Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Charmed, I'm sure

It's usually easy enough to tell phoney charm from the genuine article. The artificial smiles of car salesmen, estate agents and politicians can be spotted a mile away and don't fool anyone for more than a few seconds.

But sometimes the phoney charm can be convincing enough to be mistaken for the real thing, and I've been conned by a few plausible villains in my time. It's only after meeting them several times that alarm bells start ringing.

Like the landlords who seemed so friendly and helpful when I first met them, only to discover a few weeks down the line that any requests for urgent repairs or pest control fell on deaf ears. Or the bosses who promised me fabulous working conditions and left me to discover the verminous kitchen and the Stone Age computers.

Sometimes the veneer of charm is so polished, so well-rehearsed, that it's hard to distinguish from the natural goodwill and compassion of the truly charming. Especially if there's no slick sales patter or oily conviviality to go with it.

I always feel sorry for those people who lose thousands of pounds to con-men who manage to worm their way into the victim's affections. Particularly if they're the confused elderly or desperately lonely (or both). Always you hear the same refrain afterwards - "But he seemed such a lovely man", "To begin with, he couldn't do enough for me."

I wrote once about the builder who scammed my mother. He was typical. At the start, he did lots of little jobs for her very cheaply. But gradually he upped his prices and did increasingly shoddy work until she was forced to turn him away. And then she was afraid he might retaliate in some way.

But I don't feel so sorry for those people who invest in shady get-rich-quick schemes and then complain that both their life savings and the dubious intermediary have vanished into thin air. Anyone who hands over large sums on the unlikely promise of fabulous wealth lacks even the most basic common sense.

Charming is as charming does. And sometimes the results aren't pretty.


  1. Those who prey on the elderly are the worst.

  2. What nursemyra said.
    We need a new circle of hell for them.

  3. I am also irked by mechanics and repair people who charge higher prices to women or do unnecessary work because they know most women don't know a lot about cars/heating systems, and so on. So scummy.

    But I agree about the get rich quick scams. If you seriously don't understand how a pyramid scheme works or why no one in Nigeria is going to wire you money, you need to just stick your cash into an account or a mutual fund and be done with it.

  4. Myra - And anyone obviously vulnerable or trusting.

    Macy - They should be forced to pay back every penny and then help unblock the sewers.

    Secret Agent - It's not just women. I've had garages trying to con me out of hundreds of pounds for totally unnecessary repair work. Anyone who thinks they can become miraculously rich overnight is sadly deluded.

  5. The world is full of smiley smarmy salesmen. If they are cold calling, I let them talk away for as long as they like, then when they dry up I say I am not interested. Most of them like hearing their own voice anyway and seldom listen to what I have to say.

  6. Grannymar - I like your tactic. That must deflate them nicely! They certainly like the sound of their own voices all right.

  7. The people who lose their life savings because they fall for some get-rich-quick scam are generally too greedy to think. They get hoisted by their own petard, really. But in a way I do feel sorry for them because they, for whatever reason, show themselves to have been vulnerable to the myth that money buys happiness. And out entire economic system relies on such people. The scammers are just the other side of the victim coin.

    I have my Marxist head on today! Must be the plaster dust...

  8. I was recently conned badly by an auto mechanic who held my car hostage.
    These scammers have no conscience whatsoever.
    As to the online scams, I am never more astonished than the people that don't believe in the old principle, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

  9. Eryl - That's true about people believing that money brings happiness, and that's what makes them so greedy. In reality the rich are just as likely to be miserable as everyone else.

    Good luck with the plastering and tiling....

    www - Ah yes, I remember the car mechanic business. Indeed, not many things in life are genuinely free, there's usually a price tag attached, even if it's well hidden.

  10. Nick, our mutual friend, the venerable Grannymar and some other people call me a charmer! I am well into my senior citizenship. Should I be flattered or ashamed? Don't come up with a third alternative like put away for good.

  11. Ramana - Well, it's quite possible for oldies like ourselves to be charmers. Some people call me charming as well. After all, we've had much longer than most to bring our natural dazzling radiance to the surface. You should assume it's a compliment and be flattered.

  12. I sometimes find it weirdly easy to be scammed by people even when I know they're scamming and I don't even like them or want them to like me. I find that scary! Of course, also, some people are just dishonest and not particularly charming - just convincing.

    I particularly hate people like the one who scammed your mum, who evoke real feelings of affection and gratitude from their victims and don't care how much damage they do. I believe Fred West was very charming and laid back seeming.

  13. Jenny - That is a bit scary, knowing you're being scammed but letting it happen anyway! Yes, stirring up affection and then trampling on it is disgusting.

  14. Yup - known landlords and bosses like that too. Luckily haven't been sucked into that scenario lately - though almost was. Was beginning a ghost writing contract for an "author" a while ago, only to discover that he was a total space cadet and nasty with it - and his "research" material really really reeked of fags.
    A narrow escape.
    On a more general note - may I say that I like the layout of your posts. Pleasing appearance, just the right length, does the job well - as the actress said to the bishop. (Sorry.) But seriously. Good stuff - and consistent too - all features I could learn from.

  15. Blackwater - My sympathies over the time-wasting "author". Just one of the many who fantasise themselves as another J K Rowling or Stephen King.

    Thanks for the compliments. It's a comfortable length for me and hopefully my readers too. I get very put off by rambling spiels from other bloggers. And I like to satisfy all those actresses.

  16. The psuedo-charming can do a lot of damage in personal relationships too.

  17. Meno - They certainly can. Not only men of course, also the female equivalent.