Hacking Humans Goes to the Movies 10.16.22
Ep 11 | 10.16.22

The long con and the flim flam.



John Ratzenberger: (As Cliff Clavin) Uh-oh, Normy, flim-flam alert. 

Dave Bittner: Hello, everyone, and welcome to a special edition of the "Hacking Humans" podcast. This is an occasional series we call Hacking Humans Goes to the Movies. I'm Dave Bittner, and joining me is my CyberWire colleague, Rick Howard. Hello, Rick. 

Rick Howard: Hey, Dave. Glad to be here. 

Dave Bittner: Great to have you back. On this show, Rick and I look at clips from some of our favorite cinema and television, clips which demonstrate some of the scams and schemes that Joe Carrigan and I talk about over on "Hacking Humans." We've got some fun clips to share, so stay tuned. We'll be right back after this message from our show's sponsor. 

Rick Howard: My clip this week comes from a regular "Hacking Humans" listener, Steve Bolton (ph), who sent us an email saying, quote, "I guarantee - or your money back - that you'll love 'Hustle.'" It's a BBC TV series about a crew of con artists playing the long con," end quote. 

Rick Howard: And he's right. "Hustle" ran from 2004 to 2012 and was nominated for outstanding directorial achievement in 60-minute television by the Directors Guild of Great Britain. This episode is Season 1, Episode 1 and is called "The Con is On" and directed by Bharat Nalluri, a successful British TV director with lots of titles under his belt, but probably most famous to our audience for the movie "The Crow: Salvation" in 2000. And just as an aside, here's the summary review from Rotten Tomatoes. Quote, "The Crow: Salvation adds nothing new to the series and is plagued by bad acting and dialogue," end quote. Ouch. That hurt. But this show, "Hustle," is really good. What is it with British TV shows that like to break the fourth wall? Anytime a character does something interesting and then turns to the camera to let the audience in on it, I love that. 

Rick Howard: The show stars Adrian Lester, a perennial British TV star. He plays the inside man, the long-con planner, Marc Warren, another perennial British TV star, but probably best famous to our audience for the HBO show "Band of Brothers;" he plays the rookie, the new member of the team who is learning how to play the long con; and Robert Vaughn, famous for appearing in the original "Magnificent Seven" Western back in the 1960s with Yul Brynner, but probably is most famous to our audience for the original TV show "Man From U.N.C.L.E." In this show, he is the roper. He finds the victims and cultivates them. 

Rick Howard: In this clip, Robert Vaughn has roped in the victim by claiming to find a wallet on the floor next to him in a hotel bar. He had been researching him for weeks, discovered that he is one of the top-500 richest people in London, a penny pincher and is not above skirting the laws to make a few extra pounds. After some negotiation about what to do with the wallet, they agreed to return it to the owner in his room. Now, this is the setup. The owner of the wallet is really the long-con planner of our team. He is dressed expensively and elegantly, and he conveys the general idea that he is wealthy. And he talks first. 


Adrian Lester: (As Mickey Stone) Here's to you, gentlemen. I didn't think there were any honest men left in the world. 

Robert Vaughn: (As Albert Stroller) Oh, one or two. 

Adrian Lester: (As Mickey Stone) Well, here's to honest men. You must let me thank you properly. 

Robert Vaughn: (As Albert Stroller) No, no, no, no, no. We wouldn't hear of it. 

Adrian Lester: (As Mickey Stone) Even if it's only the cab fare home. 


Adrian Lester: (As Mickey Stone) Excuse me. 

Rick Howard: At this point, there's a knock on the hotel room door. A man hands over a briefcase to the long-con planner, who makes a big point to open it in plain view of his two guests, showing a stack of money, and then closes the briefcase, dismisses the man and places it on an end table between him and his two guests, the roper and the victim. 


Adrian Lester: (As Mickey Stone) Where were we? Oh, yes. I was trying to persuade you to take something in return for your kindness. 

Robert Vaughn: (As Albert Stroller) You know, it's a strange state of affairs where one chap can't do a favor for another without money rearing its ugly head. Who knows? One day, you may be in a position to do something similar for us. 

Adrian Lester: (As Mickey Stone) You know, I just might. Look, I have a suggestion. A business associate has asked me to make a small investment for him tomorrow. If you'd allow me, I'll put in, say, 500 pounds for you? I'll take the 500 back. You just get to keep the profit. 


Adrian Lester: Oh, it'll have cost me nothing, but at least I'll feel happier knowing I've done something. 

James Laurenson: (As Peter Williams) Well, that sounds very generous. 

Rick Howard: So this is brilliant. The long-con planner tells the victim that as a token of thanks and at no cost to him, he will make an investment for him. So later, after a few days, they all meet again. 


