The biggest scams take place in the minds of those who wanted big in life but never had the patience. A shortcut is never the path to success, but when pursued leads us to the wrong route. If you are wondering who are these people managing to successfully scam intelligent people, they are con artists. The term con artist itself was coined in the year 1849 after William Thompson tried his charm on people.
He would try and woo his way into people handing over their watches to him, which he would take and flee. After the police named him the Confidence artist, it was later shortened and now used as Con artist. There is a long line of people who fake their way into riches and luxury. While the methods of each artist are different, the job is the same. Here is a list of the top scams ever conducted in history. Some of them even made it as Hollywood movies.
The Brooklyn bridge
If someone walked up to and said that you could buy the pyramids of Eygpt, would you believe them? Some may believe it, and others would laugh at your face. Believe it or not, people tried selling the Brooklyn Bridge. This scam started taking place in 1883 as soon as the bridge was completed from construction. This scam was not done by one person but carried out by multiple people.
Many of them would try and quote a price that would be too good to be true. Some cons even sold the bridge successfully. By selling, we mean conned them. One of the first ones to pull it off was Paches O'Day, who managed to sell it for $200 in 1899. William Mcloundy also managed to sell it but ended up in jail very soon. George C. Parker sold the bridge not once but several times throughout different periods.
If you have ever heard of the term Ponzi scheme, it was named after a man called Charles Ponzi, who first discovered this loophole among investors. Charles would often promise his investors either 50% or 100% profits on investors' money.
He would simply use the cash from the new investors to pay off the old ones. That way, Charles maintained a decent name for himself in the market. Before he handed over the money to the old investors, he would keep a large share of it for himself. But he was caught soon and sent to jail in 1920. Very soon, he was out of prison, and he found new ways to con people. Finally, he was sent to prison for several years after his second arrest.
Lou Blonger, The king of the wild west
The biggest profit in a business is when you organize an unorganized sector and rule over it. While Charles was busy capturing New York, Lou Blonger was busy making a name for himself as the warlord of the west. He organized the crime in the wild west by working his way up.
Lou was working out of Denver, Colorado but managed to run his business underground. Lou grew his contacts and started working with the big criminals in this area. A few of them he worked with were Bat Materson, the Earp Brothers, and Doc Holliday. He spent his final years in prison and died there.
Biggest email fraud
Today we are well aware of mail fraud and how it works. But back then, it was fairly new, and many people did not know that such a thing existed. In the year 1936, a total of 3000 people were conned into wasting their money.
They all got a mail about a certain Jacob Baker who had passed and left his large property to none. It meant that the property was open to anyone with the surname of Baker. People jumped into the opportunity and signed up for it. They were asked to pay a small amount of money to claim this property. And the person who started this mail fraud walked away with $3 million.
McKesson and Robbins Pharmaceutical Scam
Some crimes are committed on such a large scale that they change the laws of the land. Such a scam was done by Philip Musica, who was a career criminal. During the late 1930s, pharmaceutical companies were much complicated than they are today.
Because of complications, there were many loopholes created. Philip took good advantage of this situation and purchased a pharmaceutical company. He used this company to scam other larger companies. After successfully tieing up with fake companies, they grew their assets to hundreds of millions of dollars. The McKesson Corporation still exists and is in the same field but under the right hands.
Quiz Show Scams
What better way to get the audience excited than giving them large amounts of money by asking them a few questions? Yes, Quiz games were a success in the 1950s, and it became such a big hit that more than twenty-four quiz shows were aired at the same time.
The first show, called the $64,000 Question, was the first quiz show to gain traction and success. But slowly, people started to question the authenticity of the game. After one of the winners claimed that the show was rigged, investigators began digging in deep. In this scam, nothing got proved, but all the quiz shows got canceled at once.
Payola Scams in the Radio Business
After the quiz show got revealed its scam, investigators were curious to see what other industries were running such scams. In one such investigation, a practice called Payola got revealed to the public. Record companies were trying hard to popularize their songs, and the only way it could happen was by getting more time on air.
Congressman Oren Harris found out that the record companies were paying a large amount to radio DJs to play their songs for a longer time. After a long time, President Eisenhower himself stopped this Payola practice and apologized for trying to change the mindset of the public.
Con Man Cons Con Men
If you have seen movies about con artists, we are sure that you would have come across the famous Catch me if you can starring Leonardo Dicaprio. The famous Frank Abagnale Jr. Abagnale's conned people not in one sense but in different ways. From a young age, he was into conning people. Before he would reach his legal age, Frank had pocketed huge sums of money. Frank found a loophole in the system and passed millions of dollars worth of bad checks.
To scatter his work and attract less attention, he played the role of a pilot, doctor, professor, and lawyer. He maintained all the professions in the best way he could. However, once he was caught, his skills were used in the police department to capture other con artists. He promised to live a decent life with a hard-working job, and he has been a star ever since.
