What makes a conman so pernicious is his ability to conjure a convincing illusory identity based on trust. Thus the moniker, confidence man. At some point in every scam, the prey entrusts money to the predator, with full confidence that it will be returned. But occasionally the hunter’s camouflage is stripped, and he finds himself in the crosshairs of justice.
Selva “Silver Fox” Carmichael is Britain’s most notorious petty serial fraudster. He went from surreptitious sneak to celebrity superstar overnight, when caught trying to fleece some beloved TV personalities. The scam was quite simple. He approached two erstwhile Big Brother contestants an offered them a role in a new reality series. The couple then permitted a TV crew to follow them around for 18 hours a day, filming the type of banal, unscripted, melodramatic routine that attracts viewers like gawkers to a car wreck. Carmichael then used the footage like bait in a snare to attract a bevy of salivating investors who fronted the cash for the production of the show.
Later he would put on his saddest face when informing the actors that the network reneged on the deal, and that there was no money to pay them, as per the contract it had to be returned to the investors. His next stop was an investor meeting where he apologized for not being able to return their money, due to contractual obligations to pay the actors. After everyone fussed and fumed, he slunk out with the entire investment in his bank account.
Ironically, it wasn’t the investors who sued him, it was the forlorn would-be actress. Her lawyer, Amir Saleem, recognized some of the details of the story his client told me to be telltale traces of the craft of a scam artist. Saleem successfully sued Carmichael for the amount owed plus damages, and in the process tore off his mask exposing him as The Silver Fox. Carmichael was arrested for criminal charges. But here’s the rub…he too recognized in Saleem’s methods traces of his craft. He tipped off his lawyers who dug a little deeper into the legal credentials of Amir Saleem who had defeated them in open court.
They were astonished to learn that not only was the law practice Saleem worked a fake, but his law degrees had been forged too. Amir Saleem too, was a serial fraudster. The two rival conmen were the undoing of each other. I love the irony that the case in which Saleem was unmasked as a fraud was the case he brought against a fellow conman.
You can’t write this kind of drama; not even for a fake reality TV show. But it goes to show that you can fool most people most of the time, but not all people all the time.
In the kingdom of God this is a lesson Jesus warned against with serial persistence.
Luke 20:45 And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples, 46 “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 47 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
Jesus tears the mask off the religious hypocrites of his day, by exposing their love of…
Prominence: The best gift you could give a Pharisee for Hanukkah was to yell across the street “Hello Right Reverend Rabbi, your worshipful holiness.” We see glimpses of this from pastors who insist on being called “Doctor,” and in churchgoers who covet the title “Deacon” or “Elder” as if it were a rank in the church.
Privilege: This is like the seminarian who spends four years studying the humility of Christ, the sinfulness of man, and the glory of God, only to insist on being treated with respect by his congregation…you know, for his humility.
Profit: This is the basest of a hypocrite’s motives: money. There is a thin difference between a conman who creates a false identity, and a Christian who uses his/her faith to garner business clients.
Pretense: A quick diagnostic of your prayers is that if your public prayers are consistently longer and more eloquent than your private prayers, maybe your public prayers are laced with pretense.
We all know the reality that there are tares among the wheat. The chilling reminder for all hypocrites is that your masquerading will one day be exposed for what it is. You can fool some people some of the time, but not all people all the time. And you can’t fool God for even a second.
Or as Puritan Thomas Watson said:
A hypocrite fools others while he lives, but he fools himself when he dies.”
For those who put their trust in Jesus, you can have confidence in the day of judgment. But for the hypocrisy of spiritual conmen there is only a fear of exposure and justice.