Adrian Lester: (As Michael Stone) As promised, gentleman, I invested the £500 on your behalf, and this is the return. I hope you're not disappointed. 

Robert Vaughn: (As Albert Stroller) Oh, it must be £1000 there. 

Adrian Lester: (As Michael Stone) 1,950 to be precise. 

James Laurenson: (As Peter Williams) Well, that's quite a return. 

Adrian Lester: (As Michael Stone) I've had worse. 

Robert Vaughn: (As Albert Stroller) Make quite a killing yourself, I'd wager. 

Adrian Lester: (As Michael Stone) So shoot me. 

Robert Vaughn: (As Albert Stroller) Well, forgive me for prying, but I get the feeling there was little or no risk in this particular investment. 

Adrian Lester: (As Michael Stone) No risk whatsoever. So, if you'll excuse me, gentlemen. I do have a meeting. 

Robert Vaughn: (As Albert Stroller) Wait. I mean, why don't we, you know, go again? 

Adrian Lester: (As Michael Stone) Again? 

Robert Vaughn: (As Albert Stroller) Mm-hmm. 

James Laurenson: (As Peter Williams) Tony, Mr. Hamilton has been more than generous. Thank you. 

Rick Howard: The victim here is about ready to walk out the door with his cash. It looks like the long con has failed. But then, the rookie knocks on the door. 


Marc Warren: (As Danny Blue) Hi love, is he in? Just... 

Adrian Lester: (As Michael Stone) Excuse me. 

Marc Warren: (As Danny Blue) Hi, good to see you again. Excuse me, gentlemen. How are you? You all right? Mr. Hamilton, I want to shake you by the hand. You are a very, very great man. And I'm sorry that I ever doubted you. But when I gave you that money, I did for one second consider the possibility that you could have been - well, you know, well, can't even say it. 

Adrian Lester: (As Michael Stone) No. No. Go ahead, please. Get it off your chest. 

Marc Warren: (As Danny Blue) I thought you could have been one of those con men. I'm not going to see me money or him ever again, you know what I mean? Then, bang, suddenly 400% return, just like that. Straight off. Unbelievable. I need a drink. Scotch please, darling. 

Adrian Lester: (As Michael Stone) I'm sorry, gentlemen. This is Mr. Redford, a client of mine. Mr. Redford, this is Tony Monroe. 

Robert Vaughn: (As Albert Stroller) Pleasure, Tony. 

Adrian Lester: (As Michael Stone) And Peter Williams. 

Marc Warren: (As Danny Blue) Peter, how do you do? Well, I'm ready to go again. But this time, I want to go bigger. 

Adrian Lester: (As Michael Stone) Fine. But this is neither the time nor the place to... 

Marc Warren: (As Danny Blue) Well, I'm ready. 

Adrian Lester: (As Michael Stone) Helen, perhaps you'd like to show Tony and Peter out. 

James Laurenson: (As Peter Williams) No. No. Wait. I mean, if there is another deal up for grabs. Well, I'd like to hear about it. 

Rick Howard: And there you have it. The hook is set for the big con, which will trick the victim in displaying a huge wad of cash for the promise of an even bigger return on his investment later on. But that's the rest of the show. 

Dave Bittner: Wow, Rick, that is a fun clip for sure. Can you just - can you unpack it again... 

Rick Howard: Did you know about that show, Dave? 

Dave Bittner: No. 

Rick Howard: Did you know about it before? I had never heard of it before. 

Dave Bittner: No. No, I hadn't. But I'm going to check it out. So let's unpack the scam here, exactly what's going on here and the methods that they're using. Can you kind of walk us through what this was and why it worked? 

Rick Howard: Yeah. I think there's a couple of layers there, right? The first one - OK - in the bar in the initial part of the scene, when Robert Vaughn find - you know, pretends that he finds the wallet full of cash at the bar, asked the victim, you know, was it his? That kind of sets the small hook into him - all right? - and plays into it that - and he knows because he's been researching all that time that the guy is going to - is the kind of person that would just take the money if it was up to him. Right? So that's the first part, right? And then, they kind of do it over and over again, all right? 

Rick Howard: The middle part of this, when the planner says, hey, I'm just going to give you some cash because you were nice to me. There was no risk in the victim at all. All he had to do is see if it would play out. So the next day when they came back and he hands him the cash, he's about ready to walk out the door, think - and then, you know, the con folks are saying, oh, my goodness. It looks like we're going to lose this one. But then the rookie comes in and tells him what a great man he is. And that's the big hook for the long con. So layers upon layers of setting small hooks into the victim, I think. 

Dave Bittner: And ultimately, it works. And I'm trying to think of what... 

