Regardless of our reservations about it, cunning is an art. Yes, it is, even though it’s bad. It takes a special kind of ‘street smart’ to cun people out of their money, livelihood and time, like the *coughspoliticianscoughs* and yahoo-yahoo/chache boys in our country do.
However, as bad as people like Invictus Obi are, there are some really great conmen who have lived (some still living) and have scammed people to a degree that makes people like Dieziani look like a learner.
So here’s a list of nine greatest conmen (overseas) of all time! By the way, be expecting the Nigerian list very soon!
Frank William Abagnale Jr. (b.1948)
His story was inspired by the Catch Me If You Can movie played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Between the age of 15-21 years, Frank had assumed 8 identities, including a pilot and a doctor, and had become one of the most famous impostors in history. He was a master at forging checks. He was like Michael in that popular TV series “The Pretender,” only he assumed different identities to scam people.
Gregor MacGregor (1786-1845)
Like many of our politicians here in Nigeria, Gregor MacGregor did the unspeakable. After a war in South America, when Gregor returned to Britain in 1820, he claimed to be the political boss of Poyais, a fictional country he created. He said that the country covered an area of 8m acres and was rich in resources but only needed development. He successfully scammed people into investing their savings for this non-existent country. When settlers finally reached the land by sea, many of them died over time due to the lack of resources. MacGregor was eventually acquitted of all charges after a trial… like many of our thieving leaders who roam scot-free.
Victor Lustig (1890-1947)
Do you think it’s possible to sell the Eiffel Tower? No, right? That’s like trying to sell Zuma Rock! I mean, who does that? Victor Lustig, that’s who! In 1925, the Eiffel Tower was rusting and ill-maintained. Lustig took advantage of that and gathered six metal dealers and pretended to be a government official saying that they could not maintain the tower anymore and therefore wanted to sell it. He was so good that he even got a bribe from one of the 6 men to sell it to him. After the payment, he disappeared. He also scammed the infamous gangster Al Capone out of $5,000. Lustig died in jail of pneumonia.
Charles Ponzi (1882-1949)
Ever wondered what inspired the likes of MMM, Ultimate Cycler, Money Doubler, etc.?Well, it was a guy called Charles Ponzi, who invented what we know as “the Ponzi Scheme.” Charles promised his clients profits of 50% within 45 days or 100% within 90 days. The early investors were paid with the money of late investors. He earned over a million dollars within months, but his scheme fell through after a year. Funny enough, he died in poverty.
James Hogue (b.1959)
James was a great runner and set school track records in 1977, that stands till date. But that is not what he is known for. He joined a high school in California posing as an orphan from Nevada. But he got exposed by a reporter. He then joined Princeton University in 1988, breaking parole, under a different alias claiming to be a self-taught orphan. But he got exposed again. Finally, he joined Harvard as a security guard and stole from the museum. He was jailed and let go many times after that. But was finally released in 2012 under probation.
Soapy Smith (1860-1898)
Imagine going back to the same place over and over and over, and over again just to win money. Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith, got his nickname because of the ‘The prize soap racket’. He would sell soap cakes for 1 dollar each to a large crowd claiming that one soap had 100 dollars. A mole placed amongst the gathered audience would shout that he won. This made people buy more and more, hoping to be the next winner. He hid the cakes with the money and sold only empty ones. 20 years, this trick lasted. He died in a dramatic shootout called the ‘Shootout on Juneau Wharf’.
George Parker (1870-1936)
Just when we thought selling the Eiffel Tower was crazy, here is a guy who sold the Brooklyn Bridge countless times to innocent foreigners. As if that wasn’t enough, George Parker also successfully sold the original Madison Square Garden, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Statue of Liberty. He eventually died in prison.
Jordan Belfort (b.1962)
You’ve got to know this name if you’ve watched ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ played by Leonardo DiCaprio (why does DiCaprio like playing scammers, though?). Jordan Belfort was an extremely intelligent man who became a multi-millionaire through stock market manipulation, money laundering and security fraud. Jordan pleaded guilty and served 22 months in prison for testifying against his accomplices. He is now an author and a motivational speaker.
Joseph Weil (1875-1976)
“The average person, in my estimation, is 99% animal and 1% human. The 99% that is animal causes very little trouble.” – Joseph Weil. Joseph was popularly known as the “Yellow Kid” who scammed many people which included fixed races, women, and even oil deals which made him over $8 million. Weil once said His wisdom helped him cheat ‘humans’. He died, aged 100, in 1976.