Hacking Humans Goes to the Movies 3.27.22
Ep 8 | 3.27.22

Cons: the short one and the first one.



Joe Mantegna: (As Mike) Save your money, Joe. Semper fi. 

Dave Bittner: Hello, everyone. And welcome to a special edition of the "Hacking Humans" podcast, an occasional series we call Hacking Humans Goes to the Movies. I'm Dave Bittner from the CyberWire. And joining me is my "Hacking Humans" co-host, Joe Carrigan, from the Johns Hopkins University Information Security Institute. Hello, Joe. 

Joe Carrigan: Hi, Dave. 

Dave Bittner: On this show, Joe and I look at clips from some of our favorite movies, clips which demonstrate some of the scams and schemes we talk about over on hacking humans. And joining us once again is my CyberWire colleague Rick Howard. He is the CyberWire's chief security officer and chief analyst. Hello, Rick. 

Rick Howard: Hey, guys. I have my giant Gulp cherry Slurpee and big box of popcorn. Let's get this going. 

Dave Bittner: All right. We've got some good clips to share this week, so stay tuned. We'll be right back after this message from our show sponsor. 

Dave Bittner: All right. Let's dive into some clips here. And Joe, you are going to lead things off for us. What do you have for us this week? 

Joe Carrigan: Dave, my clip comes from the 1987 film "House of Games." It stars Lindsay Crouse and Joe Mantegna, who our listeners might be more familiar with as Fat Tony from "The Simpsons." 


Dave Bittner: That's right. 

Joe Carrigan: The storyline of this book is that Lindsay Crouse plays a psychiatrist - or a psychologist who is having this character, Mike - played by Joe Mantegna - show her around the worlds of cons and scams. And he is about to show her a scam in a Western Union. 

Dave Bittner: All right. Here we go. 

Joe Carrigan: They're outside the Western Union. 


Joe Mantegna: (As Mike) You'll call me when it comes in? 

Scott Zigler: (As Western Union clerk) Yes, sir. 

Joe Mantegna: (As Mike) Thank you. 

Joe Carrigan: Mike is talking to the clerk. He walks back to where Lindsay Crouse is sitting. 


Joe Mantegna: (As Mike) The basic idea is this. It's called a confidence game. Why? - because you give me your confidence? No - because I give you mine. 

Joe Carrigan: Here comes somebody. 


Joe Mantegna: (As Mike) How do you get money when you have no money. Watch closely. This is called short con. (As Mike) Would you please check again, please? Howard - Martin Howard - money order for $300. 

Scott Zigler: (As Western Union clerk) Hasn't come in yet. As I told you, sir, the moment it... 

Joe Mantegna: (As Mike) It was supposed to arrive this afternoon. 

Scott Zigler: (As Western Union clerk) ...The moment it arrives... 

Joe Mantegna: (As Mike) All right, all right. Thank you. 

Joe Carrigan: Mike has stepped in front of another person who just walked in. And now this person walks up. 


William H Macy: (As John Moran) I'm expecting some money, Sgt. John Moran. 

Scott Zigler: (As Western Union clerk) One moment. Moran? 

William Macy: (As John) Yes, sir. 

Scott Zigler: (As Western Union clerk) No, I'm sorry. It hasn't come in yet. 

William H Macy: (As John) They told me definitely by 9 o'clock. 

Scott Zigler: (As Western Union clerk) If you'll have a seat, I'll let you know the moment it arrives. 

William H Macy: (As John) Thank you. 

Joe Carrigan: Let's see if you guys can recognize who is playing Sgt. Moran. 

Rick Howard: Oh, I can't pull his name. Oh, my God. What is his name? From "Fargo." 


Joe Mantegna: (As Mike) Can you beat that? Can you beat this? I've been waiting here since - honey? - since 3 o'clock this afternoon. 

William H Macy: (As John) No. 

Joe Mantegna: (As Mike) Three o'clock this afternoon. I got my car stolen, my wallet. The kid's in a hotel room, hasn't eaten since noon. 

Zachary Gordon: (As John) They told me I'd have my money by 9 o'clock. 

Joe Mantegna: (As Mike) I swear to God. 

Rick Howard: William Macy. That's it, I pulled it. Yeah. 

Joe Carrigan: That's William H. Macy. 


Joe Mantegna: (As Mike) When's your bus leaving? 

