Scams have been around for ages. Many of us have been the victims of one or more. Some grifts though have stood the test of time, and have become legendary.
ljuby_63 asked Reddit: What was history's biggest scam?
Submissions have been edited for clarity, context, and profanity.
This is kinda like buying a star. A genius scam, but utterly pointless.
Piggyland . It's not the biggest scam but my favorite. In Toronto in the 40-50s, a guy (I can't remember his name) came up with a great investment idea . He would sell people piglets but also charge extra, upfront, for their food, care etc. He would take care of their pig on his farm and when it was full grown, the investor would sell it for a nice profit. He sold thousands of piglets! People would even bring their kids up to the farm on the weekends to visit and the parents would be happy to see their investments growing. They weren't allowed in the barn but he had a nice meeting room set up where they could play with their pig. Then one day the owner took off to Germany with millions of investors dollars and was never heard from again. It turns out he only had a dozen or so pigs in different sizes. When people came to visit, they all saw the same few pigs .
They grew up to be Trump supporters.
Scottish soldier Gregor MacGregor claimed he was made the leader of a country in Latin America which did not exist and then proceeded to earn himself a fortune by selling land and government bonds of said fictitious country to wealthy British and French investors. People got on ships and sailed there looking for land that didn't exist. There was a tribe that was like, "No, there's no colony here white folks." They actually had to be convinced that they had been lied to. Many died.
"A French court tried MacGregor and three others for fraud in 1826 after he attempted a variation on the scheme there, but convicted only one of his associates. Acquitted, MacGregor attempted lesser Poyais schemes in London over the next decade. In 1838, he moved to Venezuela, where he was welcomed back as a hero. He died in Caracas in 1845, aged 58, and was buried with full military honours in Caracas Cathedral."
Talk about fool's gold.
The Bre-X Mining Scandal.
A Canadian mining company claimed that they had found 200,000,000 troy ounces of gold (that would be worth 257 billion USD today) in Indonesia in 1993. At their height the company was valued on the NASDAQ stock market at 6.9 billion USD (adjusted to 2018 with inflation).
The geologist who reported the 200 million troy ounces of gold was shaving his wedding ring into the drill core samples and making it look like all of the cores had an incredible amount of gold in them.
Eventually in 1997, another big mining company that was looking to acquire Bre-X did some due diligence and found that not only did their drills not detect any gold, but that the gold flecks in Bre-X's drill samples were angled and sharp unlike flecks of gold that would be produced naturally. They concluded Bre-X were "salting" their samples.
Company got exposed as a fraud. The geologist who shaved his ring and made hundreds of millions off of selling stock reportedly "committed suicide" after he was found out. His reported method of suicide was jumping out of an Indonesian military helicopter and magically his hands, feet, and penis were surgically removed and the body was unrecognizable (yeah this guy definitely didn't pay off the Indonesian military to fake his own death). Lawsuits hit the company that went bankrupt almost overnight. The CEO fled to the Bahamas, had his house broken into by masked gunmen who threatened to shoot him unless he turned over the money he owed them. He apparently died of a "brain aneurysm" three weeks after the break-in.
There is a movie about it that came out in 2016 with Matthew McConaughey and now we have a lot more regulations and requirements for mining companies in Canada that want to be listed on stock exchanges and go public.
and now we have a lot more regulations and requirements for mining companies in Canada that want to be listed on stock exchanges and go public.
The good news is that this ultimately made Canada the world leader in mining / gold mining. You will see a ton of companies headquartered / listed in Canada because of the strength of regulation, even though they have no operations in Canada.
The OG email scammers.
The Spanish prisoner.
It started in the late 19th century as a scam where a con man would convince someone that he had a friend locked up in a Spanish prison, who knew the location of some buried treasure (or something similar). But to organise a jailbreak, bribe the guards, they needed some cash now, then they could all go share the treasure together.
Sound familiar? Because it's the ancestor of other forms of advanced fee fraud, otherwise known as Nigerian email scams, 419 scams, etc.
I stand in awe.
There was a scammer who sold the Eiffel Tower. Twice.
Victor Lustig. He was also an amazing counterfeiter, and he ran another infamous scam called the Rumanian Money Box (or something similar).
That last one is a favorite of mine. He'd show people a box with a crank, turn the crank, and a perfect $100 bill would pop out. He'd explain that the bill was an undetectable counterfeit, that the machine could make one such bill every 6 hours (turn the crank before then and you'd break the box), and he'd sell them the machine for like 5k-10k.
On at least two occasions someone bought the box, turned the crank early, and then found Lustig again and begged for help fixing it.
Dude also scammed Al Capone.
Basically from what I remember, Lustig claimed to Al Capone that he can easily obtain 100k$ if he had 50k investment, essentially doubling the money. Lustig said he only needs 45k$ more from Capone because he is already putting up 5k$ of his money. Al Capone knew that if Lustig scammed him he can easily kill him, so he gave him the 45k$ . A week later Lustig came back and told Capone that the deal fell apart, and he lost his investment. Al Capone was ready to kill him then and there, but Lustig gave him back his 45k$. Lustig said he only lost his investment, and Capones investment was secured. Capone felt bad for judging the man and gave him 5k$ that he "lost" as a gift. Little did he know that Lustig was after the 5k$ all along and the whole story was planned by Lustig from beginning.
This is what I remember from the story, the money amounts may differ etc.
Oh yeah, big time.
Scientology, which I'm actually glad to see not having already been mentioned here yet as that's an indicator of it fading into rightful obscurity.
Scientology is nuts. They literally have a paramilitary naval force. Wonder where the funding comes from!
The worst pies in Chicago.
Surprised no one has mentioned H.H. Holmes! Creator of the haunted house as we know it. He would offer you a hotel room while you visit the Chicago World's Fair and when you get to your room he gasses you and throws your body down a chute to his basement. Then he would burn the meat off your skeleton in his acid pit so he could sell your skeleton to the nearby college! Probably the biggest scam I know of!
Man, haunted houses have changed since I was a kid.
Those "athletic" silicon bracelets a couple years ago that said they "improved your balance" or whatever.
I remember a guy I went to school with who did a research project effectively exposing the bracelets as fraudulent, and was actually offered money by the bracelet company to not present his findings when it was selected for an inter-school science competition,
He made off with billions.
Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme, the largest Ponzi scheme in world history, and the largest financial fraud in U.S. history
he largest financial fraud in U.S. history
You mean, the largest known financial fraud in U.S. history.
And for you office-dwellers...
We use ink cartridges for the coupon printers at work. I realized that even when they say they're empty, you can shake it and hear the ink sloshing around inside.
I bring the "empty" ones home now and use the ink for art.
My dad usually buys the ink from China and refills the cartridges using a syringe. Our bathroom looks like a crime scene after he refills them.