With the help of the internet, con artists have mastered the art of fooling others and making easy money with just a few clicks. Long before the internet, there were people who were masters of disguise. These brave men and women pretended to be someone else and managed to sell things that didn’t even belong to them. And some of them even managed to pull the same stunt twice! Here, we have gathered some stories of con artists throughout history who managed to take their skills to new heights.
1. Victor Lustig was a con man who managed to sell the Eiffel Tower not once, but twice.
Victor Lustig was undoubtedly one of the world’s greatest con men to have ever existed. In 1925, Lustig was reading newspaper when he came across an article about the Eiffel Tower rusting and in need of expensive repairs. The article ended with the suggestion that selling the tower was a reasonable option. Lustig found the last sentence to be intriguing. He decided to act as a government employee who was enlisted with selling the Eiffel Tower as scrap. Then, Lustig focused his attention towards André Poisson, a man with low self-esteem who was anxious to make a name for himself in Paris.
Lustig promised André with a great deal, which could only be carried out in cash. An eager André took the bait and paid the con man hundreds of thousands of dollars to own an imaginary Eiffel Tower. After the deal, André went to claim the Eiffel Tower, when he realized that he had been conned. He was so embarrassed that he kept the story to himself for decades before revealing the incident. André’s silence allowed Lustig to carry on and con another unsuspecting contractor. After conning both men, Lustig took the money and fled to the US where he carried out his con-life. In 1935, he was finally captured and sentenced to prison where he spent the rest of his life until passing away in 1947. (source)
2. Gregory B. Bartucci tried to sell a boat and two bulldozers that didn’t belong to him on Craigslist.
In 2013, a rich New Jersey man was looking to add a second boat to his collection when he came across an ad on Craigslist. The ad was using the exact image the millionaire had posted on his social media page a few months back. Curious to see if the ad was legitimate, he contacted the man who revealed his identity as Gregory B. Bartucci. Bartucci informed the man that the boat was in fact for sale and that he could cut him a deal if he wanted. The millionaire informed authorities, who set up a sting operation and had Bartucci come in person to seal the deal. When Bartucci arrived, he was arrested and sentenced to 5 years probation for theft by deception.
Bartucci has also been convicted of theft twice; in 1999 and in 2007. However, his big con took place a few months late, when he posted an ad on Craigslist, wanting to sell two pieces of farm equipment. Bartucci set up a fake company and claimed that he had two bulldozers that he wanted to sell. A Manheim, PA company agreed to buy the equipment for $42,500, and sent two employees to pick up their purchase, when they learned that the bulldozers were never for sale. Luckily, Bartucci was smart enough to provide the company with his personal bank details, which authorities used to make an arrest. He was once again convicted for theft by deception and was held on $500,000 bail. (source)
3. Craig Stevens sold 10 In-N-Out Burger franchises to Middle Eastern investors. He was only caught because he emailed the fraudulent agreements, which made it wire fraud.
In 2015, Craig Stevens, a California resident, sold 10 bogus In-N-Out Burger franchises to unsuspecting Middle Eastern investors. His con operation started in 2014 when he reached out to potential investors via email, offering them to buy individual locations for $150,000; with royalties costing an additional $250,000 per year. Through the elaborate scheme, Stevens managed to milk more than $4.1 million. His plans were working great since he managed to become a millionaire within a period of one year without much effort.
Stevens was happy with his life until the investors requested paperwork regarding their deal. In 2015, as part of the bogus deal, Stevens sent them a faux In-N-Out licensing agreement, which the FBI intercepted. By the time a Lebanese investor read his bogus email, the jig was up. The FBI collected necessary information, arrested Stevens and sentenced him to two years in a Federal prison. In-N-Out Burger, Inc. has been privately owned since its founding in 1948, and the company has no partners nor are they interested in making any. (source)
4. George C. Parker posed as an engineer and sold the Brooklyn Bridge to hundreds of unsuspecting people. He also managed to sell Grant’s Tomb, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Statue of Liberty before he was finally captured.
