In the parlance of the confidence game, the "pitch" (a.k.a. the "come-on", the "tale", the "sell" or even the "patter") is the process of convincing you that your money is safe, that you're making a smart decision…that you're not a mark when you actually are.

Of course, the pitch isn't limited to just the art of the con. It happens in any sales meeting, business deal or confidence scam… and, in a way, they are all the same thing.

The pitch is a process that happens on two levels. First, the information must be transmitted: What is the angle, what's the deal? What does it entail? How much should I invest? But all of that is nothing compared to what's going on under the table. The real question that the pitch man is hoping to answer (and if he's gifted, without you realizing it) is "Why should I trust you?"

Below are twelve of the most common ways they'll do it. Ways that, at best, you should ignore, and at worst, should make you walk out of the room and never look back.

The Sell

  • "What would you say if I told you…" - There are many rhetorical devices like this: cheap neurolinguistic programming tricks to make you listen. Instead of, for instance, just telling you X, the pitch man asks you what you would say if he told you X. If you're following along at all, your mind naturally starts to come up with an answer to the question. "What would I say?" Regardless of the answer to the question, you've been sucked into actually considering what's being said instead of just listening to it. This, in a way, short-circuits that filter in your head that ignores bullshit statements. Variants: "How many times have you…", "Right now, you're asking yourself…"

  • "Make Money Fast" - Sure, it's no secret that most people want to make a lot of money doing little or no work. Whenever you hear an enticement that guarantees fast and large returns, it is either a swindle, very risky, or illegal. On the contrary, the surest way to make a lot of money is to be patient, cautious and, above all, invest (i.e. don't spend) your money. If someone is preaching to you with a sure-fire plan to make a lot of money, you have to ask yourself why this person isn't making money with this method instead of preaching to people. The answer is probably that making money off of gullible marks is easier. Variants: "How would you like to make a million dollars?"

  • "By now, you're wondering" - Be especially wary of this formula, especially if it is repeated more than once. Not only does it include an NLP hook like the one above, but it includes the phrase "by now" which is a homophone for "buy now". Whether or not you believe that this kind of subliminal homophony really works or not, you should be aware that there are a lot of people in sales and confidence that do. The very fact that someone is trying this approach on you should be an insult and a warning sign.

Making You Feel Special

  • "Don't tell anyone I told you this, but" - Here's another double-pronged attack. First, there's a secret. People like secrets. It's interesting, compelling, and is one of the most plausible ways people think they can game the system. If there's a secret in, a tip on the Q.T., the fix is in…then there's probably some juice in it for you. The second thing is that by letting you in on the secret, you're made to feel special, unique…trusted. Most people like to feel like they are special. Once again, I must invoke David Mamet's watchword of the con: "It's called a confidence game. Why? Because you give me your confidence? No. Because I give you mine." Variants: "Can you keep a secret?", "I really shouldn't be doing this", "My boss will kill me if he finds out…"

  • "You have been selected" - A favorite of cold-callers, mail solicitations and a common concept in the short and long cons. To the egotistical mark, it sounds as though ream after ream of names were pored over, research was conducted, maybe even interviews with the neighbors, boss, friends. Like the word "finest" on the label of your favorite prepackaged processed snack product, this term means nothing, or—more accurately—means that you were hand-picked because you look like a mark. Variants: "Hand-selected", "Our research department gave me your name", "You're being chosen because of your…", "A few select investors"

  • "We'll just need to ask a few questions to see if you qualify" - Most people would be surprised to know how many times they've fallen for this pitch. More often than not, you've already qualified. If it's an investment, you can be almost certain that this line is absolute bullshit. The only qualification for most investment is this: Is it green and does it rhyme with honey? The application questions, the hoops, the passing you on to a case worker/talent director/investment officer is all just a ploy to make you think they might possibly refuse you? Why? Because acceptance is acceptance, whether it's a credit card, a circle of friends or the deal of a lifetime. To be accepted is to be validated—to be worthy. Listen to your mother (if she can be trusted): your opinion of yourself is what's important, don't let it be swayed one way or another by a deal you found on a matchbook cover. Variations: "I'll have to discuss this with my boss and get back to you—", "We're just going to review your application and if you meet our criteria, we'll give you a call."

