A Con Artist Sold the Eiffel Tower Twice — by Listening, Not Selling

Psychologist and Writer
Over a year ago

We tend to think con artists are smooth talkers and persuasive sellers, but listening is their most essential quality, says Maria Konnikova, who has written a new book on con artistry. Here she discusses the case of Victor Lustig, a Frenchman who sold the Eiffel Tower twice for scrap metal to two different buyers. Too embarrassed at being taken in, the buyers never reported Lustig.

As Konnikova explains, Lustig literally wrote the book the con artistry. In his work 10 Commandments of the Con Artist, Lustig writes that a con artist is a good listener, not a good talker. In other words, con artists are looking for your tell — your signal about who you are, what your desires are, what you fear, etc., so that they can promise you exactly the thing you want most.

Why aren't we alive to such an obvious tactic? Simply because we're not used to truly listening to people, says Konnikova, and so we're not accustomed to recognizing such genuine interactions. In our constant pursuit of doing more, more often, we lose depth, and that self-awareness is crucial when you're up against someone who wants to fleece you.

Our pattern of inattention has a dangerous double effect: when we notice that someone is finally, truly listening to us, we become more likely to open up and bear personal details that we wouldn't otherwise disclose. And that information is exactly what con artists are hoping to extract from you — then they'll sell you the moon, or the Eiffel Tower if you're in the scrap metal business.