The most famous scammers


Fraud is the theft of someone else's property or the acquisition of the right to someone else's property by deception or abuse of trust. Fraud is usually a crime. The criminal definition of fraud differs from country to country or jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

In cinematography, a plot is often built around swindlers and scammers. However, few people know that around us, in real life, there are people whose "exploits" turned out to be even more defiant and daring. It should be noted that most of the twelve most legendary swindlers did not end their lives in wealth and fame, but on the contrary.

Viktor Lustig (1890-1947) was born in the Czech Republic and by the time he graduated from school he spoke five languages ​​- Czech, French, English, Italian and German. The fame of this man was brought by the sale of the Eiffel Tower. It is Lustig who is considered by many to be one of the most talented crooks who have ever lived in the world. Victor's brain constantly generated more and more new scams, 45 pseudonyms helped him to hide from justice. In the States alone, Lustig was arrested fifty times, but each time the police were forced to release him due to lack of evidence. If before the First World War the swindler manifested himself mainly in organizing dishonest lotteries on long transatlantic cruises and in card games, then in 1920 Victor showed up in the United States, where it took him a couple of years to deceive several banks and individuals for tens of thousands of dollars. However, Lustig's most famous ploy was the sale of the Eiffel Tower to him. The adventurer ended up in Paris in 1925, where he read in the newspaper about the dilapidated tower and the fact that it needed repair. Lustig quickly figured out how to take advantage of this, he drew up a fake credential for himself, which certified him as the Deputy Minister of Post and Telegraph. Victor then sent out "official" letters on his behalf to six of the largest metal recycling companies. The meeting with the entrepreneurs took place in an expensive hotel where the "state person" was staying. Lustig "secretly" told businessmen that the costs of the tower are unreasonably high, so the government is organizing a closed auction to sell the Eiffel Tower for scrap. The total weight of the tower was 9 thousand tons, the starting "government" price was lower than the price of scrap metal, which naturally delighted the businessmen. And in order not to prematurely create public discontent, Lustig asked to keep this news secret. The right to dismantle the tower was bought by André Poisson for 50 thousand dollars, while Victor himself fled to Vienna with a suitcase of cash received. The entrepreneur was so afraid to look like a fool that he concealed the fact of fraud against him, although a team of installers honestly appeared on the specified day to demolish the tower. The fraudster was forced to flee to the United States, where he continued the series of frauds. Even Al Capone himself became one of Victor's clients! Lustig returns to Paris in the early 30s and does the same trick again, this time the Eiffel Tower was sold for 75 thousand dollars! Only in December 1935 was Lustig arrested and convicted. The total amount of the sentence for counterfeiting banknotes, as well as for escape from prison was 20 years. Victor Lustig ended his days in 1947 in the famous Alcatraz, a prison near San Francisco.

Frank Abagnale was born on April 27, 1948, at the age of 17, he managed to become one of the most successful bank robbers in American history. The young man began his career at 16, his own father became his first victim. The young man managed to forge many bank checks, thanks to which he fraudulently received about five million dollars. Frank loved to travel, but did not pay for air travel, preferring to use fake documents here. Most often, Frank pretended to be a Pan American pilot, from the age of 16 to 18 he was able to fly more than a million kilometers at the expense of a company that provided free flights to its pilots. Frank refused to take any real actions to control the ship, citing blood alcohol content. For almost a year, Abagnale pretended to be a pediatrician at a Georgia state hospital, and then, with the help of a fake Harvard diploma, even managed to get a job in the office of the Attorney General of Louisiana. For 5 years, the fraudster managed to be a specialist in 8 professions, while continuing to forge checks with passion. As a result, banks in 26 countries around the world suffered from Frank's actions. Where did the young man spend a lot of money? These are, of course, dates with girls, luxurious restaurants, prestigious clothes. At the age of 21, the swindler was caught and went to jail, but soon the talented man left her and began to cooperate with the FBI. This story was later embodied in the cinema, where Leonardo DiCaprio played the talented and witty swindler in the film "Catch Me If You Can". For a long time, Abagnale could not find a permanent job, since no one wanted to get involved with a former swindler, but over time he managed to organize his business on the basis of protecting banks from pranks of the same as himself. Abagnale's anti-fraud program is used in more than 14 thousand companies, making its author a legal millionaire. Frank has a wife and three sons, one of whom works for the FBI, and agent Joe Shay, who chased a swindler in the 60s, became his best friend.