William H Macy: (As John) Not till 6, but I got to pick up the ticket. 

Joe Mantegna: (As Mike) Where are you going? 

William H Macy: (As John) Back to Pendleton. 

Joe Mantegna: (As Mike) You're in the Corps? Joe, I was in the Corps. 

William H Macy: (As John) When were you in? 

Joe Mantegna: (As Mike) Sixty-eight, '70. Yeah, I was there - Marty Howard. 

William H Macy: (As John) John Moran. 

Joe Mantegna: (As Mike) John. OK, look what do you need for the bus? 

William H Macy: (As John) Forty. 

Joe Mantegna: (As Mike) When my money comes in, I'll give you the 40. Go back to the base. 

William H Macy: (As John) No, I couldn't take that. 

Joe Mantegna: (As Mike) The hell? What are you going to do, miss your formation? I'll lend you the 40. When you get back to the base, send it back. No, you get on that bus. 

William H Macy: (As John) Thank you. 

Joe Mantegna: (As Mike) Nothing to it. You'd do the same for me. 

William H Macy: (As John) If my money comes in first, you take... 

Joe Mantegna: (As Mike) No, we'll be all right. 

William H Macy: (As John) Uh-uh, no. If my money comes in first... 

Joe Mantegna: (As Mike) No, I couldn't do that. 

Scott Zigler: (As Western Union clerk) Moran? 

Joe Carrigan: Now Moran's money has come in. 

Rick Howard: The sergeant. 


Scott Zigler: (As Western Union clerk) Can I see some ID, please? 

Joe Carrigan: The sergeant, right. 


Scott Zigler: (As Western Union clerk) Thank you. 

Joe Mantegna: (As Mike) Now that man is going to give his money to a total stranger. 

William H Macy: (As John) Now, you've got to take some money from me. I want you to take it. What do you need? 


Joe Mantegna: (As Mike) No, we'll get by. 

Joe Carrigan: And Joe Mantegna and Lindsay Crouse... 


William H Macy: (As John) No, wait. 

Joe Carrigan: ...Stand up to walk out. 


William H Macy: (As John) You tell me, what do you need? I've got it right here. 

Joe Mantegna: (As Mike) Save your money, Joe. Semper fi. 

Joe Carrigan: And William H. Macy's actually trying like crazy to give him the money, because what has happened here is Joe Mantegna has gone - has approached him and given him some code words that will tell you that we are - that, you know, I was in the Marine Corps just like you're in the Marine Corps. Yeah, I was there. I was in - meaning in Vietnam. He's very concerned about him not missing formation. That's very important that - because, you know, not showing up on time - Rick, you were in the Army, right? What happens when you don't show up on time? 

Rick Howard: They shoot you. 

Joe Carrigan: Right. 


Joe Carrigan: It's very important for Marines to be at formation on time, right? 

Dave Bittner: (Laughter) Right. 

Joe Carrigan: So - now, this movie - or this scene ends with Joe Mantegna and Lindsay Crouse just walking out, not taking any money from a Marine, which, you know, is kind of nice. But - so it kind of has a happy ending. But he was just showing how this scam works. 

Dave Bittner: Oh, I see. So he didn't end - actually end up scamming the guy. He just wanted to demonstrate it to the woman who was with him. 

Joe Carrigan: Right, because the plot of the movie is that she is writing a book. 

Dave Bittner: I see. Interesting. 

Rick Howard: And so the very next step would have been him accepting the money and telling him he would pay him back, right? That's the... 

Joe Carrigan: Right, exactly. 

Rick Howard: That's what would have happened. 

Joe Carrigan: And then just disappear. 

Dave Bittner: Right. 

Joe Carrigan: Yep. 

Dave Bittner: Right, so... 

Joe Carrigan: And he did not have any money coming in to Western Union. He's just sitting there waiting for somebody else to come in and steps... 

Dave Bittner: Right. 

Joe Carrigan: ...Up in front of him. And then tells a story about how he got robbed. He's got a kid that hasn't eaten since noon - and then makes the connection through the Marine Corps. Whatever the connection was, whatever was going to happen - it doesn't matter what it is - he's going to try to build rapport on that using a broad base of knowledge. 

Rick Howard: So here's the question. 

Dave Bittner: Right. 

Rick Howard: What do you think the odds are that Joe Mantegna was actually in the Marine Corps? 

