THE BLOG

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

04/27/2015 02:35 pm ET | Updated Jun 26, 2015

I started thinking about how appearances can be deceiving after an experience with a client who gave every indication of being very wealthy. She was working on a memoir about a famous parent, she and her husband lived in a large mansion in a very wealthy community, and he was a financial professional making about $400 an hour from the clients he advised. Yet after hiring me to write a book proposal, since they received several dozen requests from interested publishers and agents through a service I work for, they suddenly gave reasons for not paying me after small credit card charge of several hundred dollars was declined. First the wife had to find another credit card she could use; then she told me she had mistakenly torn up the wrong credit card, so had to get another one; a week later her excuse was that she hadn't had time to request a new card. I even got an email from her husband saying they would make paying me a first priority, and he kiddingly commented that he'd have to "extort some money from his clients."

But about 10 days later, when I wrote to the woman asking if she had gotten a new card and could I put through the charge, everything changed. Suddenly, her husband sent me an email saying the cost of the proposal had gone over the budget and that he hadn't authorized the additional material I wrote, though I later sent him our exchange of emails showing he asked me to do this. Then, he concluded the email by asking if I could take out the balance in trade, such as by using their names on a new book I was writing. But when I said that I couldn't afford to do this, since I wouldn't write the book until I got an advance, they suddenly pled poverty. Their credit cards were maxed out, and they had to use their funds judiciously to keep up with the mortgage. I even made an offer to split the difference, and the husband said he'd think about it. But by then, I felt so miffed that I didn't want to work with this couple again even if he paid me in part or full.

That's when I started thinking about how appearances can be deceptive so people can be not what they seem, because they put on a false front to appear to be what our society values as signs of success - such as making a lot of money, living in a big luxurious house, having a high status job, and the like. But behind the image, their false front can be a sham, and sometimes their lavish spending to create an appearance of great success can lead to bankruptcy, such as reflected in an article about rich celebrities who experienced a financial crash: "Bankrupt Celebrities Who Went From Rich to Broke" .

But while hiding financial difficulties behind an image of great wealth can be one type of deceit, there are many other ways in which appearances can be deceptive. For example, art forgeries are one way that forgers not only fool the galleries, as described in "Art Forgeries: Ways Art Forgers Fool Collectors" l, but these fakes further circulate when galleries and auction houses pass them on to collectors. And later the collectors sell these fakes to other collectors or to museums, sometimes unknowing, sometimes not. So, for a time, until exposed, these forgeries can gain great wealth for those owning them.

The appearances of homes for sale can conceal all kinds of hidden flaws, too. There's even an industry devoted to making homes look the best they can be through staging them, and many articles describe how to best stage a home, so it looks even better and the sale brings in top dollar, such as "30 Can't Miss Home Staging Tips." But despite the cosmetic changes, some homes can conceal all kinds of problems, from termites to water damage and dry rot to shaky foundations. And sometimes sellers don't know this information or try to conceal it, which is a form of misrepresentation.

Still other forms of deception include the growing industry of counterfeit products and knock-off clothing, an industry estimated to cost to the global economy up to $250 billion a year. The reason this industry does so well is that many consumers want to have brand name products, like Rolex watches, and designer clothing, so they look successful, but they can't afford the full price. So they seek to get what they think is the real thing or something that looks like the real thing for less that the real product costs.

Then there are the people who try to present themselves as very successful in different fields by adopting false names and identities, such as the faux lawyers, doctors, and others posing as someone else until they are caught, such as Frank Abagnale, who posed as a pilot and became the subject of a popular film: Catch Me if You Can. There's even a recent book about people who have been caught after assuming false identities.

In short, there are all sorts of ways that people use false appearances to deceive, and it can be very hard to recognize what's true or false, real or not, because the deceivers are so good at what they do. As a result, there is often little you can do to avoid being duped, since normally we learn to treat people according to who they appear to be, based on their homes, clothing, product choices, occupations, and more.

Still, you can protect yourself as best you can by being aware, such as when there are cracks in the outer veneer - such as seeming lies and explanations that don't ring true. Then, once you suspect a deception, what you do can depend on the situation. While one easy option might be to disconnect from that person to avoid future dealings, a riskier approach might be a confrontation to tell the person what you now know. Or perhaps a more diplomatic approach might help to smooth things over until a time when you feel freer to make a break, such as acting like you don't know the truth, when you do, say because you have to continue to work together, though later when you feel ready, you can disconnect or expose the person for who they really are.

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Gini Graham Scott, PhD, writes frequently about social trends and everyday life. She is the author of over 50 books with major publishers and has published 30 books through her company Changemakers Publishing and Writing www.changemakerspublishingandwriting.com. She writes books and proposals for clients and has written, has a feature film she wrote and executive produced: SUICIDE PARTY: SAVE DAVE being released by a distributor. She has produced over 50 short videos through Changemakers Productions and is a partner in a service that connects writers to publishers, agents, and the film industry - The Publishing Connection (www.thepublishingconnection.com) . Her latest books include: THE NEW MIDDLE AGES from Nortia Press and LIES AND LIARS: HOW AND WHY SOCIOPATHS LIE AND HOW TO DETECT AND DEAL WITH THEM from SKYHORSE PUBLISHING