Christopher Rockancourt, born 1967, became famous as a fake Rockefeller. The French-born fraudster was finally arrested in Canada in 2001 for a series of major scams. Christopher claimed to be a member of the Rockefeller family, and he is also a close friend of Bill Clinton. The wife, former Playboy model Maria Pia Reyes, helped the crook in his antics. She was also charged with cheating and defrauding a Vancouver businessman at a ski resort in Whistler, where wealthy people from Europe and America gather. The police believe that Christopher committed his first crime back in 1987, for three years the police tried to get any evidence against him, until in 1991 he was arrested on suspicion of robbing a jewelry store in Geneva. However, it was not possible to prove the guilt of Rokancourt, he was only expelled from the country, forbidden to appear there until 2016. In the mid-90s, a swindler comes to the United States, where he rents a luxurious mansion in Beverly Hills and pretends to be the nephew of an Italian tycoon. It is there that Christopher is having an affair, then he marries Maria, who, by the way, was aware of his real passport data. The cheerful and cheerful man quickly gained confidence in his rich and noble neighbors. Soon Christopher came to the conclusion that it is much more useful for him to be a relative of Rockefeller, especially since his real name is consonant with him. In a new image, Rokancourt develops a vigorous activity - he moves around the city exclusively by helicopter, at least in a limousine, posing as a financier, leads a luxurious life. Mickey Rourke and Jean-Claude Van Damme become his friends, to whom Rockancourt even promised $ 40 million to shoot a new film. However, the movie stars were only a cover for the fraudster's activities, using his image, he took money from businessmen for investment. It turned out that Rockancourt's activities extended to Hong Kong and Zaire, in only one of the Los Angeles districts the elite allocated almost a million to the fraudster, while the true scale of the scam remained unknown. In August 2000, the swindler was arrested, but after being released on bail, he went on the run and showed up in the very Whistler, where, together with his wife, he tried to deceive another simpleton. In 2002, Rockancourt was extradited to the United States, he admitted the fact of scams for $ 40 million, theft, bribery and perjury.

Ferdinand Demara (1921-1982) became famous as the "Great Impostor", as in his life he played a huge number of images of people of various professions, ranging from a monk and a surgeon, ending with a warden. For the first time, life under a new disguise began for Demara in 1941, when, under the name of his friend, he joined the US Army. However, there, unable to get the desired position, he faked suicide and began to play a new role, now a psychologist. Subsequently, he repeated a similar trick over and over again. Before completing high school, Ferdinand often forged documents on his education in order to successfully play his next role. Demara's rogue careers include professions as diverse as a psychology doctor, editor, Benedictine monk, oncologist, civil engineer, deputy sheriff, teacher, surgeon, warden, attorney, and even an expert in the Children's Rights Service. The most interesting thing is that all these tricks did not pursue material benefits, Demara was interested in the very fact of a new social status. Ferdinand's most notorious fraud was his service as a surgeon on a Canadian destroyer during the Korean War. There he was able to carry out several successful operations and even stop the epidemic. A laudatory publication about a capable doctor also exposed him, since a real doctor with that name was found. However, the military did not begin to sue Demara. Ferdinand sold his life story to Life magazine, after which it became more difficult for him to find a job. He received his first and only diploma in education in 1967. A film was made about the life of this extraordinary person and a book was written. He died of cardiac arrest, in the status of a Baptist priest.

David Hampton (1964-2003) posed as the son of a black director and actor Sidney Poitier. In 1981, the future fraudster came to New York. The first step of the newly minted David Poitiers was free dinners in restaurants. Then the crook realized that his image was quite convincing, and he could receive money from famous people under the pretext of charity. Thus, Calvin Klein and Melanie Griffith were among the stars he deceived. Soon Hampton expanded the circle of his activities, a black fraudster said to some people that he was a friend of their children, told someone a heartbreaking story of his own robbery, in his arsenal there was a story about being late for a plane and lost luggage. Finally, in 2003, Hampton was arrested on fraud charges. The court sentenced him to pay compensation to the victims in the amount of 5 thousand dollars. Refusing to pay this amount, David went to prison for 5 years. The swindler died of AIDS in the shelter, before he even reached his 40th birthday. In 1990, based on Hampton's activities, the film "The Six Degrees of Alienation" was shot. After the success of the cinematic project, the former con man tried to threaten the director, demanding his share of the profits. As a result, David sued the filmmakers, demanding $ 100 million, but the court rejected these claims.