Joe Carrigan: Oh, none. 

Rick Howard: None. 


Joe Carrigan: Joe Mantegna's character was not in the Marine Corps, yeah. 

Dave Bittner: No. No. No, but he really had the other guy's number, right? I mean... 

Joe Carrigan: Right. 

Dave Bittner: ...The other guy - he had the haircut. He was carrying the duffel bag. 

Joe Carrigan: Yup. 

Dave Bittner: You know, he had that look of a military man. And so they were able to figure that out but quick. 

Rick Howard: Yeah. And he implies that he went to - he was deployed to Vietnam. I mean, he didn't say it, but he implied it. And so... 

Joe Carrigan: Right. 

Rick Howard: ...You know, there was unseen camaraderie, you know, between the two. So, yeah, really well done. 

Joe Carrigan: Yeah. 

Dave Bittner: Yeah. yeah. 

Joe Carrigan: It's a good scene, good movie. 

Dave Bittner: All right. Well, let's... 

Joe Carrigan: Check it out. 

Dave Bittner: Yeah. Yeah, it's a good one. All right, Joe. Good one. Rick, what do you have for us this week? 

Rick Howard: My clip this week is from the 2008 movie "The Brothers Bloom," written and directed by Rian Johnson. And I'm probably butchering his first name. He's probably most famous to our audience for "Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi," "Knives Out" with Daniel Craig and a number of episodes from "Breaking Bad." It stars Rachel Weisz, famous to our audience for "The Mummy" and the "Black Widow;" she played Wanda's mom; Adrien Brody, famous to our audience for probably "Predators," and Mark Ruffalo, famous for playing Bruce Banner or the Hulk in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It even has a supporting role for Robbie Coltrane, who played Hagrid in the "Harry Potter" movies. 

Rick Howard: The story is about a pair of orphans, Brody and Ruffalo, shuttled between numerous foster families in their youth, who learn how to do the long con to support themselves. The movie is about their last con as adults. But this clip is their first con as kids. The boys are 9 or 10 years of age, outsiders to the townie kids in a very small town. The older brother, Ruffalo, develops a multistage script to trick the townie kids out of their money. 


Ricky Jay: (As narrator) In the root of Stephen's psyche, something now began - a seed of grand epiphany, a hook, a tale... 

Max Records: (As Young Stephen) A plan. 

Ricky Jay: (As narrator) ...A fiction, both for profit and to ease his brother's heart, a simple con in 15 steps. 

Max Records: (As Young Stephen) And this is where we start. 

Rick Howard: He comes up with the tale. 


Max Records: (As Young Stephen) You tell them there's a... 

Zachary Gordon: (As Young Bloom) Hermit in the woods - a one-eyed, steel-tooth vagabond - with blood-red eyes? 

Max Records: (As Young Stephen) That's good. He stopped you coming home from school... 

Zachary Gordon: (As Young Bloom) And told me of a cave. 

Unidentified Actor #1: (As character) What kind of cave? 

Zachary Gordon: (As Young Bloom) A cave of wonder. 

Unidentified Actor #2: (As Dave (ph)) Ha. 

Unidentified Actor #1: (As character) Shut up, Dave. 

Zachary Gordon: (As Young Bloom) At noon on every Sunday, there appears a ball of light, which flutters like a butterfly. 

Unidentified Actor #1: (As character) A will-o'-wisp? 

Zachary Gordon: (As Young Bloom) That's right. It guides you... 

Max Records: (As Young Stephen) If you can keep up. 

Zachary Gordon: (As Young Bloom) ...To where of the treasures lay. 

Unidentified Actor #2: (As Dave) So where's this cave? 

Unidentified Actor #1: (As character) Yeah, where? 

Max Records: (As Young Stephen) Aha. The hermit didn't say. He got this greedy, glinting look - the filthy red-eyed leech - and said he'd tell for 30 bucks. 

Unidentified Actor #3: (As character) Well, that's just two bucks each. 


Rick Howard: And then the final act in the con game record, called cooling out the mark - it's the end game, designed so that the townie kids willingly return to their regular life without complaint. Kid Brody leads the townie kids to a cave. And kid Ruffalo, hidden in the cave, turns on a flashlight, the will-o'-the-wisp. And the kids are delighted. 