Equity Funding Insurance Scam
If a company suddenly starts doing too well, people need to be wary of investing in it. Between the 1960s and the 70s, The Equity Funding Corporation of America was rising high in profits. They were soon seen as a role model to other businesses on this street.
But little did they know that this corporation had faked more than 60,000 of its policies. They engaged in fraud with reinsurance companies. Sometimes, they would fake the death of an insured person and keep the money for themselves. They could take this scam for a longer time, and in the year 1973, they filed for bankruptcy, and many people ended up going to prison.
Crazy Eddie's fraudulent business
During the 1980s, one of the most successful business was run by Crazy Eddie's. Everyone adored Crazy Eddies and waited to watch their commercials on TV. This electronics store soon became a chain, but not many people knew that the business was running under fraudulent behavior from its inception.
The owner was running all sorts of scams and avoided paying taxes. He saved money in whatever way he could and started using the same money to bring back business. Soon he went bankrupt and ended up spending only six years in prison for his activities.
Three-Wheeled Scam of the Future
During the 1970s, there was a panic among people that the fuel industry would soon be out of fuel. Geraldine Elizabeth Carmichael was the woman with the solutions. 20th Century Motor Car Corporation claimed that their company could solve the fuel crisis of the world.
Their car Dale was marketed to get 70 miles per gallon. Naturally, the investment of people was high, and soon they had $30 million. They made more millions when the car started selling like hot cakes in the market. But later, it was revealed that no such car existed.
FBI Hustle Turned American Hustle
Another scam that turned into a movie was the scam done by Melvin Weinberg and his girlfriend. They were already caught for being a part of many scams, but the web of fraud got bigger as they became wanted by the FBI. He was involved in a sting operation to bust out many other corrupt government officials.
This project was called Abscam, and they used phony Arabic sheiks to trap them. In the end, around six corrupt congressmen and their dirty work were out in the open.
ZZZZ Best cleaners
After the famous Ponzi scheme, other people around the world tried conning people in their local community. ZZZZ Best Cleaners also tried their hand in Ponzi Scheme, and the mastermind behind this was Barry Minkow.
At first, he worked hard to bring the business on the map, but once it started gaining some recognition, he was tired of working hard to reach higher. By 1986, they were showing $300 million as their worth, and soon people realized that he was running a Ponzi scheme. Minkow was bankrupt and ended up spending twenty-five years in jail.
Praise the Lord Ministries
Your faith in God should remain in your heart. If people are trying to put a price on faith, then it is the first sign of a scam. When people do collect money for genuine reasons, they usually don't demand it or guilt you into giving it up. Popular televangelists Jim Bakker and his wife Tammy Fae were involved in a large scam with their Christian programs. Praise the Lord Ministries started one scam after the other and pulled out money from all its devotees.
All his work would not have come out in the open if not for his sex scandal with his church secretary, who claimed to be raped by Jim. After investigations, it was revealed that Jim had extracted around $158 million from his work and ended up spending a lot of time in jail.
Insider Trading on Wall Street
Wall Street was booming during the 1980s, and more and more people wanted to become wealthy. The societal barriers had slowly started to shed at this time, and people were ready to try any tactic to get famous.
Because of this man, every employee is liable to sign a contract of employee confidentiality today. Ivan F. Boesky was seen as one of the most successful traders on wall street, and his big secret was Insider trading. He would illegally sell inside information for other's benefits and ended up spending only three years in jail.
During the 1980s, the world was facing a lot of revelation at the same time. It allowed for many loopholes in the government laws. Because of so many loopholes to escape, many frauds used to take place on Wall Street.
Charles Keating was one of the con artists who took money from the bank to back up his scams. He cost many people their life savings, and many taxpayers were also at a loss because of this man. His scams got revealed, but his support was backed by people in the government. Even though he got charged with a federal civil racketeering charge and a fraud suit, he did not go to jail.
The Wolf of Wall Street
Here we have yet another famous movie that was based on a real-life scam. It looks like Leo can perfectly play the role of a con man. Because of the lifestyle maintained by Jordan Belfort, this scam became famous.
Otherwise, it would have got dusted under the rugs like the others. The wolf of wall street is based on Jordan, who used a strategy called the pump-and-dump scheme. Belfort was using this scheme to make lots of money for the company and himself. After a while, the power drew him into madness. Sex and drugs were his daily activities, and he ended up in prison but for hardly anytime.
20-Year Ponzi Scheme
We have the Ponzi scheme taken to the next level here. James Paul Lewis Jr managed to fool people for more than two decades. He never made any real investment from the Financial Advisory Consultants. James only used the money from new investors to pump it to the old ones.
Towards the final days of his scam, he ended up making around $814 million. After more than 20 years of running away from his investors, he was finally arrested in 2004 in Houston, Texas.
Con After Con
This man had more than one back up in his sleeve. We suppose that he had seen people getting caught left and right, which is why he took certain precautionary measures. Sam Israel III started a company as a front for his Ponzi scheme.
