10 of the most notorious but brilliant con-artists
You have seen them in movies that were a tribute to them, you see them in the evergreen articles of the news papers, you read about them in the books, you hear about them from your elders, and these are none other than the very con artists, ballsy, intelligent, notorious but seriously brilliant! Brilliant enough to make a mark on our history so deep that the authorities are still trying to recover some objects that these con men managed to vanish. So, here we are with a step by step list to the top showing the most brilliant con-men of all time with the tricks that made them get this position.
10) Tom Bell
The most infamous swindler of the American colonies, Tom Bell, was an imposter who pretended to be a gentleman to gain entry into seriously wealthy homes, borrow money from his new friends, and then make off with their valuables, including the clothes needed for his next imposture. From late 1730s to 1755, he roamed from New Hampshire to Barbados, even making frequent stops in Philadelphia, stealing, getting caught, and repeating the cycle. He was successful at deception despite his increasing fame–newspapers called him the “famous infamous Tom Bell.” But he went with several identities and names- Mr. Livingston of Albany, Mr. Gilbert Burnet the son of Governor Burnet and then Rip Van Dam. In 1752, he settled down in Hanover County, Virginia, and proclaimed himself reformed. He advertised himself as a school teacher who had even studied as a scholar for a year in Ohio and thus, collected advance subscriptions for his memoir–which he never delivered, because con-men never change (or sometimes, they do, wait for the list to end!).
9) Christopher Rocancourt
This guy was like a Robin Hood who simply forgot distributing the stolen stuff to the poor as he just targeted the wealthy and powerful and kept the riches for himself. He posed as a French member of the Rockefeller family and well, sold a property he didn’t own for $1.4 million, and then later on pretended to be a movie producer, boxing champion, and later on even married to a Playboy model. His strategy was to always have a gorgeous woman on his arm and drop large amounts of cash at entertainment venues, just like they show us in the famous movies with con artists going to casinos. Naturally, he was charged with theft, smuggling, bribery, grand larceny, and perjury against almost 25 victims including well-known actors. He claimed in an interview with Dateline that he amassed at least $40 million in embezzlement. Having served five years in prison and fined $9 million (what about the rest he took?), he is one of the greatest imposters of our time.
8) Jimmie McNally
The creation of a national currency by National Banking Act of 1863 triggered the rise of green goods swindlers, who were con artists who used to send letters to people on their random lists claiming to have procured stolen or discarded currency engraving plates from the Treasury. They would offer “genuine” (counterfeit, obviously) currency at a fraction of its face value, say, $1000 for $50. The letters lured people to the city where they were shown real currency to persuade them to buy in. At the last minute, their money was taken away and they were to leave with a satchel of newsprint. In 1890, Jimmie McNally, a former bartender and pickpocket, was the king of the green-goods swindle men. He ran a crew of 35 men who sent out as many as 15,000 letters a day and profited $3000-8000 daily. McNally claimed to have made $48,000 in one day, and $250,000 in one month, which is equal to a whopping 1 million per day today and well 6.5 million a month!
Natwarlal was the legendary Indian confidence man who tricked people into thinking he was selling them the most significant pieces of heritage possible. Or well, to be precise, originally named Mithilesh Kumar Srivastava, was a noted Indian con man known for having repeatedly “sold” the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort, and the Rashtrapati Bhavan and also the Parliament House of India along with- wait for it- its 545 sitting members. We will let that sink in. He had duped hundreds of people of millions of dollars, and has to even cheat number of industrialists including the Tatas, the Birlas and also Dhirubhai Ambani. He used more than 50 alias’ in his lifetime and was wanted in more than 100 cases by 8 states police and was sentenced to 113 years in prison, out of which he only served 20, as he made daring escapes from different jails eight times in his life Like the cat’s nine lives, his luck ran out after the ninth time he was caught but then too this brilliant con man died a free man, escaping one last time. He deserves to be on this position as his death is even more colorful. His lawyer and his own brother claim that his date of death was not only different but 13 frickin years apart!
6) The Fox Sisters
Yea, the name sure shouts sexy, but don’t judge too fast. The said sisters were Kate, Margaret and Leah Fox, proprietors of the Spiritualist Movement with their basic principle- nothing, because they were full of crap. It wasn’t a hippy, peace-loving movement, it involved the third world-yep, ghosts and all. Kate and Margaret, the younger sisters, started fooling their parents by saying that they could communicate with the household ghost using a system of elaborate knocks and raps, at a mere age of 10 and 12 respectively. When the third sister joined them, the three tricky Foxs had earned an international reputation as ghost-talkers and were making tremendous loads of money with their other-worldly séances. How they pulled it off? These girls went through the trouble of creating a systematic knuckle cracking language to communicate with their pretend spirits … and kept it up for almost 40 years and the most retarded part was the fact that a legit scientist studied the sisters and declared them non-fraudulent. It all came to an end when a reporter offered just $1500 to them to come clean. By no doubt, the money was never given to them and they eventually died an impoverished death.
