Vulnerability is the one thing con artists look out for in their marks. We all claim to be smart yet a majority of us have fallen and will still fall prey to their acts. Con artists study their marks and could take as little as seconds or as long as years to rip them off. We have profiled 10 of history’s most famous fraudsters and their cons for your ‘conny’ pleasure.
1. Count Victor Lustig (January 4, 1890- March 11, 1947)
He is famous for selling the Eiffel Tower twice! He also owned a money-printing-machine among several other ‘achievements’. Lustig’s death certificate lists him as an apprentice salesman.
2. Joseph Lewis a.k.a. Hungry Joe (1850- March 22, 1902)
He was an American criminal and swindler, earning the title of ‘King of Banco Men’ at several times in his career. His marks included wealthy merchants, bankers, and prominent public figures. One of his most remarkable acts was swindling Oscar Wilde, a renowned Irish Poet and Playwright of $5000 through a banco game he ‘persuaded’ him to play.
3. Tom O’Brien (c. 1851- September 29, 1904)
He was another American swindler who earned the title ‘King of the Banco Men’ at some points in his career. One of his finest acts was ‘inventing’ the ‘gold brick swindle’ along with fellow confidence man, Reed Waddle whom he later shot and killed following an argument over money. He is reported to have made over $500,000 in five months at the 1893 Columbian Exposition.
4. Charles Ponzi (March 3, 882- January 18, 1882)
Also known as ‘The Ponz’, is recorded as one of the greatest American swindlers of all time. He was smooth just like his looks and could have charmed the Pope’s pants off if he had tried. His huge break came from redeeming Italian coupons with American stamps making a whopping 400 percent profit in 1918. By 1920, he was making $250,000 every day from thousands of his marks who invested in his ‘legit’ Security Exchange Company.
5. Reed Waddell (c. 1860- March 27, 1895)
He was another American swindler and ‘King of the Banco Men’. He is reputed to be the actual inventor of the ‘gold brick swindle’ making about $250,000 in 1880. Before his death at the hands of Tom O’Brien, he attempted to sell the Brooklyn Bridge.
6. Henri Lemoine
He was a French fraudster who held a ‘show’ of producing synthetic diamonds in 1905. This earned him an ‘investor’ who paid him to keep his invention a secret and invested about $64,000 in the course of three years. However, in 1908, a jeweler claimed to have sold the first set of diamond to Lemoine. This led to his arrest and subsequent trial where he pleaded not guilty. Before he could be convicted, he left the country.
7. The Fox sisters: Leah (1831- 1890), Margaret (1833- 1893) and Catherine (Kate) (1837- 1892)
As early as 10 and 12 years of age, Kate and Margaret began ‘talking’ to a household ghost using a system of knocks and raps. Leah also got into the act and they kept the act on for several more decades raking in a lot of cash and accolades. In their old age, one of them gave the trio up as con artists for a token of $1,500 beer money. They lived the rest of their lived as paupers and died so.
8. George MacGregor
Much like the fictional country Wakanda, George had a fictional country ‘Poyois’ of which he passed himself as Prince. This helped him swindle would-be colonists and ‘investors’ in the early 1800s. He even went a step further to create a guidebook.
9. Williams Thompson
He was the first person to be dubbed a ‘confidence man’. His gentle outlook and demeanor gave him the privilege to walk up to a random stranger and interact as though he’s a life-long friend. This earned him several marks including Thomas McDonald whose $110 gold lever watch he ‘borrowed’. In July 1849, they met again on the streets and McDonald got him arrested.
10. Frank Abagnale
You surely can’t ignore Frank Abagnale while talking about the most famous fraudsters in history. Every lover of the movie ‘Catch me if you can’ should know him. At a tender age of 16, he was already flying for free by simply posing as a Pilot. He also posed as a Lawyer, Doctor, had forged checks, defrauded banks and so on. Then he ‘changed’ and became an FBI consultant. Today, his consulting firm specializes in financial fraud.
It’s quite obvious that confidence men think: I can because I think. Isn’t it?