Cristophe Rocancourt

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The phone rang in the Los Angeles office of detective George Mueller. He was the square-jawed, straight shooting detective who had just missed making a huge arrest. Cristophe Rocancourt left behind a pistol, a real, but swindled U.S. passport and a trail of famous and wealthy victims from the Hamptons to Hollywood.

But the case was about to heat up again, because on the other end of the phone was the crook he had recently missed. Cristophe Rocancourt was on the line, asking to speak with detective George Mueller.

He explained to detective Mueller that, despite mounting evidence against him, and the fact that Mueller had just missed him last time, he would be moving back to Los Angeles. The con man told the detective he was, “a good player,” in a thick, French accent. He explained that they both were, “good players.” He told Mueller that if the two sat down for a meal they would like each other.

So Close

Mueller was so close to capturing Rocancourt previously that the room Mueller searched still smelled of the fraudster. He had barely eluded capture by leaving the U.S. on a lavish tour of Asia with a French fashion designer named Charles Glenn.Cristophe Rocancourt

Rocancourt told the detective about his plan to walk right back into the investigation from which he ran. In his thick, French accent he said, “If you do arrest me I’ll just bail out and flee the country anyway.”

That is exactly what happened.

Cristophe Rocancourt on Tour

In the summer of 2000, Rocancourt blew through the the U.S. on a whirlwind tour of lavish lifestyle and lucrative deceit. He had adopted the name Rockefeller on a whim, but in an instant he found the source of his next con. In an interview with Dateline’s Mike Taibbi, Rocancourt explained that when people heard the name Rockefeller they, “melted like ice cream.” It was what he counted on when he met Kim Curry and her fiancé. This is how it’s explained in the Dateline interview.

Dateline

Narrator: Kim Curry and her fiancé, who had taken a hit in the stock market that summer, were thrilled. Christopher told them the deal was simple— they put up some money, he would invest it, they would get a tenfold profit guaranteed. So they ponied up the $50,000.

Curry: The way he presented it was this, “You give me $50,000, I will invest this money, I will in turn give you $500,000 back.”

Mike Taibbi, Dateline correspondent: And when would your fiancé and you get this $500,000?

Curry: Immediately.

Narrator: It was Kim’s friend Corrine Eeltink who’d first met the young Rockefeller at a Hamptons gym, noticing that last name and that he’d signed the register with a Fifth Avenue address. And when Corrine was invited to one of Christopher’s lavish dinners, he’d invited her to make a similar investment — the same sort of terms and the same knockout payoff.

Corrine Eeltink: We’ll start right today with $25,000 investment.

Taibbi: How much did he say you would make with your $25,000 investment?

Eeltink: Around a million and up, in over like three months.

Narrator: Corrine bought in too. Christopher also promised millions to a real estate agent who showed him a $9 million oceanfront estate in the Hamptons. The realtor was so impressed she gave the French Rockefeller $100,000 of her own savings to invest.-

Intent

But how does a man pretending to be wealthy trick people into giving him money? What could possibly drive someone to write a check to a Rockefeller? One answer Rocancourt gave during the same interview shines a light on how he thought of it. His English is so poor that even the subtitles can be hard to understand.

But his intent is not.

You’ve Been Stupid

Cristophe Rocancourt: How you for a minute can be serious to think when you don’t have to know history to say, “Hey, Rockefeller, your French accent. There’s no Rockefeller in France.”  C’mon, use your brain?

Taibbi: All they needed to believe it for was a split second that if they could smell money.

Cristophe Rocancourt: They smell the money like the shark smell the blood. Nothing else.

Narrator: He says he always counted on his victims thinking they were taking advantage of him, and that he always counted on their greed.

Cristophe Rocancourt: You do think for that time you are much smarter than me. You did think for that time, you can profit better with me.

Taibbi: Right, and so for those people, they should be punished?

Cristophe Rocancourt: No, no, no, no, no. You been a dummy. You been stupid. Just like I did prison time. I take my time. Just accept it for fact. You’re not that bright. You been stupid for that time. Just accept it. Oh, you been ripped off. Is what happened.

Taibbi: But what you have done is criminal. You admit that.

Cristophe Rocancourt: No question.

Taibbi: But you’re saying you don’t feel any sympathy for the people who lost money.

Cristophe Rocancourt: No.

Taibbi: –because they were greedy and they believed in you and they threw money at you.  And you didn’t pay ‘em back. You don’t feel sorry for them?

Cristophe Rocancourt: No. I keep it real. You want honesty? You have it. I keep it real. What do you want me to tell you? I have a feeling I don’t have? I don’t.-

Greedy or Just Common

Were Cristophe Rocancourt’s victims greedy or was the con man just playing on a little-known psychological quirk that most of us have?