5) Soapy Smith
Originally going by the name of Jefferson Randolph, “Soapy” Smith was a name well suited for this con-man as he used innocent soap bars for his cons. Smith started telling wonders about his ordinary soaps after finding a busy street corner to set up his tripod stall. While attracting curious onlookers with his words, he used to wrap paper money, ranging from one dollar up to one hundred dollars, around a select few of the bars and then cover them all using plain papers and mix the soaps together. A confidante planted in the crowd would buy a bar, tear it open, and loudly proclaim that he had won some money making people eager to buy more soaps. Midway through the sale, Soapy used to announce that the 100-dollar bar is still up for grabs and used to auction it off. He used to change the soaps wrapped with money with cashless ones and the “won” amount was the payment of the planted confidantes. He used this swindle for 20 years with great success. The soap sell, along with other scams, helped finance Soapy’s criminal operations by paying graft to police, judges, and politicians that helped him build three major criminal empires: the first in Denver (1886–1895); the second in Creede, Colorado (1892); and the third in Skagway, Alaska (1897–1898). He is most famous for having a major hand in the organized criminal operations of Denver and Creede, Colorado, and Skagway, Alaska, from 1879 to 1898 and died in spectacular fashion in the shootout on Juneau Wharf in Skagway.
4) Victor Lustig
Lustig is simply the man who sold the majestic Eiffel Tower twice, yep, we will let that sink in. He persuaded scrap metal dealers that he had the rights and tenders to sell them the SAID tower. But, to explain the “gullibility” (or stupidity) of those he convinced, it was a time right after [email protected], when the money and resources were short and it was easy to believe that the government needed funds that were to be gained after selling the tower. One man ended up paying Lustig for a fake deed to the structure but was too ashamed of his stupidity so he never told on him. In addition to this, he sold “money-printing” machines for heavy amounts of money, while the machines only produced two 100 dollar bills in a span of 12 hours, which gave him the perfect time window to escape. To top it all, he also made deals with notorious gangster Al Capone, advising him to invest more than $40,000 in stock. After keeping Capone’s money in a safe for two months, Lustig returned the gangster’s money, which made Capone impressed with Lustig’s “integrity,” and rewarded him with five grand. Lustig’s luck eventually ran out after a number of scams in the U.S., where he was arrested and sent to Alcatraz.
3) Charles Ponzi
You must’ve heard the term “Ponzi Scheme” many times in movies or books, and yes, this guy, Charles ‘The Ponz’ Ponzi, is the man responsible for this term being coined. After entering America as an impoverished Italian immigrant, he avoided laymen jobs like the ones in opium making factory. His scheme for the con revolved around coupons that cost way less than the stamps in America, but the same could be redeemed for stamps in America. He bought a billion coupons in Italy and redeemed them for stamps and made 400 percent profit on each transaction, and didn’t produce a damned thing. To consolidate his plans, he convinced thousands of people to invest in his totally legit business, the Securities Exchange Company, and by 1920 was making $250,000 a day. The catch- the coupons he was supposed to buy from any investor’s money, were never bought as there weren’t as many coupons in existence! He was basically just taking the investor’s money, piling it up and swimming around in it. When he got caught by the investors, he was audacious enough to offer them a little money and coffee and kept on dodging the police by changing appearances and even countries until finally, he got caught and went to jail.
2) Gregor MacGregor
Gregor MacGregor was a man balsy enough to sell a piece of land that was actually just a portion of the ocean- as in, there was no land at all! In the early 1800s, he convinced hundreds of investors that he was the prince of the fictional country Poyois, and convinced them to be the new colonists of this land after which he also he also created a guidebook detailing the geography and abundant natural resources of his island off the coast of Honduras. First 250 investors sailed to the non-existent land while Gregor convinced another 250 to go to it, not giving any care to the fact that 200 of his first settlers died as there the sea engulfed them. MacGregor then drafted a Poyois constitution naming himself as head of the republic. After the few survivors made it back from their boat trip to nowhere, most still couldn’t believe MacGregor had lied to them, standing up for him in the papers and basically blaming the island for not being there because it seemed unbelievable for a man to tell a lie of this magnitude. Even after his trial and conviction for fraud, this magnificent man continued selling non-existent land and stock to European nobility. Number 2 indeed!
1) Frank Abagnale
You will recognize this con-artist as the one who inspired the Hollywood Movie “Catch me if you can” who enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle for a few years, just by intelligently forging documents and using his, well, charm and powers of persuasion. Even before the age of 21, he had assumed eight false identities, with his victim being his own father, whose credit card he used to buy expensive articles, later on to refund them in cash. He opened several bank accounts in different names, wrote cheques against them, created perfect copies of payroll cheques, depositing them into his various accounts and drew cash from them. Frank also posed as a security guard and collected money from unsuspecting car rental clients at airports (charms, indeed. He assumed the identities of a pilot (just to fly a plane), a teaching assistant, a Physician and an attorney too. He was later on caught but had to serve only five out of twelve years as he is now teaching at the FBI Academy, teaching fraud prevention! How he managed it? By convincing the prison guards that he was an undercover FBI agent and needed a meeting with another officer which he got as he convinced them into giving him the anti-fraud teaching job by saying, “You can’t con a con-man”. And this is why he deserves number 1 position as he not only conned for years but also cashed in on the same abilities, let alone ignore the jail time!
Seeing how the con-men have gained awes and ahhs from the spectators (only them, since the victims are somewhere either dead or crying), you almost feel that you could’ve pulled it off too, had you had the idea of the best cons of all time, but we should remind you, this article was just for the sake of your information and not for you to try. So don’t, since the security is tight and well, intelligence services actually are intelligent now.