Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive! Sir Walter Scott wrote this famous line into his poem titled Marmion, a piece written about the Battle of Flodden (1808). The poem recounts a story focused on a love that manages to survive despite a series of deceptions, manipulations, mischaracterizations, lies, and betrayals performed by two scheming people. This story, though centuries old, still remains relevant today. It is tragic how little people have changed since those words were written.

Life would certainly be easier if every person with evil or selfish intent was quickly identifiable. But alas they are not. As a result, innocent individuals can often get tangled up in a sticky cobweb similar to the one Sir Walter Scott describes, finding themselves in places they never thought they would go, feeling vulnerable and violated, and being left behind to clean up the resulting mess. The best way to avoid such a trap is to identify it early. When a person is equipped to see the cobweb in front of them, they can choose to walk around it and avoid the consequences of being entangled.

What does this web look like? Here are some clues:

  1. Concealed true intentions. Be leery of someone who consistently encourages others to share first. This behavior allows an individual to study the response of others and then adopt it as their own. By doing this the can person successfully conceal their own true intentions of deceit and still create a closer relationship with others.
  2. Effortless work. This deceptive person takes credit for the work of others. They gather information, projects, and insights from those around them and place their name at the top of the list. If it seems like someone needs to have their hand in everyones assignments, it is because they are looking for opportunities to take advantage of someone elses effort.
  3. Unnecessary drama. The easiest sleight of hand is to create an irresistible proposal or unnecessary drama. This forces the other person to come to the deceiver and address the issue. Then, the issue is tossed aside as the deceiver attacks on an entirely different, unexpected front. By bringing a companion along with you to the confrontation who can listen and step in if needed, this can be evaded.
  4. Withholding instruction. One of the ways to keep a person dependent is to teach only a small amount of information and withhold the rest of the valuable knowledge so that without returning to the instructor, the student will fail. This process fosters independence for the wrong party and increases the dependence that others will have no choice but to act on.
  5. Unsuspecting gifts.A quick way to disarm a person is to give them a surprise gift for no reason. This simple gesture breaks down someones guard while simultaneously making them feel indebted to the deceiver. Remember, a gift is just that. A gift. There is no need to return the favor.
  6. Beneficial alliances. Most disingenuous people form multiple alliances in case they are needed in the future. A common tactic used in this sort of deception is to discover some advantage that will benefit the other party and use it to manipulate an alliance. The dirtier it is, the better. Later on the deceiver may use this dirt to either form a deeper unholy commitment or as leverage when needed.
  7. Sneaky questions. Another tactic used by a dishonest person is to appear friendly while secretly gathering valuable information about a persons weaknesses. Benign questions timed inappropriately are designed to catch a person off guard and encourage an honest response. After revealing their vulnerabilities, the target of these questions usually finds that the information is shared to their detriment.
  8. Timed scarcity. A scheming person will time their disappearing act perfectly for a moment that they are most needed. This is done to highlight the want of them to the point of desperation. Then they will reappear, just in time, to save the day and thus re-establish their value and worth. Sometimes they even go to the length of creating a crisis just to drive this point home.
  9. Unpredictable behavior. One of the effective tools of terrorism is the absence of predictability. On a smaller scale, a devious person frequently changes their patterns and habits to keep others guessing. This forces anyone who might be onto them to spend ridiculous amounts of time and energy trying to guess their unpredictable behavior.
  10. Faked dumbness. To keep another from realizing just how smart or clever they are, a deceptive person will fake their dumbness. This allows the deceiver time to better assess their situation and gather information before attacking. It is also an effective method for concealing ulterior motives.
  11. Courting superiors. It is difficult for a person in a position of power over a deceiver to see the deception. Others may have seen it and even correctly identified it, but the person in power most often will not. This is because the schemer openly yields to their superior, flatters them, and even plays the victim so the influential person has cause to help them. Of course, they do all this indirectly so they can later claim deniability should the person of power lose their position.
  12. Trail of scapegoats. The last and best method of detecting a devious person is to look at the trail of victims or scapegoats left in their wake. If a person has a long list of such people, it is usually because they refuse to accept responsibility for their contribution to whatever damage occurred. Avoid anyone who consistently blames others for their life circumstances.

Learning these twelve tell-tale signs of a deceptive person will help to prevent some of the trappings within a deceptive persons web. Of course, the best signal someone may be dangerous is always your personal intuition telling you something may not be right, and these feelings should never be discounted. But by trusting that instinct and keeping a lookout for these distinct traits, it will be easier to avoid a scheming snare.