The Rockefeller name is synonymous with money. Most of us would jump at the chance to let a Rockefeller invest for us. In fact it was Kim Curry who asked Cristophe if he had any investment tips. Rocancourt did not instigate that conversation. That one question was the catalyst for their loss of $50,000. She was, as Cristophe puts it, smelling the money like sharks smell blood.

But when we are struggling, sometimes its our own blood we think we can smell. And so desperation holds sway and we jump on the first opportunity we can find. Like Kim, most of us wouldn’t go home and research the Rockefeller name if we needed money and felt an opportunity was available. After all, we are smart enough to know what that name Rockefeller means. Or are we?

John D. Rockefeller

After the Civil War in the US, a massive cultural shift happened. Whale oil was no longer the standard for lighting homes. So the black gold boom of petroleum tore through the country, and essentially the world.

John D. Rockefeller was there, selling oil through his Standard Oil Company from the beginning. His company grew so large, that on May 15, 1911 the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the company broken up in an attempt to crush the monopoly the Rockefeller’s had on oil and money.

 

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Today

John amassed the largest fortune ever owned in modern times. At his death in 1937, his net worth was $340 billion. Adjusted for inflation, his fortune was the equivalent of $600 billion today.

To put that in perspective, Forbes Magazine outlined the richest people in the world in December of 2017. In the article they explain that Jeff Bezos had surpassed Bill Gates as the richest man in the world that July, as his net worth rose to over $90 billion. If we make all things equal, the richest person alive today only has 15% of what Rockefeller had.

Rockefeller’s wealth was made of staggering numbers, but remember, they all exist in the U.S. Rockefeller died in 1937 and his family tree is very accessible. A quick look today reveals that his namesakes are largely contained the northeastern states of the U.S.

So French

But Rocancourt was so French, he could barely speak English. Even today, decades after the facade, Rocancourt offers interviews to media outlets. Those interviews still require subtitles because his accent is, at times, indiscernible. How did this very French man get away telling Americans that he was the French Rockefeller?

Because that is just what they wanted him to be.

Rockancourt swept through Hollywood and the Hamptons. Places associated, justly or not, with selfishness and greed. In his mind he thought the people there were shallow and only out for themselves. He thought they would accept a Rockefeller into the community because he could do something for them.

Which they did.

Two Cons

In the Hamptons he offered people outrages returns if they invested their money with him. Remember, he promised Kim Curry that he could turn $50,000 into $500k in months. She was not looking at Rocancourt as a friend, she saw an extra $450,000. After all, he was only there a few months when she handed him her money.

In Hollywood it was a different story. He promised Tinseltown that he could get fallen stars back on track. His new friends, Mickey Rourke and Jean Claude Van Damme were guests at his dinner table, drawn to the promise of another run at a rich career.

In other words, like any good con man, he found what people wanted and exploited it. But how did a pompous Frenchman fake his way into the hearts of the well-to-do so quickly just by faking a Rockefeller pedigree?

It was with a psychological nuance called the conformation bias, and it is powerful.

We rarely make choices the way we think. Conformation bias happens when we make choices that support our preconceived notions, and it happens a lot more than we think.

Science Daily explains it this way.

-The conformation bias is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions, leading to statistical errors.-

We think that what we think is right. We talk ourselves into the choices that support what we want to believe, and it happens in a instant. If we could talk openly about your last vote, it probably fell along the lines of the party or culture with whom you identify. I doubt you got out your calculator, researched the taxes and cultural repercussions and voted according to the numbers.

It’s probably true that you were raised with certain political leanings, your friends lean that way and you vote mostly that way. Perhaps you think you believe in less government, but police and military are government and you want more of that. Maybe you perceive that you want to help the poor, but you vote for more funding and policies that have proven to hurt, not help the less fortunate.

Your Choices

Perhaps you think the car you drive is a good choice, but is it? Or is it just a reflection of the story you have chosen to believe? Do you drive a cheap car because you feel broke, even though you spend more money fixing it each month than you would on a small car payment? Perhaps you drive a giant lifted truck that rarely goes off-road because you are a guy with a beard and a gun and the truck fits your story, not your life. If you drove a car, you’d have much more money to spend on guns, but a guy in an Avalon with a beard and a pistol doesn’t seem right to you.

There are countless examples of the conformation bias. We think that we make our opinions based on logic and reason. But we don’t. We form opinions first, then make choices and stories that support those opinions, not the other way around.

The people at verywell.com wrote a great explanation of conformation bias. I have included parts of it here.

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-Where do your beliefs and opinions come from? If you are like most people, you probably like to think that your beliefs are the result of years of experience and objective analysis of the information you have available. The reality is that all of us are susceptible to a tricky problem known as a confirmation bias.