Rick Howard: Well, of course. You know, it's a TV show. 

Dave Bittner: Well, I'm trying to think of what some of the risks here would be for them to get detected. But then also, you know, if you were - for the ultimate victim here, where along the pathway could they have figured out that something was amiss? 

Rick Howard: Yeah. That's a good question. I don't see - they had to be a little - prone to a little bit of risk because this next stage of it is he's going to put his own money into the investment part, right? So that's where he would back out. And I think the fear for the con artist is that he would have walked out the door with that initial, you know, cash not agreeing to the long con. Right? And we didn't talk about that in this show, but it took him a week to get enough cash to put in the kitty to convince him to come along. Right? So they would have been out all of that money. 

Dave Bittner: Oh, I see. 

Rick Howard: Yeah. 

Dave Bittner: Right. Right. So the money that they were using to convince the mark that this was a huge return on their investment, they could have been out that cash. 

Rick Howard: Yeah. Exactly right. And there's one more point to this that I found amusing. The first time that the long con planner meets the rookie, he doesn't want to have anything to deal with them. And the rookie mentions, you know, "The Sting," the movie, "The Sting." You know, it's all about long cons. And I don't know if you caught that in the clip, but when he introduced them to the victim in that clip, he called him Mr. Redford. And Robert Redford was the actor in "The Sting." Right? So... 

Dave Bittner: I did notice that. I didn't make the connection. But I definitely - the name Mr. Redford made my ears perk up for exactly what you're describing there. But I did not connect the two. That's a fun little thing there for sure. 

Rick Howard: Little piece of trivia there. Yeah. 

Dave Bittner: All right. Well, great clip. And we will have a link to that in the show notes. My clip this week - actually a bit more lighthearted. And I actually went to the - away from the silver screen to the TV screen for mine. Rick, are you a fan of the classic TV show "Cheers"? 

Rick Howard: Are you kidding? In fact, the wife and I have been rewatching "Cheers" during the pandemic just to have something light to watch. Yeah. We love it. 

Dave Bittner: Yeah. Yeah. It's a good show. I mean, it's - I think like a lot of shows from that era, you know, some parts of it hold up better than others. But, you know, no doubt they had a really sharp set of writers and also a great cast. And there was a recurring character on "Cheers" whose name was Harry "The Hat". You remember Harry "The Hat"? 

Rick Howard: I didn't till we showed the clip today. But yeah, I totally remember him now. Of course. 

Dave Bittner: Yeah. Yeah. It was played by the great Harry Anderson, who, of course, went on to host "Night Court." And Harry Anderson, you know, before he got into being an actor, before he - well, I suppose the reason he got this part on "Cheers" was that he was a - kind of a street magician. You know, he was the guy who would do the three-card monte, the, you know, the balls and the cups and all that kind of stuff. And on "Cheers," that was his character. Harry "The Hat" was a guy who would come into the bar and basically scam people out of something or other. And this is from later in the run of "Cheers." This is from Season 6. This is the tease to the show, which is the first little short clip that they show before they roll the credits for the show. And it involves Harry "Hat" coming in to the bar at "Cheers" and greeting some of the bar regulars here. And we roll the clip. 


Unidentified Person #1: "Cheers" is filmed before a live studio audience. 

Harry Anderson: (As Harry "The Hat" Gittes) Markie (ph), pour me a beer. 

John Ratzenberger: (As Cliff Clavin) Uh-oh, Normy, flim-flam alert. 

Harry Anderson: (As Harry "The Hat" Gittes) Hey, guys. How are you doing? 

George Wendt: (As Norm Peterson) Pretty good, Harry. Good to see you. It's been a long time. How long has it been? 

Harry Anderson: (As Harry "The Hat" Gittes) Well, 2 to 10 with time off for good behavior. 

Unidentified Person #2: (As character) Oh, boy. I need change for this 50. 

Harry Anderson: (As Harry "The Hat" Gittes) You need change? Maybe I can help you, huh? 

John Ratzenberger: (As Clifford Clavin) Hold it. Hold it. 

Harry Anderson: (As Harry "The Hat" Gittes) Oh, come on, guys. Give me a break. I'm a reformed man. 

George Wendt: (As Norm Peterson) Oh, yeah? Well, maybe he wouldn't mind if we monitored this little transaction. 

Harry Anderson: (As Harry "The Hat" Gittes) Wouldn't mind at all. OK. You got 50 bucks. Here's one, two, three, four, five - Norm, what time is it? 

George Wendt: (As Norm Peterson) 11. 

Harry Anderson: (As Harry "The Hat" Gittes) Eleven? Twelve, 13, 14 - see, my watch must be fast. I got 11:25, 26, 27, 28. Cliff, you have not aged a day. How old are you? 

