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How Successful Predators Hide in Plain Sight

The truly clever are closer than they appear.

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I recently spoke at a conference of homicide investigators, on the topic of "covert intelligence" in smart predators. By this, I meant that the criminal IQ of some offenders defies any measurement we currently have. I wrote a brief article a few years ago about how certain people can blend in and hunt invisibly among us for prey. So, I’m revisiting it.

Because of some books I’ve written, I’ve been asked if I can spot a psychopath or if I can tell whether someone is a clandestine member of the vampire subculture. But these aren’t the right questions. Not all members of either of those groups are dangerous or out to get me. Instead, people should ask if I can spot and protect myself from a predator.

Both groups include predatory types. The clever ones know that they shouldn’t be easily spotted. They're aware that they can best feed off others by moving with the crowd. If predators are conspicuous, they're less effective at getting what they want.

With the Psychopathy Checklist (PCL-R) available for all in various books and on the Internet, people think they can just go down the list of 20 traits and behaviors and identify a psychopath. Television shows are full of people who do just that. But the truth is, most of these supposed assessments are superficial and inaccurate.

Spotting (and deflecting) a truly clever predator is no easy task.

While we’ve seen plenty of exhibitionists who claim to be vampires, as well as nasty narcissists who strut their stuff publicly enough to invite a psychopath diagnosis, a member of either group who really wants to stay hidden can fool even the experts.

If they remain under the radar, they can extend their manipulations of others longer—perhaps indefinitely—and tap quite a range of victims. Look at the number of psychopathic CEOs over the past two decades who've fed off people’s gullibility and resources to enrich themselves. They were most successful when no one suspected them. And "vampires” of any stripe who wish to imbibe from others for a long time, and from a wide range of people, will benefit from dressing normally, acting normally, and waiting for an opportunity to operate under the radar.

They'll be friendly, not fiendly.

In The Science of Vampires, I devoted a chapter to what I called "psychological vampires"—people who con, manipulate, and deplete us without remorse, and often with ease. They are the seducers, the white-collar criminals, the con artists, and even the serial killers who know how to play us with devices like trust, charm, empty promises, pseudo-intimacy, and false excuses. They can only manage this if we believe that they’re trustworthy, genuine, honest, and without guile. Thus, they must seem “normal,” not different. They’ll mimic normal relationships until they’ve earned our trust, and then make their move, deplete us without remorse, and move on to someone else.

That’s why the most clever and successful predators blend in.

So, the answer to the queries is, yes, you can spot the ones who want to be noticed, but they definitely won't succeed in exploiting us as well as those who stay in the shadows and act normal. They are closer than they appear.

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