How to Con-Vince people!

For a long time, football aficionados have been complaining that Melita and Go have been “making them pay double” if they want to enjoy a gamut football matches, rather than the selected few on either channel. Indeed, the Hon David Agius has volunteered to be the spokesperson for this group, and as I understand it, talks to remedy thi9s are still under way.

Ironically, it has now been revealed that Melita and Go did actually manage to agree about something – but it’s altogether different from the aforementioned issue.

Melita and Go have been offering bundles of television stations at special rates. As luck would have it, both service providers included the Living TV channel – and it has just come to light that in Malta, it was apparently being relayed illegally.

A spokesman for the Living TV Group insisted that neither station had “any of the necessary permissions or authorisations to include Living in their packages and we are not in a position to grant them.”

Of course, Go said that it was being “forced” to drop this channel, and mumbled something about “international broadcasting developments”, and Melita will be following suit on January 10, citing “contractual restrictions related to the content provided on these channels”. For similar reasons, even Comedy Central will be axed from the lists on offer; this is owned by Viacom, but is distributed in Great Britain by bSkyb as a joint venture with the owners of Living TV.

The transmissions could be distributed because the signals could be unencrypted. As Maltese, we know full well how easy it is to receive channels that were never meant for us – mostly from Italy and Sicily, but occasionally from further afield, such as Spain and North Africa.

We have all noticed a related phenomenon – the number of foreign radio stations our radios “catch” depends upon which part of the house they are, and the specific stations differ according to in which part of the island we happen to be. This discounts, for the nonce, the fact that we are able to listen to any radio station we want to via our personal computers.

Some of my sources even muttered the words “piracy” and “misappropriation” – but I shall not be going into that.

This story rings several bells – we have all met brokers who are keen on making a killing for themselves, all the while persuading their clients that their intentions are pristine and the risks they are taking, sometimes needlessly) with the clients’ money will all be worth it in the end. Sometimes, they even do this by bad-mouthing competitors in the same arena, be it real estate, insurance, or even aesthetic procedures.

All this reminded me of what I had thought was a fictitious story I had heard years ago, but which was actually fact.

Victor Lustig was one of the most famous con men in history – suffice it to say that apart from defrauding Al Capone and other wily persons; he also managed to pull a scam through in which he sold the Eiffel Tower – not once, but twice – to scrap iron dealers. These he managed to swindle, after reading that the structure might have to be dismantled since it had never been intended to be a permanent structure to begin with when it was built in 1889.

In May of 1925, he and Dapper Dan Collins, another confidence trickster, had been in Paris, and noticed a few lines about how the Eiffel Tower was in dire need of repair. The journalist had pitched the idea that it would perhaps be easier to do away with it altogether.

Sometimes, as in the case of Robert Irvine (the chef who padded his C.V. by saying he had links to the Royal Family), these con men get caught out. Sometimes, as in the case of certain sect leaders, they fleece their followers. Other con artistes whose names have all but been forgotten are Barry Semp (fake dentist); Brian Jennings (bogus fire-fighter); George DuPre (false World War II spy), and many more.

Don’t we all remember the scandal of Milli Vanilli, when Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus, who lip-synched to the voices of others, were exposed at the live MTV concert in 1989? Girl You Know It’s True had jammed, and inevitably they were stripped of the Grammy Awards – and dignity.

Leonardo Di Caprio’s character in the 2000 film Catch Me if You Can was based on Frank Abagnale Jr, who pretended to be a pilot, teacher, doctor, lawyer and doctor.

An aphorism credited to several people, amongst whom the other notorious con-man Joseph (“Paper Collar Joe”) Bessimer, Mark Twain, P. T. Barnum and Michael Cassius McDonald says that “there’s a sucker born every minute”. This must be true, because there is even a list of alternative Ten Commandments meant to instruct wannabe con-men (and con-women, for I know that these exist too since I have met some of them), as follows:

1. Be a patient listener (it is this, not fast talking, that gets a con man his coups).

2. Never look bored.

3. Wait for the other person to reveal any political opinions, and then agree with them.

4. Let the other person reveal religious views, and then have the same ones.

5. Hint at sex talk, but don’t follow it up unless the other person shows a strong interest.

6. Never discuss illness, unless some special concern is shown.

7. Never pry into a person’s personal circumstances (they’ll tell you all eventually).

8. Never boast – just let your importance be quietly obvious.

9. Never be untidy.

10. Never get drunk.

Just for the record, however, there exists a longer version of the above cliché: There’s a mark born every minute, and one to trim ‘em and one to knock em“. A mark is a quarry; to trim means to fleece, and to knock means to open another person’s eyes to the trick.
All in all, therefore, we can conclude that there is never a shortage of cheaters, dupes, and honest people. It’s our choice as to which category we want to belong.

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