The Appeal to Trust

  • "In exchange for your trust" - While some people trip this alarm with honest intentions, you should always be more cautious when someone asks for your trust. As your mother would tell you, trust should be earned, not given away. In addition to this, trust should be an implicit part of the deal, and not a bargaining chip. In other words, if someone is giving you something in exchange for your trust, you should be extra suspicious. Whenever trust or loyalty is called into question, ask yourself why. Whether or not we are too cynical to admit it, these traits are the default characteristics of human interaction. We trust each other every day not to stab, poison or crash into one another. If the question is even raised, it should make the whole deal suspect.

One of the Boys

  • "Have another drink—on me." - There is a reason why in societies East and West it is customary to get piss drunk while making business deals. Most people think it's fun to be drunk, and it makes people more agreeable. There is, to be sure, an implicit intellectual and physical challenge involved in competitive drinking. Of course, if your adversary is a career deal maker, he or she already drinks a lot. Some of them will even secretly eat a stick of butter before they start in. While man-to-man drinking is, of course, a well-accepted way of proving masculinity, ladies are often no less the target here, especially if they are, like most modern women, desirous of liberation. The challenge can be made a little more explicit when peppered with some paternalistic pet names: "Can you hold your liquor, sweetie?", "Are you as good as a man, sugar?"

  • "Look at that one over there." - Ogling. Womanizing. Maybe even getting you laid. This one is textbook, and on the right mark, it can work like a charm. For the mark who has spent his life on the periphery—outside the locker-room—a bit of male chauvinist blather makes him feel like one of the boys. If your pitch man has a Rolex, a BMW, an Armani suit but still considers you close enough to show you that pig inside of him, well, shucks, he must be all right. In fact, if he likes boobies, he's probably just like you. Variants: Stories of sexual exploits.

One Last Push

  • "Live a little." - Sometimes they push you in this direction: appeals to how cool, brave, attractive or smart you are or want to be. You should take this as an insult, because this is the play they make to the ones they think are the most uncool, cowardly, ugly or stupid. The formula is as simple as the devil's bargain: Identify what the mark wants to be and then offer it to him. Gentlemen, be especially suspicious when they try to impugn your masculinity. "He can't be a man's because he doesn't smoke the same cigarettes as me." Variants: "Do the smart thing", "Don't be a pussy"

  • "If you change your mind, I'll understand" - Because true friends know how to guilt trip. This one, like "trust me" should never be a consolation. These words, if true, need never be spoken. Your parents taught you, your teachers taught you, the after-school specials taught you, and even the saccharine feel-good movie of the year taught you: people who respect you—true friends—understand and respect your judgement implicitly. Not everyone who says this phrase is trying to swindle you, but it is yet another tripwire that should set off your alarm system. Variants: "You can back out if you don't want to go through with it", "I'm just going to tear up this check and we'll forget the whole thing".

  • "What does it matter anyway?" - The appeal to the ethical relativist in you—the amoral—one man's sin is another man's virtue. Sure, it's true. The earth will be destroyed someday, we're all going to die, people get fucked over every day, money isn't everything, you can't take it with you. If you hear these words, someone is trying to change your values for you. When you walked into this bar, restaurant, bus station, airport or hotel, you had values. Life had meaning and money had worth. If you let a stranger strip that away from you, friend, you're every bit the mark that he thought you were. If you happen to have a copy of Glengarry Glen Ross handy to read or view, you can learn from it: Ricky Roma (Al Pacino) pitches to James Lingk (Jonathan Pryce) along these lines and it is a perfect example of how morality can be eroded with patter and drink until there's nothing left. Not a single inhibition. Now sign on the dotted line. Variants: "You only live once", "Grab life by the balls" and similar carpe diem malarkey.


  1. Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet