed, dishonesty, vanity, honesty, compassion, credulity, irresponsibility, desperation and naïveté. The common factor is the victim relies on the good faith of the con artist and parts with money.