To make sure that he has good reports about his company, he created another fake audit company. This fake audit company would, in return, give in good reports about the Bayou Hedge Fund Group. Sam got caught and jailed before there was way too much damage. But as we mentioned earlier, he was prepared for this. He faked his death and is on the run ever since.
The beginning of the 21st century allowed many scams to take place. With the technology boom happening in several parts of the world, scams would now be carried out with ease. Charles Forbes, the CEO of Cendant, was into the business of real estate and travel services.
He scammed his investors and submitted false paperwork. Forbes spoiled everything for his company by single-handedly bringing down $14 billion in one day. Charles was also sent to prison only for ten short years for his scams.
Fruit Basket Scam
After many people got caught for committing the crime the old fashioned way, people had to come up with more creative ways to fool the public. Emanuel Pines started a company called Centennial Technologies Inc. People had no idea why Centennial Technologies was doing so well until they found out the truth.
They were doing a good job inflating the earnings of the company. Centennial Technologies sent out many fruit baskets on Christmas and claimed it was purchased by customers. He made investors lose big money on this, and he was charged to pay around $150 million in a settlement but only five years in jail.
When it comes to celebrities, even they can get over greedy sometimes. Such was the case with Reed Slatkin, who was a big man in Hollywood with lots of contacts. Not only was he the owner of EarthLink but also a minister in Scientology.
He managed to scam Hollywood biggies like Giovanni Ribisi and Greta Van Susteren. Because of his well-established name, he was able to run a Ponzi scheme for more than 15 years. He tricked investors into losing more than $600 million to his companies. He was found guilty and charged.
Wall Street giant
The largest case of corporate bankruptcy was reported by another big man on wall street. Enron was the face of one of the biggest scams ever pulled during the beginning of the 2000s. He got caught in between several accounting lies and ended up costing the investors.
At one point, Enron's stock was close to $100, which dropped drastically to less than a dollar, which revealed his fraud. After losing 74 billion dollars, the investors claimed this was the biggest financial fraud ever committed up until then.
$15,000 Umbrella Stands
People learn by looking at the best, and once Enron led the road toward 21st-century fraud, many others followed. The CEO Dennis followed the footpath of Enron as he tried to scam his investors. Accounting fraud was one of the biggest scandals taking place during that time.
Tyco executives and other people who worked for this company were all under elaborate instructions. They made weird purchases like a $15,000 umbrella stand and $6000 shower curtains. Although he spent less time conning people, he spent around six years in prison.
Fallout From Enron
Arthur Andersen LLP was sent to prison for participation in the scam, and only one month after his arrest, WorldCom declared bankruptcy. The amount of scam done by this company was comparatively less than that of Enron or Tyco.
But a loss is a loss, and investors are the ones who ended up suffering here. Bernard Ebbers was the owner of WorldCom, and he committed accounting fraud to trick investors. He got thrown in prison for twenty-five years and paid huge amounts in fines.
I wonder what keeps scammers going even when they know that they will get caught eventually. The world did not learn its lesson after Enron, Tyco, and WorldCom. HealthSouth also created accounting fraud and inflated its profits.
The fact that it considered being one of the most successful health care companies, there was hardly anyone who doubted them. Their involvement in the scam only gave them entry tickets to prison for a long time. $2.8 billion worth of scam was conducted in charge of Richard Scrushy.
The real estate business was one of the sectors where scams could be easily done. And Fannie Mae was ready to jump on to this opportunity. Many employees in Fannie Mae were also aware of the scam scheme of the company.
They tried to cover up their crimes after paying themselves a huge bonus. Once they got caught, the entire empire came down, and they were ordered to pay back $400 million. This scam not only affected the investors but affected every person in the United States of America.
Arms and ammunition fraud
Dealing with arms and ammunition is one of the most dangerous business to get into. But 20-year-olds Diveroli and his partner David Packouz secured a contract with the government for arms.
They wanted a supply of guns for American soldiers who were stationed in Afghanistan. But the partners decided to buy cheap Chinese guns for the sake of fulfilling their contract. We cannot believe that the government trusted two boys with a deal of $300 million. No background checks were done on them before they were approached for guns.
If you are looking for a much grander scam that took place in history, then Bernie Madoff is the man who proves it to you. His Ponzi scheme was off the charts, and he fooled his family members and friends as well. He conned people for more than thirty years and ended up making around $19 billion.
Bernie was seen as one of the world's biggest investors, and no one was able to believe that things would take a turn for the worst. After having to admit to his crime, he was sentenced to 150 years in jail, which means that he is going to die there.
The Greatest Party That Never Happened.
These kinds of scams are more common in recent years, but fewer people fall for them. The 2017 Fyre Festival was marketed as a posh music festival for VIP clients. After promising them the most exquisite experiences, they were lead to a shady place in the Bahamas, which had cold sandwiches and power supply problems.
Billy McFarland was the man behind this and was soon caught and sentenced to prison for six years. If you wish to see a detailed explanation of this, you can find it on Netflix under the name FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened.