A con man is described as person who swindles or misleads his victims through the use of a confidence game. Human nature leads us to naturally want to trust other individuals. Social Engineering is based on this principal and as an extension a Con Man is able to manipulate this trust for personal gain. Most of the historically famous Con Men are infamous for their exploits involving money. Money seems to be a common thread with the vast majority of Con Men.
Examples of Confidence Men and Confidence Scams
These article found on the website GranneBlog and this one found on the FBI website break down some of the common types of scams and attempts to group them. The following list is an example of a few of the most famous genres of confidence scams and some people that are famous for applying them.
According to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commissions, in the classic “pyramid” scheme, participants attempt to make money solely by recruiting new participants into the program. The hallmark of these schemes is the promise of sky-high returns in a short period of time for doing nothing other than handing over your money and getting others to do the same.
An example of this type of scheme and how devastating it can be is found in the story of Charles Ponzi . This article that we found on the US History website discusses how Charles Ponzi affected US History with his con. Ponzi’s con was so significant, that the pyramid scheme is now commonly referred to as a “Ponzi Scheme”. Ponzi promised his early investors an almost unbelievable 50% return on their investments. He did this by taking money from new clients to pay back the originals. Ponzi was actually able to pay back the returns for his early tier customers but was not able to pay his new clients back.
Bernard Madoff is famous for scamming millions of dollars from thousands of his customers, friends and relatives. He used and improved on Ponzis’ model to generate huge investment returns for his early clients while bringing in new money from new ones. Madoff was essentially “Stealing from Peter and paying Paul”.
According to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commissions, one type of advance fee fraud is known as a Nigerian “Advance Fee Fraud.” In these schemes, someone pretending to be a Nigerian official or business-person asks ordinary individuals and companies to help move millions of dollars out of Nigeria in exchange for high, hassle-free profits. The fraudsters solicit investors through mass mailings, faxes, phone calls, and e-mails.
Merriam Webster’s defines identity theft as: “the illegal use of someone else’s personal information (as a Social Security number) especially in order to obtain money or credit .” It indicates unlawful activities that use the identity of another person or of a non-existing person as a target or principal tool.
Frank Abagnale aka “Catch Me If You Can”
Frank Abagnale’s exploits were documented in the film “Catch Me If You Can”. Not only was he famous for check fraud, Abagnale was a very convincing identity fraudster. His most famous exploits revolved around his pilot persona which he used to not only cash hundreds of fake checks, but he was also able to travel the world for free.
More information about Frank Abagnale can be found in this article printed in the US News & World Report Magazine highlighting the ways Frank Abagnale worked.
Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter aka “Clark Rockefeller”
Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter is most famous for claiming that he was a long lost heir to the Rockefeller fortune. He is now awaiting trial for his identity fraud. This link is an interview with Clark Rockefeller on the ABC NEWS website with an audio clip.
A false reward scam consists of a con man convincing a mark that he has an item in his/her possession worth more money than the actual value, or has won a prize that does not exist.
Victor Lustig aka “The Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower”
Victor Lustig is known as the “Man who sold the Eiffel Tower”. Much like his American counterpart Parker, Lustig famously “sold” the Eiffel Tower to a scrap metal dealer in France. He is also famous for scamming Al Capone. He “convinced” Al Capone to invest $50,000 with him. He stored the money in a vault and returned it two months later, stating that the deal had fallen through. Capone, so impressed by Lustig’s honesty gave him $5,000 for his effort. This story was outlined on the bottom of a page found on allexperts.com
More information about Victor Lustig aka “The Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower” can be found in this article taken from a website which outlines Czechs in History
George Parker was famous for scamming tourists into buying famous landmarks, usually in New York City. He was fond of selling the Brooklyn Bridge.
Kevin Trudeau is a modern day snake oil salesmen. He has been sued many times by the Federal Trade Commission for false advertising and other television sales fraud campaigns. Though he has been sued repeatedly and is banned from selling certain items via TV, he is legally allowed to sell his books.
The FTC in the USA has printed a wonderful page with lots of tips and information on Telemarketing Fraud and can be found here.
The Sloniker Brothers
Harvey and Tye Sloniker operated a massive telemarketing business in Arizona during the early 2000’s. They used teams of telemarketers to sell fake, low interest credit cards and other services such as, fake identity theft protection policies. They were permanently banned from telemarketing by the Federal Trade Commission in 2003 and fined $525,000 USD.