As the day of trick-or-treating approaches, we’d like to dedicate a post to one of the oldest tricks of all: the con. The American public has always had a fascination with con artists. Perhaps our interest stems from the combination of crime and artistry or the artist’s balancing act of deception and finesse. There are a whole slew of movies that can attest to our curiosity about the con, such as The Music Man or Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Below are 5 of the most exceptional con artists who amassed the public’s interest along with their money.
1.) Frank Abagnale
Frank Abagnale is the conman whose exploits served as the basis for the movie, Catch Me If You Can. He’s most known for tricking banks into depositing money into his account. For years, Abagnale travelled around the world and escaped authorities by posing as a Pan Am pilot, doctor, lawyer, and teacher. He was eventually caught and jailed in the U.S., but he escaped prison by disguising as an undercover officer of the Bureau of Prisons. The U.S. Federal government caught him again, but decided instead to switch tactics, offering Abagnale his freedom in return for helping the government against fraud and scam artists.
2.) Charles Ponzi
Charles Ponzi was an Italian immigrant with a warped view of the American dream. He convinced people that they could get rich quick with a 50% return or a doubling of their money in 90 days if they invested money in his company. As the namesake of “The Ponzi Scheme,” Ponzi returned his unsuspecting investors their own money or even paid them using money from later investors. He was eventually caught and deported to Italy, where he died in poverty.
3.) Gregor MacGregor
Gregor MacGregor is a con artist from the 1800 who took advantage of the recent North American colonization trend. He was able to persuade the public that he was the cacique, or King, of a small country called Poyais and convinced them to purchase land rights from him.
4.) Victor Lustig
Victor Lustig is most well known for selling the Eiffel tower. To play his trick, Lustig invited scrap metal dealers for a secret meeting to discuss the fate of the Eiffel tower, which was becoming too much of a expense for Paris. He was caught in the U.S. On the charge of counterfeiting, Lustig was sentenced to 20 years in Alcatraz.
5.) The Fox Sisters
Kate, Margaret, and Leah Fox were three sisters who convinced their family and eventually the public in the 1800’s that they could communicate to the dead through a system of knocks and raps. They enjoyed success as mediums until one of the sisters admitted that they had been playing a hoax. Despite their impoverished endings, the Fox sisters were probably some of the most successful con artists in that they were able to play their trick for almost 40 years and were an important element to the development of Spiritualism.