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.
The best-written characters are the ones with complex origins stemming from violent histories and broken families.
Villains are often misunderstood and eventually snap when they reach a breaking point after constant ridicule and mockery.
For them, the only way out of an unfortunate situation or deep despair is to take matters into their own hands – at all costs.
To have a nemesis who is just evil in nature and exists for the sake of providing conflict for the protagonist is just lazy writing.
But to have someone you can actually relate to and understand their motives – regardless of their violent methods – is more compelling to watch.
"What villain do you actually agree with/get?"
Comic book villains did not always start off with evil intentions.
"I don't agree with Magneto, but I understand why he would feel the way he does."
"I have the most sympathy for this villain."
A Flawed Perfectionist
"Dr. Doom. He saw all possible futures and the only one that didn't end in humankind dying out was him ruling the world iirc."
"Mr. Freeze, now that Batman: The Animated Series has given him a legitimate backstory. Look, if you're a scientist and your wife is suffering from a rare condition, but you know you can save her if you just have more time, doesn't it make sense to put the love of your life in suspended animation while you do everything imaginable to save her?"
Anyone is capable of giving in to the darkness, especially like these characters who were dealt with unfortunate circumstances.
Sucks Being Widowed
"Dracula in Castlevania. They killed his wife and he said they had a year to get out. It's on them for murder and not believing a murderous vampire."
"Baby Doll from the animated Batman series."
"The way her entire life is ruined based solely on her physical appearance. Her career and relationship with Killer Croc in particular, but the way you can clearly see the mental effects of looking permanently like a child."
Kung-Fu Panda Antagonist
"All he wanted was to impress his adopted father."
": You knew I was the Dragon Warrior! You always knew! But when Oogway said otherwise, what did you do? What did you do? NOTHING!"
"Shifu : You were not meant to be the Dragon Warrior! That was not my fault!"
"Tai Lung : Not your fault? Who filled my head with dreams? Who drove me to train until my bones cracked? Who denied me my destiny?"
"Sandman in Spider-Man 3. There's little I wouldn't do for my kid."
These mean toons have a likeable quality in spite of their nefarious tendencies.
That "Phineas and Ferb" Scientiest
"Dr Doofenshmirtz - come on man, those inventions are awesome!"
"It's his parents who are the real villains."
The Powerpuff Girls' Tetartagonist
"My man was straight up abandoned"
"There's an episode where he actually wins and when he finally rules the world he... Archive the world peace, reverse the climate change, and things like that. So yeah, totally agree with Mojo."
The Mean One
"The Grinch; he just wanted his annoying neighbors to not play their loud holiday music at the crack of dawn."
"The Grinch didn't hate Christmas. He hated people. I think we can all get behind that."
Not So Despicable
"Gru from Despicable Me."
"I too, dream of stealing the moon."
"I might put it back, I might not. Haven't decided yet."
Redditors found a vast number of wicked characters who possess motives they agree with to excuse for their bad deeds.
We all have suffered challenges and obstacles – some we never overcome – but we don't necessarily go on a killing spree because of unresolved issues.
Maybe that's why some of these villains resonate with us on various levels.
Watching these misunderstood or wronged characters wreak havoc on society could be a manifestation of something hopefully most of us aren't inclined to do but feel a sense of satisfaction after watching destruction take place in worlds of fantasy.
The human body may be responsible for providing us with animated life and the unique wonders of human consciousness, but that doesn't mean we know what the heck is going on in there.
In fact, so many of the human body's inner workings are unknown to us who own and use that complicated apparatus every moment of every day.
We have, of course, made some real strides in understanding those inner workings over the last couple thousand years. We may have plenty more to learn, but at least we have a general lay of the land.
Curious to learn about the lesser known-processes of our complex physical selves, Redditor Zenssei asked:
"What is a fact about the human body that not many people know about?"
For complexity, look no further than the human brain. Redditors had no shortage of facts and tidbits about that one-of-a-kind organ.