The duo Milli Vanilli is known today not for their hits, but for the fact that its members did not know how to sing at all. A scandal with a popular German group erupted in the 90s, it turned out that the voices on the studio recordings belonged to strangers, not "singers". But in 1990 Rob Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan even received a Grammy for their work! The duo itself was created back in the 80s, quickly gaining popularity. During its activity, the group managed to sell 8 million singles and 14 million records. The deception was revealed as follows - in 1990, while singing "live" the song "Girl, you know, it's true" in Connecticut, the phonogram began to jam, repeating the same phrase constantly. The main responsibility for the deception lies with the producer of the group, Frank Farian, who came up with an uncomplicated scheme according to which a fake but charming duet only danced and opened their mouths on stage, while other people sang. As a result, the prize was taken away, and 26 lawsuits were filed against the group and the recording studio. In order to somehow recover from the scandal, Farian in 1997 agreed to again become the producer of the group, in which the participants sang now with their own voices. However, Rob Pilatus by that time had already become closely acquainted with drugs and alcohol and on the day of the presentation of the new album was found dead in a hotel. Death occurred due to an overdose of doses of pills and alcohol. Morvan tried to pursue a musical career, was a musician for hire, a DJ. However, he could not reach the previous heights, although in 2003 he released his solo album "The Revolution of Love". The history of the Milli Vanilli group attracted the interest of the filmmakers, the studio Universal Pictures announced its readiness to make a film about it.

Cassie Chadwick (1857-1907), née Elizabeth Bigley, became famous for posing as the illegitimate daughter of Andrew Carnegie, a major steel businessman. The girl was first arrested at the age of 22 for forging a bank check, but was quickly released, thanks to a skillful simulation of a mental disorder. In 1882, Elizabeth got married, but after 11 days her husband left her, as he learned about her past. The woman's next choice was Dr. Chadwick from Cleveland. By the time of her marriage, Elizabeth had managed to be a fortune teller and hostess of a brothel, and also served 4 years in prison. In front of Chadwick, the fraudster portrayed a noble lady who did not even suspect that a brothel was located in her boarding house. Cassie's most successful scam was in 1897 when she introduced herself as Carnegie's daughter. To do this, Mrs. Chadwick asked a lawyer friend to take her to Carnegie's house, pretending to be inside, she "accidentally" dropped a check with a promissory note at home, which was noticed by her companion. This news quickly spread around the local financial market, the woman, thanks to a counterfeit bill for 2 million dollars, issued to her by her "father", received loans from different banks. The total amount of damage was between $ 10 and $ 20 million. As a result, the police became interested in the rich relative, who asked Carnegie if he knew anything about his "daughter"? After the industrialist gave a negative answer, the police quickly arrested Mrs. Chadwick. During the arrest, the fraudster herself was found wearing a belt full of money worth over 100 thousand. On March 6, 1905, a trial took place over her, which proved her participation in 9 cases of fraud. Mr. Chadwick filed for divorce shortly before the trial, and Andrew Carnegie himself was present at the hearing, who wanted to look at the one who introduced himself as his daughter. The woman was eventually sentenced to 10 years in prison, she brought several suitcases of things, carpets and furs to the cell, but after 2 years Elizabeth died in prison.

Mary Baker (1791-1865), known as Princess Carabou, appeared in this status in Gloucestershire in 1817. The woman had a turban on her head, she herself was dressed in an exotic outfit, and no one could understand her speech, since she spoke in an unknown language. The stranger first lived with the magistrate, then in the hospital, where she refused any food, from there she again returned to the hospitable Mrs. Worrall. None of the foreigners could understand the outlandish language until one of the Portuguese sailors recognized the language.The story of the stranger said that she was the princess Karabou from an island in the Indian Ocean. The woman was captured by pirates, but their ship was soon wrecked, but she still managed to escape. For the next two months, the princess was in the spotlight of everyone around, because she not only wore exotic clothes, but also climbed trees, sang strange songs and even swam naked. However, shortly after the appearance of the portrait in the local newspaper, Princess Karabou was identified by a certain Mrs. Neal, who recognized her as the daughter of a shoemaker named Mary Baker. Working as a servant, the girl indulged in the fact that she entertained children with an invented language. As a result, Mary was forced to confess to her deception, as punishment the judge sent her to Philadelphia. There, the woman again tried to fool the residents with her story about the mysterious princess, but the townspeople were not so easy to deceive. When Mary returned to England in 1821, she again tried to use her legend, but now no one believed her at all. For the rest of her life, the woman was engaged in the sale of leeches at one of the English hospitals, and her deception served as the basis for the 1994 film "Princess Karabou"

