Category Archives: Sociopaths


“The irony is inescapable. The same thing that can underlie success can also make you all the more vulnerable to the grifter’s wares. We are predisposed to trust. Those who trust more do better. And those who trust more become the ideal, albeit unwitting, player of the confidence game: the perfect mark.”

Maria Konnikova, The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It . . . Every Time

Trust should be a four letter word. It is the embezzler’s currency. A famous President once said, “trust, but verify.” I would add: “and do so promptly and regularly.”

Most all of us know someone who has been conned or the victim of embezzlement. But you or me, that would never happen to us — right? Wrong. It may be happening to you right now.

Embezzler’s need opportunity. If your business or family does not present an inviting target, most embezzlers will not invest the effort needed to relieve you of your wealth. And if a thief mistakenly believes that you are a possible mark, your quality control — your “trust, but verify promptly and regularly” — will red flag any theft.

Sounds easy, right? It’s not. We are irrational creatures who often engage in “confirmation bias.” This is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs. Confirmation bias leads to “belief perseverance” — a belief that persists even after the evidence for the belief is shown to be false.

Most of us engage in belief perseverance at one time or another. Indeed, right now, half the country is convinced that the other half is delusional. But when is the last time a Facebook rant or cocktail party conversation changed your mind about politics? Never. Belief perseverance is strong.

Knowing that we may be smart, but are also prone to confirming our beliefs rather than challenging them, here are ten strategies to protect your business and family wealth from embezzlers:

• Do not have a bookkeeper, accountant, or family member operating your business or personal wealth without oversight by others; too many of my embezzlement cases have involved the “trusted” bookkeeper or CPA.
• Be observant of any unusual, defensive, or territorial behavior among your “trusted” employees, partners, and associates.
• Your first reaction to new information should be healthy skepticism, not blind enthusiasm or rationalizing bad news. In The Confidence Game, the author notes that “Sherlock Holmes’s trick is to treat every thought, every experience, and every perception the way he would a pink elephant. In other words, begin with a healthy dose of skepticism instead of the credulity that is your mind’s natural state of being.”
• Do not wait until after you are a victim to sit down and carefully think about what is happening to you in any given situation. “A helpful exercise is to describe the situation from the beginning, either out loud or in writing, as if to a stranger who isn’t aware of any of the specifics—much like Holmes talks his theories through out loud to Watson. When Holmes states his observations in this way, gaps and inconsistencies that weren’t apparent before come to the surface.” The Confidence Game.
• If you are an organizational or family leader, make sure that your employees or family members are free to bring concerns to your attention; then listen intently and evaluate what they are telling you before reaching a conclusion. This is extremely difficult if the news challenges your beliefs about a trusted person.
• Put organizational safeguards in place, update them regularly, and follow them like your fortune depended on it.
• Perform periodic audits — formally and/or informally — that expose your books and records to scrutiny.
• Retain a professional(s) if you believe you have a problem on your hands, or a situation that requires closer scrutiny.
• Do not engage in illegal or immoral conduct; other than the fact that it is wrong, the embezzler or con-man will use it as a means to expose you should you expose him.
• Read The Confidence Game and The Sociopath Next Door — informative and entertaining — to know who you are dealing with.

Are you predisposed to trusting people? Worry not: the world is full of trustworthy, wonderful people. A certain percentage of people, however, cannot be trusted, and many have acting skills that are academy award worthy. Do not be an unwilling participant in their game. Play Sherlock Holmes to their Professor Moriarty.

Art Bourque is an AV rated commercial and employment lawyer who has been practicing law in Phoenix, Arizona for 27 years. Art provides training in order to help businesses operate safely, efficiently and avoid financial and other mistakes; he is also an experienced litigator. Art can be found at,, 602.559.9550, linkedin, or trail running with his dog, Eli.


“I saw a werewolf drinking a pina colada at Trader Vic’s. His hair was perfect.”
Warren Zevon  

Narcissists have nothing on sociopaths:  while only 1% of the population are narcissists,  nearly 4% of Americans are sociopaths.  The next time you are at a party, take a look around, a sociopath is likely to be working the crowd.  Scary?  Pretty much.

This HR Law Insider edition discusses (1) how to spot a soulless being known as a sociopath and (2) what to do in that unfortunate event.


I once took the deposition of a man accused of running a multi-million dollar real estate fraud scheme.   At the time, his empire had crumbled, he was battling multiple lawsuits, and he would soon to be indicted.

I expected to see a broken man walk into the room.  Instead, I met a man who was tan, rested, and ready — seemingly without a care in the world.  He felt no shame or remorse.  And he acted as though he was the victim.  I was stunned.

After the deposition,  I Googled the man’s characteristics.  This led me to one of the finest, most fascinating, books I have ever read:  The Sociopath Next Door.  It described my deponent to a tee.


Sociopaths roam the corridors of many businesses.  Sometimes they occupy corner offices and wield massive power; other times they are supervisors tormenting their staffs; and yet other times they are low-level employees creating havoc solely to serve the end goal of most sociopaths:  power and domination.

Sociopaths rarely look like Jack Torrance in The Shining.  Do not count on spotting a sociopath by their expressions or looks.  Rather, the best way to spot a sociopath is to understand how they think and operate.


“Sociopaths have no regard whatsoever for the social contract, but they do know how to use it to their advantage. And all in all, I am sure that if the devil existed, he would want us to feel very sorry for him.”
― Martha Stout, The Sociopath Next Door

Sociopathy is generally defined as “a mental health condition in which a person has a long-term pattern of manipulating, exploiting, or violating the rights of others.”

According to certain criteria, the presence of three or more of the following qualifies for the diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder or sociopathy:

  1. Callous unconcern for the feelings of others.
  2. Gross and persistent attitude of irresponsibility and disregard for social norms, and obligations.
  3. Incapacity to maintain enduring relationships, though having no difficulty in establishing them.
  4. Very low tolerance to frustration, a low threshold for discharge of aggression, including violence.
  5. Incapacity to experience guilt or to profit from experience, particularly punishment.
  6. Markedly prone to blame others or to offer plausible rationalization for the behavior that has brought the person into conflict with society.

As Martha Stout writes:

“How do we recognize the remorseless? One of their chief characteristics is a kind of glow or charisma that makes sociopaths more charming or interesting than the other people around them. They’re more spontaneous, more intense, more complex, or even sexier than everyone else, making them tricky to identify and leaving us easily seduced. Fundamentally, sociopaths are different because they cannot love. Sociopaths learn early on to show sham emotion, but underneath they are indifferent to others’ suffering. They live to dominate and thrill to win.”


To avoid the sociopath in the first instance, Dr. Stout urges us to question authority, suspect flattery, and beware the pity play.  “The most reliable sign, the most universal behavior of unscrupulous people is not directed, as one might imagine, at our fearfulness. It is, perversely, an appeal to our sympathy.”

What should one do when dealing with a sociopath in one’s business or personal life?  Extract yourself as soon as possible.  Why?  Because there is little hope for the future:   “Sociopathy stands alone as a “disease” that causes no disease for the person who has it, no subjective discomfort. Sociopaths are often quite satisfied with themselves and with their lives, and perhaps for this very reason there is no effective “treatment.”  Martha Stout, The Sociopath Next Door


Hopefully, this article will help readers to identify, avoid, and/or disentangle themselves from sociopaths.  One thing is certain:  every single person reading this article will deal with a sociopath at some point in their life.

Sociopaths often wreck businesses, and helped to wreck the economy back in 2008.  Avoid them like the plague, lest you reach the point where you need Lawyers, Guns, and Money to survive the predicament: