A con operator (grifter, con man, confidence man) is any of a broad range of criminals who specialize in defrauding a victim (a mark) of his money or other valuable property or information. Con operators prefer not to use violence and, if it is at all possible, they prefer that the mark never know that he was stung.

The best (although probably inaccurate) reason they are called "confidence" operators is expressed in the 1987 film House of Games: "It's called a confidence game. Why? Because you give me your confidence? No. Because I give you mine."

Con operators come in many stripes (most of which are noded separately):

  • A roper (also outsider, outsideman, capper, steerer, cowboy) finds a victim who has money and is gullible enough for the play, often bringing him to an insider.

  • An insider (also known as frontman, insider, hawker, insideman, primer or Mr. Big) runs a game or has special information (the little game) which the mark is led to believe he can take advantage of for his own benefit.

  • Shills act as decoys or play other parts to further convince the mark that he can profit from the little game.

  • A booster is a shill who plays the cynic to lend authenticity to the little game.

  • A stooge is similar to an extra in a movie, lending authenticity to the little game by playing an often silent part.

  • A joker or inverse shill is a shill or roper who generally does the opposite of the mark, embroiling him in conflict, which keeps him in the game.

  • A capper is a shill who bids against the mark to raise a bet or eliminate the mark from a game he might otherwise win.

  • A cooler (or smoother) is a shill (often a roper) who mitigates the mark's anger after he's been stung.

  • A button man is a policeman or other figure who participates in a scam conflict designed to chase the mark away (usually after the sting).

  • A lookout (picket, slider, sider, wall man) keeps watch over the game and the players.

  • A lugger watches the store and who comes and goes.

  • A cannon, heel or gun is a pickpocket or sneak thief sometimes employed by the operators for miscellaneous needs (e.g. obtaining information, planting incriminating evidence, etc.)

  • A shadow watches the mark and makes sure he doesn't get away from the roper or the game.

  • Muscle refers to someone with skills in the violence arts who is employed in various creative ways.

  • A fixer, or influence peddler specializes in taking the heat off, whether it be police, public officials, someone's wife, a boss, etc.


  2. Scoundrel's Glossary

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