A version of this article originally appeared on VICE France.
When you buy illegal drugs, getting ripped off is kind of an initiation ritual: We’ve all been there at least once. Maybe you got sold Carambar instead of pot, or a gram of cocaine that turned out to be flour… or maybe you just got cheated on the quality or weight of your purchase. While most dealers don't rip off customers—what with it being bad for business, as the goal is to build a steady base of repeat buyers—sometimes they do, for reasons that range from poverty to revenge. Every city has a certain area or neighborhood where inexperienced tourists get swindled, and the ways to cheat are many and varied.
But how do dealers know a sucker when they see one, anyway? Why do they choose to rip off certain clients, and then how do they go about it? VICE France talked it through with four dealers—who freely admitted to having swindled customers that they call pigeons (French slang for "sucker" or "pushover") every now and then—so we could learn their ways.
Names have been changed to protect the identity of each interviewee.
Bastien (31), weed dealer
Bastien has been growing his grass at home for a decade. Producing the weed himself allows him to enjoy it for free, and to flesh out the lean ends of his months by selling to his coworkers (he works in insurance). He laughs as he recalls having sold it “at 21 euros a gram” (in France, 2 grams of weed typically costs 10 euros).
VICE: In your opinion, what makes for a good sucker?
Bastien: Someone who doesn’t know anything about the product, who’s not going to re-weigh it, and who doesn’t have many contacts.
How do you choose your suckers?
I go for people who have money, and who are in the same professional circles as I am—they don’t meet many dealers, and they often have access to low-grade weed at 10 euros a gram. So when they see the stuff I’m offering, they don’t even look at the price.
How do you cheat them?
I don’t even think they sense they’re getting cheated, because I tell them the price right off the bat. These are people who don’t know anything about the process, so everything gets done in a way that’s very straightforward—almost honest.
WATCH: How to Treat Weed Dealers, According to a Weed Dealer
Nathan (27), cocaine dealer
Nathan has a different cheating method—a much riskier one. He was never a true dealer, because he never had the means to buy drugs in large quantities. In fact, he generally needs money to fund his own drug use. So, he got into swindling strangers he met “totally by chance”—by selling them “flour instead of cocaine.”
VICE: In your opinion, what are the traits of a sucker?
Nathan: A sucker is a novice—and above all someone I don’t know at all, who can’t find me again. It’s someone who’ll trust me, even though they don’t know me from Adam—and someone who doesn’t know the first thing about trafficking.
How do you choose your prey?
Honestly, they end up choosing me! They’re strangers who come to me at night, in the street or via text, to make a deal. I don’t just cheat anyone. In general I go for younger people, people physically weaker than me, who aren’t going to come at me swinging when they realize I ripped them off.
Can you tell me more about your methods?
I meet them in a public place, usually the street. At home, I prepare a bag with enough flour in it to look like a gram of coke; I add a lot of layers of garbage bags so no one can smell or see the product. Once I meet up with the sucker, I put the pressure on him by saying that the cops were nearby, that it sucks but we’d better make it quick, and then once I’ve got the 80 euros in hand, I get the hell out of there and block their number. It’s pretty exciting. The way I figure it, they shouldn’t have trusted a stranger so easily. If you ask me, they’re partly responsible for the situation—and in a way, they’re almost lucky I sold them flour: when you buy like that, from some random person, you can end up with problems way worse than a bit of flour in your nose.
Serena (23), weed dealer
Serena was the only female swindler I met. Now 23 years old and out of the game, she did lots of scamming between the ages of 19 and 22—partly because she needed money, but also motivated by revenge: “I got scammed so much when I first started using, that I finally thought, there’s no reason I can’t take advantage of all this lawlessness, the lack of rules about trafficking.”
VICE: What makes a good sucker?
Serena: Well, usually they’re young—we all get scammed when we’re inexperienced. And then it’s someone who doesn’t know how to verify the product he’s getting; you can put pressure on him easily. And you can recognize a sucker easily by the way he talks about what he’s using: if he overstates, brags, tells you he does coke every other morning, you can be almost sure he’s totally green. So you just get into the game, let them talk, then you screw them over.
Who are the easiest people to deceive?
I almost always went for girls younger than myself, because they always trusted me automatically. You don’t see a lot of girls who deal, so the clients are super happy—they think there’s a female solidarity thing going on. I chose chicks who came to spend their pocket money, who didn’t know anyone in common with me.
And then what happened next?
I had them come to the ground floor of a building—I’d tell them I lived there. That would cover my tracks if by any chance a girl wanted to come back and chew me out. Usually I’d show them a little bit of really good weed, telling them that that’s what was in their bag—an opaque bag, obviously. And then, in that bag, well, obviously, it was just grass—or sometimes nothing at all. And each time, these chicks were so happy to buy from a nice girl, that they didn’t ask my any questions—they’d just give me the 40 euros and leave. I also sometimes sold a little remainder of speed instead of coke, but I regretted it after. When people put something in their nose that they’re not used to, that can be dangerous. I’ve stopped all this stuff now—I earn my living, and above all I’m sorry I scammed minors. It was funny at the start but one day I started to feel guilty, and I stopped.
Philippe (28), cocaine dealer
Philippe is a cocaine dealer and regular user. He’s not a habitual con artist, because he has a faithful clientele he doesn’t want to deceive. However, he’s had to cheat people who particularly annoyed him “once or twice."
VICE: For you, what’s the definition of a good sucker?
Philippe: Basically, a real dick. Someone who sees you as a coke dispenser and nothing more. He doesn’t give a fuck about your personal life, your constraints—he just wants his powder.
So you look for the biggest asshole?
It doesn’t happen often, but one time there was this guy who was harassing me. He kept doing it, even after I’d told him no, we were done. I really wanted to show him that if you bust my balls, shit’s gonna happen.
What did you sell him?
It got to the point where I had to start cutting it. The dude wouldn’t quit bugging me—so the next day I got a little coke, and not to be petty, but out of 1 gram, I took 0.6—a little more, maybe?—and instead I added in some confectioner’s sugar, maybe a bit of meds; everything that could go with, you know? But I don’t like to do that stuff, because that’s how you get yourself beat up. Some dude figures out you gave him fake shit, and that’s when you find yourself with real problems.
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