While we like to imagine that our beliefs are rational, logical, and objective, the fact is that our ideas are often based on paying attention to the information that upholds our ideas.

At the same time, we tend to ignore the information that challenges our existing beliefs.

Understanding Confirmation Bias

A confirmation bias is a type of cognitive bias that involves favoring information which confirms previously existing beliefs or biases.

For example, imagine that a person holds a belief that left-handed people are more creative than right-handed people. Whenever this person encounters a person that is both left-handed and creative, they place greater importance on this “evidence” that supports what they already believe. This individual might even seek “proof” that further backs up this belief while discounting examples that do not support the idea.

Confirmation biases impact how people gather information, but they also influence how we interpret and recall information. For example, people who support or oppose a particular issue will not only seek information to support it, they will also interpret news stories in a way that upholds their existing ideas.

They will also remember things in a way that reinforces these attitudes.

The Impact of Confirmation Biases

In the 1960s, cognitive psychologist Peter Cathcart Wason conducted a number of experiments known as Wason’s rule discovery task. He demonstrated that people have a tendency to seek information that confirms their existing beliefs. Unfortunately, this type of bias can prevent us from looking at situations objectively. It can also influence the decisions we make and can lead to poor or faulty choices.

During an election season, for example, people tend to seek positive information that paints their favored candidates in a good light. They will also look for information that casts the opposing candidate in a negative light.

By not seeking out objective facts, interpreting information in a way that only supports their existing beliefs, and only remembering details that uphold these beliefs, they often miss important information.

These details and facts might have otherwise influenced their decision on which candidate to support.

Observations by Psychologists

In his book, “Research in Psychology: Methods and Design,” C. James Goodwin gives a great example of confirmation bias as it applies to extrasensory perception.

“Persons believing in extrasensory perception (ESP) will keep close track of instances when they were ‘thinking about Mom, and then the phone rang and it was her!’ Yet they ignore the far more numerous times when (a) they were thinking about Mom and she didn’t call and (b) they weren’t thinking about Mom and she did call. They also fail to recognize that if they talk to Mom about every two weeks, their frequency of “thinking about Mom” will increase near the end of the two-week-interval, thereby increasing the frequency of a ‘hit.'”

As Catherine A. Sanderson points out in her book, “Social Psychology,” confirmation bias also helps form and re-confirm stereotypes we have about people.

“We also ignore information that disputes our expectations. We are more likely to remember (and repeat) stereotype-consistent information and to forget or ignore stereotype-inconsistent information, which is one-way stereotypes are maintained even in the face of disconfirming evidence. If you learn that your new Canadian friend hates hockey, loves sailing and that your new Mexican friend hates spicy foods and loves rap music, you are less likely to remember this new stereotype-inconsistent information.”-

Your Bias

Conformation bias is the reason that living in the moment is such an influential trait. When we are fully engaged and present in a situation it creates a bias in people that is irresistible. Those biases are made up of tiny moments, not calculated informations.

Think of a friend whom you consider honest. Do you think that because you have surveyed the people with whom they associate and they all have told stories of your friends honesty?  Have you calculated the number of times they lied and subtracted it form the number of times they were honest? Or do you think they are honest because you watched them act honestly in just a few moments?

Usually if we see someone return to a store with an item for which they haven’t paid just to make it right, that one incident is enough to cement them in our minds as an honest person. If someone told you that your honest friend had lied to them, would you believe them? Probably not, but your opinion is based on a very small sliver of information. One instant in time secures your premonition that they are honest.

This is conformation bias.

French Rockefeller

Conformation bias also explains why when we meet someone named Rockefeller who claims to have money, we ignore the heavy French accent, the car they drive or other lack of evidence to support their claim. If we want to meet a person that can make us rich, we ignore the signs of fraud.

It was this living in the moment that caused so many people like Mickey Rourke and Jean Claude Van Damme to believe there was a French Rockefeller. It was also being with Cristophe Rocancourt that made them believe. In his mind, he was not acting. He was fully engaged. He was, like our friends on the spectrum, living in the moment, and in those moments, Rocancourt was the French Rockefeller.

But it wouldn’t last long.

When Christophe Rocancourt was arrested on 26 April 2001 he was wearing a Rolex watch worth $28k. He was also holding receipts for two more watches totaling $148,450. This time the French Rockefeller would not avoid prison, although it wouldn’t be a long sentence.Cristophe Rocancourt

Cristophe Rocancourt Caught

In September 2003, Rocancourt accepted a plea deal for some of his crimes. The plea resulted in a fine of $9 million, an order to pay $1.2 million in restitution and a term of three years and ten months in federal prison. Upon his release, he was the toast of France. He was the man who used the Americans greed against them.

