“You’ve got to bait your promises with something real. You’ve got to show him what he wants. That’s why you dress well, know the big names, put on a show. You flash for him and let him see real money, so that you represent what he’s after. Nobody goes along with a loser, everybody follows the winner. You’re his winner, and he’ll follow you all the way.”
Anonymous con man quoted from Richard H. Blum’s, “Deceivers and Deceived.”
The particular targets of the Greater Ministries heist were a varied lot of American citizens. They came from all fifty states. They were men and women. Some were married, others single. Many were elderly.
They were virtually all white, and “Christian.” But that’s about all they had in common.
A large number – about four thousand — were from the Old Order Plain community, mostly from Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Virginia. The Old Order are the ‘horse & buggy’ Amish and Mennonites. More than two thousand Greater Ministries “giftors” came from the Plain of Pennsylvania, most from the Lancaster/Lebanon County region.
These were not prudent investors. Many of these people were faithful, trusting Christians who believed they were following God’s word, and were blessed in the profits.
The victims were warmed by Greater Ministries claims of feeding the hungry, and saving souls abroad.
Some of the people who invested with Greater Ministy were plain greedy. They were in it to make a buck. They saw neighbors collecting cash, and they wanted a piece.
Some were right-wing, anti-government fanatics who wanted no part of the banking system.
A great many of the swindled were Bible Belt southern Christian fundamentalists.
Victims in scams like Greater Ministries’ often share certain psychological characteristics. The victim tends to be more submissive, a follower rather than a leader. He’s not a complainer.
Victims tend to be cautious people, not analytical, but wary of others. They are conventional, dull, sometimes. They’re not gamblers as a group.
The motives for individual Greater Ministries investors varied, too. Some thought they were boosting a retirement account; others believed they were financing a grandchild’s college fund. Another might want to make his mortgage payment easier. And some just wanted the magical power of money to make their lives better.
They were investing in hope, a dream, their own personal dreams.
The victims in the Greater Ministries case came into the relationship already admiring con man Gerald Payne. They looked at him and his gang of thieves as a Ministers of the church, men of God.
This made them particularly easy marks.
The relationship between congregant and minister is not an equal one. The dominant position of the minister’s role makes the job of the con man easier.
As Arthur Leff, of Yale Law School, noted in Swindling and Selling, “There are structural components in a religious context which make the job of the conscientious swindler very much easier.”
And let’s be blunt: Americans love money, especially ‘easy money.’
When potential investors to Greater Ministries saw their neighbors receiving envelopes stuffed full of cash money, they were hooked. Period.