How To Identify Opportunists, Time Wasters, and Scammers

By Jack Colton

We’re all usually pretty good at sniffing out obvious scams and get-rich schemes. We’re street smart, after all. But when a well-heeled person says all the right things, shows up in a $200,000 Bentley and throws around money like it’s in their way, things aren’t so simple.

They dazzle with their flash and flamboyance until you become blind to their inconsistencies, and try to convince you that they will help with something major because they really “believe in you and what you’re doing.”

Maybe they’re name-dropping excessively or overstating their significance in order to impress you, or they’re outright lying to you and hoping you won’t notice.

Bullshitters and time wasters are everywhere. Here are some of our favorite ways to identify and avoid them…

1. Nothing is ever able to be verified, especially online.

If someone has done something notable, there should be enough written about them online to form a coherent picture of who they are. But when they avoid social media—for the sake of privacy—and all you can find online is fluff, you may have a bullshitter on your hands.

Taken a step further, even when you find an article or blog post about someone, don’t automatically take that on its own as any ironclad proof.

Always pay attention to the source, because if someone is bullshitting you, it wouldn’t exactly be out of character for them to have convinced (or paid) a content-hungry blogger to write whatever they wanted him to say about themselves.

2. They Mysteriously Shutdown “Successful” Projects and Businesses.

When you see someone who goes on about a long list of “successes” that all have mysteriously disappeared into oblivion without verifiable reasons, you can bet the farm they are either overhyping things or possibly lying about why the projects are no longer around.

If something were truly a moneymaker or an asset, the owner would have either kept it going or sold it to someone else. If neither happened, there is likely something important missing from the story.

3. They Unfairly Identify With Other People’s Projects.

Creating something new and building a successful business from the ground up generally takes years of hard work and often as much financial risk.

It’s far easier for someone identify themselves with another person’s success, claim credit for it, and reap the benefits.

If you’re hearing only one side of the story and it never seems to be verified by other people who were there at the time, it might be worth asking more questions before assuming they’ve done what they claimed to have done.

4. They Are A Little Quick To Show Off.

A person with legitimate wealth, success, and influence usually grows accustomed to their success and lifestyle over time. It’s similar to how we grow accustomed to a new car after a few months of driving it. At first, we may have talked about it a lot and bragged about it. But eventually, the thrill wears off, and we take our luxury for granted.

The opportunist is so desperate to impress you with material things that they will nearly run over your foot, just so you can see them driving a luxury car and hopefully take them seriously enough to listen to whatever they’re trying to sell you on.

5. Unexplained Holes In Their Timeline, Embellished Successes.

I knew a guy for about a decade who bounced from job to job while trying to start various businesses. I always respected his hustle, but the jobs usually lasted about as long as his usually terrible business ideas.

Then, out of nowhere, he was bending over backward to show off how much money and (alleged) success he had. Every other day, something new didn’t align with reality. And every other week, his life story and professional biographies grew even more ridiculously embellished and completely out-of-line with his actual past.

To someone who had just met him, they could have quickly assumed he was a business prodigy whose touch turned everything into gold. And they did. Several bloggers unknowingly validated his “alternative” account of his career.

Eventually, he did build a very successful business. But not without faking it until he made it. Along the way, many people lost money and were taken advantage of.

6. They Won’t Answer Questions Directly.

When someone isn’t being truthful, they will often give vague answers and then quickly change the subject. If you leave a conversation with unanswered questions and never fully know what the person even just said, it’s often for a good reason.

7. They Never Talk About Their Failures.

Some of the most important lessons that any entrepreneur will ever learn result from expensive losses, missteps, and blunders. So when someone never mentions or admits to tripping here and there, it may serve you well to push them on it and see what they say.

8. They’ve Previously Worked Closely With Known Bullshitters. 

Birds of a feather flock together—this is an old saying, but it’s true. If someone were working very closely with Shady McShadster for any length of time, it would indicate either poor judgment or collusion. Especially, if they don’t go to great and honest lengths to apologize for the association.

This doesn’t always mean they are not worth working with, but keep a close eye on them to see if they can prove themselves.

9. They Lie To Other People In Front Of You.

I once had a guy bring me into a meeting in my own conference room with someone he was trying to sell his services to.

Brazenly, he started hitting his mark with all of the same lies he had told me about how he was going to help my business, and then even took it a step further in calling me a business partner (we had just met) and using a barely-existent business of mine (I’d just come up with the name) as the brand that had done all the wonderful things he was selling him on.

For obvious reasons, if you catch someone lying to someone else, you can assume this a red flag that they are probably lying to you.

10. They Never Live Up To Expectations.

Last, but by no means least, are the people who don’t deliver on their promises. Ever. They always have an excuse, but they rarely take responsibility for their failures. All the increased sales or investment they promised never materialized. They are almost never on time and blame others when something is late. The person they referred to you ended up being a quack who dropped the ball; it wasn’t their fault. On and on and on and on.

If they over promise and under deliver even one time, keep your guard on high alert. It’s likely to keep happening. -SR