"Most reflexes never make it to your brain. The sensory aspect travels to the spinal cord and the spinal cord itself sends the muscle movement signals to your limbs."
Keep On Kicking
"Your brain continues to try to revive the body long after the heart has stopped. In some cases 30 hours later there has been found brain activity trying to make repairs to bring the body back."
"This is used to indicate time of death in murder victims."
Filling In the Gaps
"Your brain likes stimulation, if it doesn't get any it will make some up, some people are more susceptible to it then others, the colors you see before you fall asleep are a common mild occurrence..."
"...there are several classes of these hallucinations, closed-eye visuals, which are caused by leaving your eyes closed for a long time, hypnagogia, which is caused by the onset of sleep, prisoners cinema, which is caused by looking into a dark place for a long time, ganzfeld effect, which is caused by blocking out all external stimuli, and Charles bonnet syndrome, caused by sight loss."
"Most are these are simple phosphenes but some can be whole imagined scenes, or more abstract fractal-like imagery"
Others reminded us that not all bodies are the same. They pointed out the anomalies that some people experience, but on average do not describe the typical human body.
"Apparently about 20% of people have a bony ridge on the roof of their mouth. Most people's pallettes are smooth with a very slight ridge."
"The 20% like me have an exaggerated and more pronounced ridge. Apparently it's most common in women and Asian folk, and I'm neither so that's neat. I always thought it was totally normal."
A Reason Not to Move
"People who live in 'extreme' conditions for generations adapt in extreme ways. For example people that live in high elevations often have larger lungs and different blood makeup."
"Or my favorite is the Bajau people that live on the water and spend a lot of their time diving, their spleens have become 50% larger in order to store more blood."
"I drunkenly tripped off the curb and into the road after a Halloween party in college. Turns out I broke off a piece of my elbow that night."
"It ended up getting encased in what ever the human body used to trap floating bone chunks in. Now I've got a chunk of bone gift wrapped by my own body's wrapping paper floating around, right against where it broke off from." -- Tur8z
And others felt the thread was a good place to share the truly bizarre, random facts they knew about the body. Read a few of these and you'll realize just what a mystery it all is.
Shake It In to Place
"When doing surgery were the doctors have to take out some organs, when placing them back, they dont have to be put back In the exact position there meant to be, your body kind of just, moves the organs into the correct position after the surgery"
"There are tiny cilia that spin in a certain direction. If they spin in the opposite direction while you're developing in the womb early on, that is how you get organs transposed onto the opposite side of your body."
"Your stomach is surrounded by more brain cells (half a billion neurons) than the brain of a cat contains in total."
"It's your enteric nervous system. It controls digestion, operates autonomously, has its own memory, can handle its own reflexes, it has its own senses even."
"It's thought to have come about because of the blood-brain barrier and the main brain being locked away in the skull, a spinal column and nerves away from the critical action of nutrition."
"Your eyes have a separate immune system from the rest of your body and in a lot of occasions if your body's immune system finds your eyes, they will assume they are a foreign body and blind you."
So next time you think you have a good idea of all that's going on under the hood, just remember that whole layer of microscopic processes that seem to be playing by their own rules entirely.
Want to "know" more? Never miss another big, odd, funny, or heartbreaking moment again. Sign up for the Knowable newsletter here.
Priceless, collectible objects fall into the hands of people in a variety of ways.
Some are serious, hard-working hobbyists. They search online forums, peruse antique sales, and budget a good amount of cash toward collecting one-of-a-kind items.
But others come into possession of truly rare objects almost by accident. They might not have known what they were buying, they could have received the item as an heirloom.
Either way, having just one rarity can be an exciting conversation piece.
Apparently eager to know what's out there, encased in glass somewhere, Redditor Sheeppower4 asked:
"What is the rarest thing you own?"
Many people's rare objects were historical in nature. They were old, they illustrated a moment of history, and they derived their value from remaining intact so many years later.
