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The Con Within a Con

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A con normally involves an element in which the Con Man gets the target to trust them and/or to focus on achieving their greedy ends such that it overrides their normal sense of precaution. This is a form of con where that hook is trying to entice them in on playing a con themselves. The process of the con gives the con artist many opportunities to feign caution or try and entice the mark into feeling they have to prove something to the con man. The Con Within a Con can be controlled by having the fake target be a member of the con artist's own crew (sometimes called a Fake Mark). The payoff normally comes when The Con Within a Con requires the target to provide some front money which the con artist then runs off with.


  • You get acquainted with or befriend the mark.
  • You convince them that you are going to con the Fake Mark (being played by one of your con crew, optional)
  • You get them to front up some money for the con and then you (and usually the Fake Mark) run off with it.

This is similar to the Kansas City Shuffle and the Violin Scam (and related scams), but with some key differences:

  • In The Con Within a Con, Grifter convinces the Mark that Mark has an opportunity to help Grifter con a third party.
  • In Violin Scam, Grifter tricks Mark into thinking that Mark has an opportunity to con (or just steal from) Grifter.
  • In Kansas City Shuffle, Grifter lets Mark figure out that Grifter is trying to con Mark—but misleads Mark about what the actual con is. Mark thinks he can exploit his knowledge to steal Grifter's money, and that makes him vulnerable to the real con.

Spoiler warning: This is a trope about twists and turns and surprise endings. Possible unmarked spoilers lie ahead.


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  • In the movie The Sting, Paul Newman's character Gondorff plays a Fake Mark, when he is working as the obnoxious bookie "Shaw".
  • Inception: while Fischer is dreaming, the team convince him to enter and extract from Browning's dreams, while he's actually going into a further level of his own.
  • Nine Queens and its American remake Criminal. In this case what we are actually following is not the overall con but The Con Within a Con itself and then at the end the real con is a Twist Ending.
  • In House of Games, the female lead gets trapped and loses $80,000 in an elaborate Massive Multiplayer Scam involving a fake mark.
  • In Blonde Crazy, Bert thinks he's going to get big bucks with his counterfeit bill swindle with Dapper Dan, but what Dan is really doing is stealing the actual cash.
  • This occurs in Matchstick Men, where the "big hit" on Chuck, Angela's arrival, and Roy's visits with Dr. Klein are all part of a massive con by Frank against Roy.
  • Circus contains multiple nested cons, to the point where it becomes hard to work out just who is conning who. As a tip, whoever thinks they are winning at a particular point, probably isn't.

    Live Action TV 
  • On Hustle, Danny or Albert tend to play the role of the fake mark.
    • The Hustle episode "The Lesson".
  • In Lost: Sawyer is caught out by this woman when trying to run a scam (something similar to a Thai Gem Scam), eventually he befriends her and takes her on several short cons, using her as a shill. Then he comes up with a longer con which would go for a bigger target but would require a little show money. She then reveals that she has some money that she got from a divorce which they can use. Psych! Turns out that this was just a really long con where Sawyer had been told by her vengeful ex-husband about the money and was there to get it from her.
  • An episode of Mission: Impossible involves the team trying to get the mark (an unscrupulous African stockbroker) to "take over" an operation producing near-perfect counterfeit money.
  • In The Rockford Files episode "There's One in Every Port", Rockford is in the unenviable position of having to con a fellow conman, who is in turn running a con of his own against a third party. As a result, he has to come up with something the other guy hasn't seen before, which ends up being an odd three-layer con. He fakes like he's trying to steal his rival's mark, while allowing said pre-made fake mark to learn what he thinks is good blackmail material about the oil baron who Rockford is impersonating. Then he has some fake IRS agents rope the rival conman into a fake tax sting against his own mark, and allow him to hear said blackmail material when the mark attempts to use it against Rockford as the oil baron. Now the rival takes this information and attempts to use it against the real oil baron, and ends up buying a huge amount of stock at a steep discount (that way he gets money, but cannot release the blackmail material easily because he has a financial stake himself). However, the stock certificate ends up being a fake. The second oil baron was also a fake, and yet another fake mark.


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