In the parlance of the confidence game, a roper is a type of con man, or, more accurately, a role a con man plays in the big game.
In solo cons, of course, there is only the mark and the con. However, for most scams from the two-man con and up, short con or long, the roper plays an important, if not essential role. He is often engaged in direct contact with the mark from the come-on all the way through the blow off.
The roper is an outsider. He (figuratively) stands alongside the mark to give the mark moral support. If there is bait, the roper makes the mark feel safer about pursuing the enticing bait that inevitably lures a mark into the game. Otherwise, the roper's job is to acquire trust.
The roper plays several important roles, all of which require experience, finesse, and expertise. For these reasons, the roper is often one of the most experienced grifters participating in the game. The following steps are listed chronologically, however, many of these steps may occur out of order or may not even occur at all.
The roper finds the mark (the victim). A good mark must, of course, be sufficiently gullible, and must be available for the duration of the game (the run-around). Ideally, he should have no connections in the area and above all, have a nut worth taking (i.e. cash, valuables, information . . . the objective of the game)
The roper meets the mark and talks him up. This is sometimes called the build-up, the schmooze, the overture or the honeymoon. The schmooze can take anywhere from a few seconds in the case of a short con to as long as a period of years. Often, the higher the stakes are and/or the wiser the mark, the longer the schmooze. During this period, the roper may be willing to lose small amounts of money (buying drinks, dinners, gifts), but regardless, he spends the time making friends with the mark.
The roper entices the mark. This is called the pitch or the come-on. Often, the come-on starts with a story or a rumor about a "friend" of the roper who benefits financially or otherwise from a particular condition (the little game). Sometimes, especially in smaller cons, the anecdote is about the roper himself. While some games operate without any come-on at all, this is usually a principal feature of a con.
The roper knows when to lay off. Part of the art of the con is letting the mark's greed do the work. After the come-on, it's often useful to have a lay off period during which the mark has a chance to consider the come-on. The roper may continue to schmooze the mark or may lay off for a while. An eager mark, like a fish on the hook, may then take the initiative and suggest that the roper help him take advantage of the condition that the roper detailed in the come-on. After some convincing doubt or suspicion on the roper's part, the roper can bring him in. The best kind of mark is one who primes himself.
If necessary, the roper primes the mark. Sometimes this is referred to as hawking. Often the roper invents some change of events that allows the mark to take advantage of the little game. For instance, the roper's friend who made a bundle in the little game is back in town and if the mark wants, they can be introduced. This is often the most difficult part of the roper's job. Once the mark is primed, his mind is set and something will likely have to go wrong for him to run out.
In a long con, the roper schedules the meet. Usually, this is between the mark, the roper and one of the insidemen, but in a larger con, some shills might also help out. The mark is brought in to a meeting room, office, boardroom, warehouse or other place with appropriate ambience and the little game is explained to him. Sometimes the mark is given a small taste of the game (a convincer), sometimes a stall is engineered where the mark witnesses, but is not allowed to participate in, the little game. He sees one or more shills profit and his appetite is whetted.
When the mark is finally allowed to come in on the little game the roper often acts as a shill, investing or risking just the same as the mark (of course, with none of the real risk the mark faces). The roper often acts as a joker or inverse shill, displaying confidence when the mark is in doubt, fear when the mark is bold, suspicion when the mark is confident. Most importantly, since the roper is in the mark's confidence, if the mark starts to run out the roper must rope him back in.
When the sting occurs, especially in a long con, the roper is often nowhere to be found. If the roper hasn't been made by the mark during the sting, it's likely that the mark will turn to the roper for support. This gives the roper an opportunity to cool the mark by commiserating with him, consoling him, validating his anger, etc. After the sting, the best kind of mark is a cool mark. A cool mark often doesn't go to the police or raise a beef. The time it takes the mark to find the roper (whether or not he ends up cool) gives the front man and the rest of the team an opportunity to pack it in. The roper catches up to the team and, of course, the mark never hears from any of them again. That is, if the mark is lucky.
The role that the roper plays in a short con is, of course, briefer and less involved, but the basic structure is the same. The roper, true to his name, ropes the mark in and keeps him roped. A roper can make use of drugs, alcohol, women and other sundry enticements to comfort the mark or impair his judgement. In short or long cons, the roper often collects the payoff (sometimes called the take, score, prize, touch or nut) because he is tightest in the confidence of the mark.
In some circles the roper is referred to as the cowboy, the capper], the shepherd, or the steerer.
- INTELLIGENCE ANALYSIS OF WHITE COLLAR CRIME