"16 century English Knight armour. It's a family heirloom." -- VinnyColdheart
"I imagine seeing that thing on Pawn Stars. 'Well, It's not exactly Century XVI; It's from 1601, and It has a scratch here and there, like if someone had hit it with a sharp object, I don't know. Anyway, all I can do is 50 bucks. And I'm risking here' " -- V02D
An Artifact of a Dark Time
"I don't really own this, but I am caretaker of a ring. During WW2 my Grandfather owned a tailors shop in Holland. A Jewish neighbor found out he was about to be taken, came into the shop, and gave him a few things, asking him to look after them, saying he would return after the war."
"He never came. I have his mourning ring, which has a lock of hair and a pearl, surrounded by diamonds. I did take it to a jeweler once, to see if the lock of hair could have some DNA, but he said it was too delicate to tamper with."
"My brother was a teacher, and now my daughter is. They have both used the ring to teach of the Holocaust. I think the ring has made it real for many children."
Wrong Coffin to Open
"I have an odd old handle from a coffin which dates back to a satanist from around 1800." -- BeyondContextual
"Imagine being the guy that was holding one of the handles and that sh** just snaps off, body falls out" -- AydenH5
"You fool! They don't die if there's no handle! Now there's a fekin Satanist roaming around somewhere looking for sacrifices!" -- Super_monkey_box
Other people were all about the autographs.
Whether it was them or a loved one, some hard work and good timing allowed them to take home a very valuable proof that they rubbed shoulders with some seriously influential figures.
Concert of a Lifetime
"My dad is retired from the NYPD. He was one of a bunch of officers escorting the Beatles to the stage when they played Shea Stadium. He got all their signatures in his ticket book. Ringo signed his name by drawing a star only."
"The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame offered him $500k for it and he refused."
"When my dad died a few years ago, it was passed on to me."
"I will never sell it."
"A baseball with both Babe Ruth & Joe DiMagio signatures." -- Dendad1218
"Passed down to you?" -- Cubsfan630
"Yes, actually it is a family thing. Joe was family. It is very sun damaged." -- Dendad1218
"A Thor print signed by Stan Lee, to me."
"My wife got it for me at one of his final appearances. He wasn't doing personalizations, but she talked him into it."
The Cast that Made It
"I've got a Star Wars poster with Mark Hamill, Peter Mayhew, and Carrie Fisher's autograph on it, along with a handful of other original Star Wars trilogy characters"
And others shared the rarities that showed a little bit more of their own personality. Some were seeked out, some were only saved thanks to a little shameless fanhood.
"A custom go board that is truly unique. The lines are made of darker wood inlaid to the lighter wood, not ink. This board will never warp. The whole thing is super high quality. It was a commissioned work, and the guy said he would never make another one (yes he was well paid)."
"It's something a go player immediately appreciates. As far as I am concerned, I own the best table board on the planet."
Well Cared For
"A official 1962 amazing fantasy no 15 (the first appearance from spider man) it was given to me by my late grandpa I have it in a air sealed package in a small safe being a painting in my room it is my most prized possession"
Rare and Phallic
"A Little Mermaid VHS cover with a penis tower" -- Tylorexy
"That's not rare, though, is it? I had the same thing as a kid."
"I remember trying to find the penis tower as a 10yo girl who didn't really know what a penis looked like. I found it because it was suspiciously not tower-like, but without first hand knowledge I couldn't be sure that was the one." -- Okoreala
"It is and it isn't."
"Plenty of copies with that case were made, but IIRC they redid the vhs cover at some point, so there were two variants floating around. On top of that, vhs not really being a thing anymore makes it difficult to find a copy with the di*k tower on it." -- brycejm1991
Unfortunately, we can't all be so lucky to have such cool and interesting prized possessions.
My rarest possession, for example, is that dorky U.S. map quarter collection.
Want to "know" more? Never miss another big, odd, funny, or heartbreaking moment again. Sign up for the Knowable newsletter here.
Why are humans so stupid? Why weren't we created with automatic genius? Or at the very least, our own how-to manual.
Can you imagine? A how-to use manual for each individual. Lord, the amount of wasted time saved.