Wilhelm Voigt (1849-1922) was a German shoemaker who became famous for his daring trick as Captain Köpenick. The swindler was born in Tilza and at the age of 14 he was convicted of petty theft for two weeks. This was the reason for the teenager's expulsion from school, he had to teach the craft of a shoemaker from his father. By 1891, of his 42 years, Voigt had spent 25 behind bars for securities counterfeiting and theft. After his release, he did not live long in Berlin, from where he was to be evicted in 1906 as an unreliable person. However, the unemployed illegal Wilhelm on October 16, 1906 in the Berlin suburb of Köpenick bought a second-hand uniform of the captain of the Prussian army and organized the capture of the local town hall. This is how it was. Voigt, dressed in military uniform, made his way to the local barracks, where he ordered four grenadiers and a sergeant to follow him. The soldiers did not dare to disobey the officer. Then Voigt ordered them to arrest the city burgomaster and treasurer, then he single-handedly captured the local town hall and confiscated the entire treasury. The fraudster told the officials that he was arresting them for embezzling public funds, while the money itself was confiscated as evidence. Having ordered the soldiers to guard the detainees, Voigt went to the station, where he changed his clothes and tried to escape. However, after 10 days the swindler was caught and sentenced to 4 years in prison. The process received great publicity, the sympathies of the common people were on the side of Voigt, even the British were amused by what happened, noting how much authority a man in uniform is for the Germans. In 1908, the story reached Kaiser Wilhelm II, amusing him, and by his personal decree the swindler was released. This story made Wilhelm very popular, he even gave autographs on behalf of Captain Köpenick. In 1909 his book about this amazing event was published, in 1910 the author even visited Canada with its presentation. Voigt retired as a wealthy man, living out his days in his own home in Luxembourg. Subsequently, this story served as the basis for several films and many plays, and today a bronze statue of the legendary captain flaunts on the steps of the city hall of Köpenik.

George Psalmanazar (1679-1763) declared himself to be the first witness of the Aboriginal culture of the island of Formosa. Allegedly, it was he who became the first inhabitant of this exotic place to visit Europe. Formosa translated from Portuguese means "beautiful island", and this island is the largest of the group of islands in Taiwan. Psalmanazar was born in France, in a Catholic family, and his real name has remained unknown. The young man did not graduate from the Jesuit school, as he became bored there. So George set off on a trip to Europe, pretending to be a soldier, then an Irish pilgrim. In 1700, Psalmanazar appeared in Northern Europe with tales of its exotic origins. He explained European clothing and appearance by the fact that Jesuit monks had kidnapped him from his homeland and brought him to France in order to force him to convert to Catholicism. To prove his legend, Psalmanazar told about the details of the life of the aborigines, about their sun worship, and his own calendar. At the same time, the swindler met Holland and converted to Christianity, having received his name at baptism, with which he became known. In 1703, George went to London, where he became famous, mainly for his strange habits. So, he slept right on the chair, and ate the meat raw, seasoning it with only spices. In 1704, even a book was published under his authorship "The Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa Island, Belonging to the Emperor of Japan." In it, Psalmanazar said that on the island men walk completely naked, covering their private parts with a golden plate. The natives feed on snakes, which they hunt with sticks. On the island, polygamy is accepted, while a husband can eat his wife for infidelity. The book, which enjoyed great popularity, even described the alphabet of the islanders. The book was published in three languages, and Psalmanazar soon began giving lectures on the history of the island. Even close interrogation of George by the Royal Society of Science revealed no lies. But the Jesuit missionary monks who actually visited Formosa, no one believed, since they enjoyed a bad reputation in England. This continued until 1706, when Psalmanazar announced that he was tired of pretending, and his whole story was one grand joke. The swindler spent the rest of his life translating Christian literature and writing his own memoirs, which were published after his death.