Ricky Jay: (As narrator) And so that Sunday, straight from church, into the woods they led. They stopped. Their hearts leapt. There it was. 

Unidentified Actor #1: (As character) Just like the hermit said. 


Rick Howard: The townie kids didn't know that kid Ruffalo had constructed a muddy pit just inside the cave. And the townies all fell into it, getting their Sunday best covered with mud. But they didn't care. They were having way too much fun. 


Ricky Jay: (As narrator) For just one moment, Bloom forgot himself and ran too fast. He'd catch the light and find the treasure. But the moment passed. They didn't catch the will-'o-wisp but didn't really care. 

Rick Howard: And kid Ruffalo learns a big lesson on how to run a con. 


Max Records: (As Young Stephen) It seems to me that in the end, the perfect con is where each one involved gets just the thing they wanted. 

Zachary Gordon: (As Young Bloom) Yeah, I guess so. 

Rick Howard: But it seems the Bloom kids' big plan blows up in their faces when the townie-kid parents learn what happened and demand their money back. 


Ricky Jay: (As narrator) Our fledgling thieves were satisfied. 


Ricky Jay: (As narrator) The children's parents, less so. 

Rick Howard: The Bloom kids' foster parents turned them out into the streets. But the twist ending is that kid Ruffalo anticipated the parents response in step 6 of his grand plan and made a deal with the one dry-cleaner store owner in the town. He knew that the parents would take all of the muddy clothes from the cave adventure to this single shop. 


Ricky Jay: (As narrator) A bitter ending? Maybe. But there's sweetness in the mix. The brothers Bloom had found their calling as shown in number 6. Cut meant to negotiate, percent, percentage deal. O'Henry's was the town's one dry-clean shop. 


Max Records: (As Young Stephen) Pleasure doing business with you. 

Rick Howard: So as the Bloom kids walk out of town, they are carrying a wad of cash as their percentage of the take from the dry cleaner. And that, my friends, is how you learn how to do the big con. So what do you guys think? I think - I learned a lot by watching this one little con by a couple of 9-year-olds, right? 


Rick Howard: So what do you think, Joe? 

Joe Carrigan: Interesting, very interesting. You know, part of me goes, is this really a con, or are these guys a couple of entertainers like P.T. Barnum? Although P.T. Barnum was kind of a con man, too, right? You give - give them what they want. 

Rick Howard: Why, that's funny you should say that, Joe. Yeah - in the movie, the - Ruffalo - the big brother, Ruffalo - he prides himself on being kind of a writer of stories, right? 

Joe Carrigan: Right. 

Rick Howard: And that's kind of the whole point of the whole movie, right? So, yeah, you got caught right on to that. 

Joe Carrigan: Yeah. 

Dave Bittner: Yeah. I agree. I mean, I was thinking - like they said, I think that little bit of wisdom about, is it really a con if everybody in the end gets what they wanted? 

Rick Howard: Yeah. 

Dave Bittner: ...Is interesting in that, you know, the people - all the kids were entertained, even if it ended up not being the truth. 

Joe Carrigan: Right. 

Dave Bittner: But then I was also impressed that the kid had the foresight to know that there was a secondary con to be had here by teaming up with the town dry cleaner... 

Joe Carrigan: Right. 

Dave Bittner: ...Or - if we could provide him with a steady stream of a product. So... 

Joe Carrigan: Right. Yeah. 

Dave Bittner: ...A double con. 

Rick Howard: I think you could say that the dry cleaner was the con, right? 

Joe Carrigan: Yeah. 

Rick Howard: And whether or not the two bucks he got from each kid worked or not, it didn't matter 'cause he's going to get the big payoff anyway. 

Joe Carrigan: Right. 

Rick Howard: And I will tell you, the other thing, too, is, in all the shows we've done on this - Hacking Humans Goes to the Movies - is the successful con artists always try to convince the mark that they got away with something, right? - that - and they have no - they don't know at the end - OK? - that they've been conned. And that is true here in "The Brothers Bloom." 

Dave Bittner: Yeah. All right. Well, it's - both good clips this week for sure. Thank you both - a fun show this week. We want to thank all of you for listening. That is our show. 

Dave Bittner: 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. 

Joe Carrigan: I'm Joe Carrigan. 

Rick Howard: And I'm Rick Howard. 

Dave Bittner: Thanks for listening.