I can openly admit I should come with a manual. And I am also someone who often doesn't understand manuals, so I thank designers for fool proofing some necessities for me. Though I'm not as bad as some.
Redditor u/SugarCookieBear wanted to know what things we use that were designed to bypass our basic abilities to be... idiots, by asking:
Engineers of Reddit, what's the most ridiculous idiot-proofing you've had to add in your never-ending quest to combat stupid people?
I'm intrigued to discover how and when designers and engineers realize that what they are crafting needs to come with extra detail, for the lame crowd. And by the crowd, I mean society as a whole. Let's face it, we need help.
No Eat!GIF by VH1Giphy
"A paragraph in an owners' manual on not eating the broken glass from binoculars."
Don't Drink Up
"Wife is a civil engineer. The one that came to mind for her was that she had to add to the specification of a construction contract that stated that workers would not drink the water that accumulated at the bottom of an excavation."
"We had a pedestrian bridge next to a bridge for vehicles, separated by about a 3ft gap. The bridges were about 20ft high over the water. So many drunk pedestrians climbed over the rails and tried to jump between bridges and didn't make it that I was directed to design a safety net to hang between the two bridges."
"I work in facilities maintenance. Someone put in a ticket for a malfunctioned computer on wheels and I found the power cord was frayed. Not my gear so all I can really do is set it aside and have the biomed techs fix it."
"I put a zip-tie through the holes in the prongs of the plug, put 2 nitrile glove on the plug, zip tied the gloves in place, and wrapped up the gloves with duct tape. I got a sheet of printer paper and wrote "inoperative. do not use. do not plug in" and taped it to the monitor."
"Couple hours later I get a ticket for another COW with frayed power cord sparking. It turned out to be the same cart and one of the nurses cut the end of the gloves off, cut the zip tie in the end of the plug, and plugged it in and it arced and tripped a breaker because of the frayed power cord."
Can't Resist!canadian wtf GIF by CBCGiphy
"I was asked to make a hydraulic oil pump nozzle 'drink proof'."
"That's a fools errand, the best you can hope for is "drink resistant".
Ok. Some of those items make me concerned for surviving life. Who eats glass? I've seen some things in the world, but that would definitely be a first and hopefully last. I shudder to continue.
Roadblocks...water satisfying GIFGiphy
"Civil engineer here. While laying asphalt usually we close the road and cover using barricade tapes. But no matter his hard we try people always find ways to go through and ruin the whole process. Ultimately we had to use security to block the roads."
Don't go THERE!!!
"Chemical engineer. Please do not poop in the test room. I wish I was joking, but it happened!"
"My cousin is a chemical engineer. For weeks they had contaminants in their product. I forget exactly what fixes they tried, but they eventually found out via security cams that one of the night shift maintenance workers was peeing into one of the chemical vats."
"I work on cars, so almost everything is designed around protecting people. My favorite is that we have to make the Hvac system louder and engine noise insulation worse because people will complain if they can't hear the systems running. We could make almost silent air ducts, but our warranty spend would go up."
Not a Hammer
"I'm a mech E intern, I walked in on my manager discussing a design with another engineer, all I heard was "so the guys will probably use that as a hammer so I made it out of this stronger material" "when they're working they will probably be throwing this small door open so I used stronger hinges and added a stop"
"It's things like this that I really appreciate about my internship, I likely wouldn't have thought about that myself."
On the 5th...Big Boi Smh GIF by OutkastGiphy
"Application Engineer here: When handling a 3D Laserscanner, it has to be placed and fixed on a stable tripod."
"A flat rail of a balcony is not a suitable substitute for it. And no, the insurance has not covered the total loss of the device after it felt from the 5th floor to the concrete pavement."
Y'all, does common sense no longer exist. Thankfully these people have the forethought to plan ahead. They are saving us, one idea at a time.
Want to "know" more? Never miss another big, odd, funny, or heartbreaking moment again. Sign up for the Knowable newsletter here.