Throughout the annals of history there has been a steady parade of con artists, snake oil salesmen and disreputable faith healers who have been selling the impressionable masses everything from miracle cures to get-rich-quick schemes. Even in today’s cynical world, people have unfortunately not become immune to the allure of sophisticated con men and their schemes. Despite swindling hordes of people out of their hard-earned money and taking advantage of their collective misfortune, the unabashed skill of a professional con artist has to be credited. Similar to cult leaders, these reviled characters are natural actors, born with enough charisma and charm to sell anything.
If a moneymaking opportunity looks too good to be true, it probably is, and you should stick to playing online casino games or entering the lottery if you are looking for a large windfall. The sad fact is that even the smartest of people fall prey to the lure of easy money. To ensure that you don’t end up with the gullible masses that have forfeited their life savings on a pipe dream, we’ve gathered a list of the most infamous and audacious con artists of all time.
Charles “The Ponz” Ponzi was an Italian immigrant who used his creative talents to establish himself as one of the greatest schemers in American history. Yes, if you’ve already connected the dots, this savvy entrepreneur or dodgy businessman depending on your perspective, is where the infamous Ponzi scheme originated. It was this enterprising immigrant who in 1918 started a moneymaking scheme by buying postal reply coupons in other countries and redeeming them at face value in America as a form of arbitrage.
By doing so he promised his clients an investment that would see them receive a 50% profit within 45 days, or 100% return within 90 days. In reality, he was simply paying initial investors with the funds received from newer investors. And so the infamous Ponzi scheme was born. This particularly dodgy venture lasted merely a year before it collapsed under the pressure of disgruntled investors who had no return on investment from their initial capital outlay. It is said that he cost his unsuspecting investors in the region of $20 million- a staggering amount of money at the time.
Born in Hungary in 1953, György Zemplényi was a notable con man that led a life so incredibly audacious that his story became somewhat of an urban legend. So much so that a film was made based on his fascinating life. Like any good actor, he was adept at playing a number of roles and assuming new personas as he moved around the world. He was the manager of the Hungarian swim team during the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, duped his way into becoming a Catholic bishop and special envoy of the Vatican in Sweden, and pretended to be an orthodox Jew dealing in diamonds. Whichever character he assumed, he managed to beguile those who trusted him, taking their money before disappearing into thin air.
Sarah Rachel Russell
Dodgy dealings and deceitful schemes are not the tools of con men alone. There have been a number of remarkably “industrious” women who have used their wits to accumulate great wealth and fame at the expense of those unlucky enough to be swayed by their charms. Sarah Rachel Russell is one of history’s most notable con women. She exploited the vanity and insecurity of Victorian women for profit, peddling fake beauty products from her upscale London beauty salon. Beauty products such as Magnetic Rock Dew for Removing Wrinkles, Rejuvenating Jordan Water and Royal Arabian Face Cream were sold with the promise of everlasting youth. Sarah, the enterprising woman that she was, also ran a lucrative blackmail racket and rumoured prostitution ring. She was eventually convicted and sent to prison for fraud, where she died.
One of the most recent examples of a Ponzi scheme comes in the form of OneCoin, the brainchild of Bulgarian businessman Ruja Ignatova. Drawing on the current zeitgeist, this Ponzi scheme was promoted as a cryptocurrency with a private blockchain. However their exchange site was suspiciously shut down in January 2017 without giving investors any notice or explanation. This meant that thousands of investors became stuck with the worthless OneCoin currency, which they could not exchange for real money.
These scammers are all noteworthy, and a valuable lesson to us all to always keep our eyes open and our wits about us when it comes to money, investing and anti-aging creams!