John Ratzenberger: (As Clifford Clavin) 39. 

Harry Anderson: (As Harry "The Hat" Gittes) 39, 40, 41, 40 - wait. You can't be that old. When were you born? 

John Ratzenberger: (As Clifford Clavin) '47. 

Harry Anderson: (As Harry "The Hat" Gittes) 48. 49. 50. There you go, barkeep. 

Unidentified Person #2: (As character) Thank you. 

Harry Anderson: (As Harry "The Hat" Gittes) Good to see you guys. 

George Wendt: (As Norm Peterson) Yeah. 

John Ratzenberger: (As Clifford Clavin) Yeah. 

Harry Anderson: (As Harry "The Hat" Gittes) Hey, Sam. Long time no see. 

Ted Danson: (As Sam Malone) What was Harry "The Hat" doing here? 

Unidentified Person #2: (As character) He just came in for a beer. 

Ted Danson: (As Sam Malone) Oh. 

Unidentified Person #2: (As character) And some change. 

Ted Danson: (As Sam Malone) Oh. 

Rick Howard: I love that ending. 

Dave Bittner: Yeah. Yeah. It's just one of those fun, recurring characters that brought a little color to "Cheers." But let's unpack exactly what he was doing here. I mean, here he was - the scam is that he was confusing the person who was giving him change. And obviously, they set this one up in a funny way, made it intentionally funny that, you know, even though all of the guys from "Cheers" were trying to pay attention to Harry "The Hat," I mean, he had their number. And he was far more sophisticated than them. 

Rick Howard: Let's point that out. They knew something was going to happen, decided they were going to watch it like a hawk, and it still happened. All right? So that's - I love that. 

Dave Bittner: (Laughter) Right. Right. Which, you know, of course, for here, you know, comedic effect. But I think the point is that somebody who's good at this sort of thing can do it. They do it so smoothly and so confidently. And, you know, in this case, he's just messing with the numbers as he counts out dollar bills to try to make change. 

Rick Howard: And this is a recurring technique. This is, like, the second or third time we've seen this in our "Hacking Humans" Goes to the Movies where the con artist gets involved in a complicated transaction and manipulates the numbers so that the victim doesn't know they've been scammed. Right? So a recurring theme here we got. 

Dave Bittner: Yeah. And I think part of the key to this - well, obviously there's the confidence in the person doing it. Confidence, con man - confidence game, right? But also, I think this... 

Rick Howard: This is the reason I would not do well here. OK? Because I would have that all over my face. I know they're seeing me, you know, change the numbers. I would just add that. 

Dave Bittner: Right. Right. But I think also the speed at which he does it, you know. He just - he's so quick. He's so - nobody has time to catch up and catch on to what he's doing. 

Rick Howard: Yeah. Even if you say, hey, was that something? But by then, he's moved on to the, you know, the next numbers and no one - you know, you're not paying attention anymore. 

Dave Bittner: Right. And he's out the door. He's gone. You know, by the time - and as Sam comes in at the end and realizes that the jig is up - and I guess, you know, Harry "The Hat" got away with probably about 25 bucks or so... 

Rick Howard: Yeah. If he's... 

Dave Bittner: ...Just like that. 

Rick Howard: If he's just getting a beer, it's OK. Oh, he's making change. Oh, I got to go chase him down. OK. So. 

Dave Bittner: (Laughter) Right. Exactly. Because Sam is the one who knows what's up. He knows what's up. All right. Well, again, sort of a lighthearted clip, not as serious as some of the other ones we've had. But I think it's a fun illustration of one of the things that you do see scammers using against - I think this one is - as in this scene, I think this is particularly done with folks like bartenders. 

Rick Howard: Oh, sure. 

Dave Bittner: And also... 

Rick Howard: In a crowded bar. In a crowded bar that - yeah. Yeah, sure. 

Dave Bittner: I've seen this one used against folks who are running the register at convenience stores also. 

Rick Howard: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. 

Dave Bittner: You know, people who are busy counting out change and all that kind of stuff. All right. Well, we will have a link to that clip in the show notes as well. We want to thank all of you for listening. That is our show. 

Dave Bittner: We want to thank the Johns Hopkins University Information Security Institute for their participation. You can learn more at isi.jhu.edu. The "Hacking Humans" podcast is proudly produced in Maryland at the startup studios of DataTribe, where they're co-building the next generation of cybersecurity teams and technologies. Our senior producer is Jennifer Eiben. Our executive editor is Peter Kilpe. I'm Dave Bittner. 

Rick Howard: And I'm Rick Howard. 

Dave Bittner: Thanks for listening.