Canadian-born sociologist Erving Goffman has helped me sharpen my analytical skills.
An excerpt: In cases of criminal fraud, victims find they must suddenly adapt themselves to the loss of sources of security and status which they had taken for granted. A consideration of this adaptation to loss can lead us to an understanding of some relations in our society between involvements and the selves that are involved.
In the argot of the criminal world, the term “mark” refers to any individual who is a victim or prospective victim of certain forms of planned illegal exploitation. The mark is the sucker ‑ the person who is taken in. An instance of the operation of any particular racket, taken through the full cycle of its steps or phases, is sometimes called a play. The persons who operate the racket and “take” the mark are occasionally called operators.
The confidence game ‑ the con, as its practitioners call it ‑ is a way of obtaining money under false pretenses by the exercise of fraud and deceit. The con differs from politer forms of financial deceit in important ways.
- The con is practiced on private persons by talented actors who methodically and regularly build up informal social relationships just for the purpose of abusing them;
- white‑collar crime is practiced on organizations by persons who learn to abuse positions of trust which they once filled faithfully.
The one exploits, poise; the other, position.
Further, a con man is someone who accepts a social role in the underworld community; he is part of a brotherhood whose members make no pretense to one another of being “legit.” A white‑collar criminal, on the other hand, has no colleagues, although he may have an associate with whom he plans his crime and a wife to whom he confesses it.
On Cooling the Mark Out: Some Aspects of Adaptation to Failure, Erving Goffman, Psychiatry: Journal of Interpersonal Relations, 1952. pdf
A brilliant paper that 60 years does nothing to diminish.
For a more extensive glossary of criminal slang (argot) see: Get Smart: don’t let only the thieves use these words.