How impostors like Clark Rockefeller capture our trust


Drake Bennett in the Boston Globe:

Lots of people trusted Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter. At least two women married him – though they each knew him by a different name. The members of elite social clubs in San Marino, Calif.; Greenwich, Conn.; and here in Boston embraced him and vouched for him. A series of investment firms offered him jobs as a stockbroker and bond salesman, even a vice president, despite his lack of credentials, experience, and, as quickly became clear, his at best rudimentary knowledge of finance. And over the last decade or so, neighbors and acquaintances have believed that he was Clark Rockefeller, a retiring, somewhat aloof man who implied, but never came out and said, that he was an heir to the Standard Oil fortune.

As he sits in a Boston jail cell, and police try to unravel the tangled trail he’s left since coming to the United States from Germany 30 years ago, the question the rest of us are left with is how he got away with it for as long as he did. How could the people he befriended – and, in at least two cases, married – believe his fantastical stories?

The answer is that you probably would, too. Human beings are social animals, and our first instinct is to trust others. Con men, of course, have long known this – their craft consists largely of playing on this predilection, and turning it to their advantage.

But recently, behavioral scientists have also begun to unravel the inner workings of trust.

More here.