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Most of us were taught as children to be honest and trustworthy in our relationships with other people. In addition, we were raised from childhood to be receptive to people around us who appeared to mean well, especially if they were approved by a respected adult. The resulting philosophy is a great approach to life; it allows us to form strong relationships and to achieve those kinds of business and personal successes which largely depend on trust.

But it can also make us more vulnerable to liars, cheats and con men unless we learn to spot such characters before they do real damage. As Frederick II said several hundred years ago, The world is like a game in which there are honest and dishonest players, so that a prince who plays in this game must learn how to cheat, not in order to do it, but in order not to be the dupe of others.

As you may suspect, things havent changed much in the business world or anywhere else since the days of Frederick.

Of course, were not suggesting that everyone go out and take a crash course in cheating. But it is important to be able to spot and handle tricksters and flimflam artists who would blithely deceive us in order to achieve their own objectives. To do that, we need to understand some of their favorite techniques.

One common sucker trick is frog warming, from an old story, the point of which goes something like this: If you throw a frog into a pot of hot water, of course hell immediately jump out. The best way to cook a frog without letting him know he should escape is to put him in a pot of cool water on the stove and heat it so slowly that he doesnt realize he is being cooked until it is too late.

A con man – even in the business world – will sometimes try to cook you just that way. To see how trusting you might be, he will begin with asking a simple favor to which almost anyone would agree. Upon gaining that small commitment, he will then move on to the next level, sometimes using a sad story about hardship not within his control or sickness in his family to gain your sympathy.

After a while, he will return to ask for additional concessions. Before you know it, you have given him more than you ever thought you would; you have, in fact, become the unfortunate frog in the pot. And theres not much you can do about it.

Heaven help you if you have heard him say that he sunk to his knees the night before to pray about the favor he is about to ask. Honest and truly religious people dont talk that way.

Your fraudulent friend may also throw out half-truths that he attended the same school, had the same military experiences, came from the same town, knew common acquaintances or shared the same political beliefs. Dont believe any of it unless you wish to become a frog.

Con artists are friendly, smart, smooth talking, cunning and sly. Be careful; first impressions can be very deceiving.

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