Joseph Whale (1875-1976) was one of the most famous swindlers of the 20th century, he even bore the nickname The King of Scammers. Even in his youth, he began the path to "fame", fooling blind farmers, selling them wonderful glasses in gold frames. The simpletons thought they were cashing in on the young man, buying an excellent thing for only 3-4 dollars, although it actually cost 15 cents. Joseph's most famous trick was the fraudulent bank trick. The fraudster heard that the Munsi National Trade Bank was moving to a new location. The empty house was rented and a fictitious bank was created in it to complete a single transaction. Weil hired a whole group of petty swindlers who pretended to be ordinary bankers. There were queues at the cash desks, operators worked with money, the doors were guarded, clerks were constantly scurrying about with papers. Wayne's assistant, meanwhile, processed a local millionaire, who was told that the owner of the bank was ready to sell the land for a quarter of their price. But since the deal is extremely secret, you have to pay in cash. The client who believed in the legend brought with him a suitcase with half a million dollars. From the station he was picked up by a smart car and brought to the bank, where life was literally in full swing. It took about an hour to wait for a meeting with the owner, all this time they played the work of a successful establishment in front of the client, the clerks kept talking on the phone that it was necessary to strengthen the security, and there was nowhere to put the money. A sluggish and tired banker met the buyer, clearly not wanting to make a deal. However, he soon allowed himself to be persuaded and sold land for 400 thousand. The happy buyer was glad that he saved as much as 100 thousand, the scammers would obviously try to take everything. Among Weil's notorious victims was Benito Mussolini himself, to whom Joseph came under the guise of a mining engineer and sold the right to develop deposits in Colorado. When the secret services discovered the deception, Weil managed to escape with two million dollars. The swindler's money did not last long - after all, he led a rich life and loved women. In addition, every time he went to prison, the swindler gave all his property to his brother, the bailiff. Joseph Whale's life was rich in adventure, and he himself lived 101 years!

Carlo Ponzi (1882-1949) became famous as the creator of his own fraud scheme, which is often associated with financial pyramids that appeared in abundance in our country at the end of the last century. Having arrived in America in 1896, by 1920 Carlo had become a celebrity on both sides of the Atlantic. Initially, the young man did not have a penny in his pocket, he changed many specialties until he became a clerk in a Canadian bank in 1908. There he lured clients with high interest rates, paying them from the following deposits. The bank, of course, soon burst, Ponzi served two years in prison. Then again fraud with falsification of documents, again a prison ... But having married at the age of 35, Carlo acquired useful contacts in emigrant circles and some small start-up capital. Then he found the next field for action. At that time, there was a Postal Agreement, which implied the exchange of postage coupons for stamps in 60 countries at a single rate. However, the crisis and the world war led to a difference in exchange rates, for example, a coupon could be bought in Europe for a cent, and sold in the States for 6. On December 26, 1919, Ponzi registers his SEC company, which had branches in the United States and Europe and redeemed IOUs with a yield of 50%, and then 100% within 90 days. It was explained to the curious that the company is engaged in super-profitable postal operations, which ones are a secret. The opening of the company caused a real boom, its offices were literally inundated with dollars, up to a million were received a day. An interesting scheme was applied - there were many cash registers for investing money, but only a couple for issuing, queues were constantly crowding around them, and on the way back there was an opportunity to invest money again. The checks by the authorities did not bring any results, moreover, when the company was temporarily shut down and panic began, Ponzi paid everything down to the last cent, having the reputation of a hero affected by the authorities. However, this served as the snowflake that starts the avalanche. Ponzi became interested in journalists who unearthed his past and prison sentences. On August 13, 2009, Carlo was arrested. It turned out that 40 million depositors became victims of the scam, the total amount of lost deposits was 15 million. Lots of court hearings led to the bankruptcy of several more companies and banks. Ponzi himself served 11 months, moved to Florida, where he served three more years for land fraud. Then there was Italy, where the Duce soon refused his services. Mussolini sent Carlo to Brazil, but there, too, the company under his command faced bankruptcy. Ponzi died in poverty in Rio de Janeiro, and his scheme was so fond of swindlers that it is still used under one form or another.


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