His intriguing life spurred the media into action. Rocancourt started a clothing line, wrote multiple books and was even cast as a leading actor in a film with Naomi Campbell. This was hardly the post prison reaction the authorities imagined when they tried Rocancourt.

But the prosecution had a difficult time finding victims who would come forward. Many were embarrassed. They knew they were somewhat viable in the fraud and did not want to come forward. It was hard for them to admit that the conformation bias they felt for the name Rockefeller was stronger than their own logic. But in most of us, that is typically the case. Most of us just don’t meet people named Rockefeller very often.

But Cristophe Rocancourt did not change his stripes.

More Crime

In July 2009, French filmmaker Catherine Breillat accused Rocancourt of scamming her out of 700,000 . Breillat, who was diagnosed with a cerebrovascular disease believes Rocancourt took advantage of her because of her disability. Because of this accusation, the film Bad Love, with Rocancourt and model Naomi Campbell, was cancelled.

Breillat explained to a French journalist that her first meeting with Rocancourt may have been the worst day of her life. She says it was even worse than the day when she was diagnosed with her disease. In 2012, Rocancourt was convicted of “abus de faiblesse” (“abuse of weakness”) for this crime, and sentenced to a short stay in prison once again.

Confidence

The name con man is short for confidence man. Because in the small moments of the scam they must have all the confidence in the world that the story they are selling is real. If that confidence catches on to other people, they will believe the lie because of the conformation bias.

The conformation bias set in to help those victims believe that a Rockefeller could make them rich. Not unlike some of the “victims” from the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme. Fairfield Sentry knew Bernies returns weren’t real. But they had a conformation bias towards him. They were “making” so much money from Bernie that they wanted what he was selling to be true, even when they should have known that it wasn’t.

Living in the moment is an incredibly persuasive trait. It leads people to a conformation bias that heavily favors trust and cooperation.

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[/et_pb_image][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type=”1_2″][et_pb_code global_parent=”1242″ admin_label=”Code”]<!– Begin MailChimp Signup Form –><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –><div id=”optin”><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –><form action=”https://johnhenderson.us15.list-manage.com/subscribe/post?u=9639288bdd98660e10dbd0307&id=391038d05a” method=”post” id=”mc-embedded-subscribe-form” name=”mc-embedded-subscribe-form” class=”validate” target=”_blank” novalidate><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –> <div id=”mc_embed_signup_scroll”><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –> <h2>This article is an excerpt from my book SWAY</h2><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –><div class=””><span class=”asterisk”></span><H4> Sign up to learn 6 influential traits of people with autism</div><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –><div class=”mc-field-group”><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –><label for=”mce-EMAIL”>Email<span class=”asterisk”></span></label><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –> <input type=”email” value=”” name=”EMAIL” class=”required email” id=”mce-EMAIL”onfocus=”if(this.value==this.defaultValue)this.value=”;” onblur=”if(this.value==”)this.value=this.defaultValue;”><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –></div><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –><div class=”mc-field-group”><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –><label for=”mce-FNAME”>Name<span class=”asterisk”></span></label><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –> <input type=”text” value=”” name=”FNAME” class=”Name” id=”mce-FNAME”onfocus=”if(this.value==this.defaultValue)this.value=”;” onblur=”if(this.value==”)this.value=this.defaultValue;”><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –></div><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –> <div id=”mce-responses” class=”clear”><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –> <div class=”response” id=”mce-error-response” style=”display:none”></div><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –> <div class=”response” id=”mce-success-response” style=”display:none”></div><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –> </div> <!– real people should not fill this in and expect good things – do not remove this or risk form bot signups–><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –> <div style=”position: absolute; left: -5000px;” aria-hidden=”true”><input type=”text” name=”b_9639288bdd98660e10dbd0307_391038d05a” tabindex=”-1″ value=””></div><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –> <div class=”clear”><input type=”submit” value=”Subscribe” name=”subscribe” id=”mc-embedded-subscribe” class=”button”></div><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –> </div><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –></form><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –></div><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –><!–End mc_embed_signup–>[/et_pb_code][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row global_parent=”1242″ admin_label=”Row”][et_pb_column type=”1_2″][et_pb_text global_parent=”1242″ admin_label=”Text” background_layout=”light” text_orientation=”center” text_font_size=”12″ use_border_color=”off” border_color=”#ffffff” border_style=”solid” text_line_height=”1em”]

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Comment (1)

  • Deleese Williams - John Henderson| July 16, 2018

    […] would hold more influence than those who are. We can understand how psychopaths manipulate us, how con-men are successful, but also how we can be honest and gain more influence at the same […]