The Brooklyn Bridge was completed in 1883 and since then, many men and women have claimed to own the bridge and managed to profit off of it. One man however, managed to make hundreds of thousands from unsuspecting people. George C. Parker was 20 at the time and was already a popular con artist, who always paid attention to tourists. When new faces arrived to witness the bridge, he would carefully choose people who he considered to be easily gullible. Then, he pretended to be an engineer who had very little time to manage the bridge and was looking for someone to set up a toll booth in order to collect a fare from everyone crossing the bridge.
Surprisingly, not one, but hundreds fell for his con and some even paid him as much as $50,000 to set up toll booths and profit off of the bridge. He also managed to sell Grant’s Tomb, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Statue of Liberty before authorities became aware of the trickster. By the early 1900’s, some of the “owners” of the Brooklyn Bridge started to set up barricades to collect money from travelers. Authorities had to intervene and inform them that they do not own the Bridge. The reason why Parker managed to pull the stunts for so long was because he forged documents to make them look extremely realistic. Parker managed to evade the police until 1928, before being arrested and sent to prison for life. (source)
5. Emmanuel Nwude was a Nigerian con man who managed to sell an imaginary airport for $242 million to the International Bank
Nwude was a former director of Union Bank of Nigeria, a position which made him close to links, information and documents that other people would not be aware of. He was also a con man who wanted to make money, and lots of it. Impersonating the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, he contacted Nelson Sakaguchi, a Brazilian bank director and offered him a chance to get in on the country’s ‘plan to build an airport in Abuja’. Nwude informed Sakaguchi that he was about to pocket at least $10 million in cash and the investment would pay him the same. Thinking of becoming rich, Sakaguchi approved and had his bank pay $191 million in cash, as well as other interests that added up to $242 million; making it the third-largest banking scam in the world.
In 1997, a Spanish bank wanted to take over the Brazilian bank when they spotted some irregularities. A joint investigation was carried out by Brazil, Britain, Nigeria, Switzerland, and the United States, which revealed the scam. However, the Brazilian bank was acquired by the Spanish bank after they paid the missing $242 million bill. In 2004, Nwude and his accomplices were arrested and sentenced to five concurrent years in prison. He was also asked to pay a $10 million fine to the federal government. Although the government seized his assets during the arrest, after being released from prison, Nwude managed to reclaim $167 million. (source)
6. Mithilesh Kumar Srivastava is considered the greatest con man in India. He managed to sell the Taj Mahal three times.
Mithilesh Kumar Srivastava, better known as Natwarlal, was the greatest con man in India. At a young age, Natwarlal discovered that he could make easy money by duping people, and so, he went on to created more than 50 aliases. After becoming a prominent businessman by forging signatures and stealing money from millionaires, he decided to step up his game. He found three gullible millionaires and sold them the Taj Mahal, then made off with the money. Apart from the Taj Mahal, Natwarlal also managed to sell the Red Fort, Rashtrapati Bhavan, and the Parliament House of India.
During his peak time, Natwarlal had more than 100 cases against him, spanning over eight states. He was also arrested several times but managed to escape every time he was imprisoned. One of his daring escapes including stealing a police offer’s uniform and simply walking out of the jail. In 1996 at age 84, Natwarlal was being taken for an annual medical check up when he escaped one last time. After disappearing into the streets of New Delhi, he was never seen or heard from again. His brother claimed that Natwarlal passed away in 1996 but in 2013, his lawyer filed a request dismiss over 100 pending charges against the con man, stating that he passed away in 2009. (source)
7. James Symons cheated over 1,000 Amazon customers by offering non-existent TVs, computers, and cameras at cheap prices. He made more than $1 million in 4 years.
When shopping online, we always look for a good bargain. James Symons understood this concept and decided to take advantage of people by conning them. After setting up multiple accounts on Amazon, he posted great deals on TVs, computers, and cameras at a cheap price. Of course, he never had any intention of selling anything. After 4 years of conning people, he managed to make more than $4 million and get away with it. Amazon only found out about the con when they received more than 1,000 complaints about not receiving their products, forcing Amazon to refund all of them.
After an investigation, they discovered that the accounts were set up by James Symons. In 2017, Symons pleaded guilty to fraud and was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison. Crown Prosecution Service lawyer Robert Hutchinson said: “He offered discounted high-value goods like TVs at bargain prices with no intention of delivering them. The timing of the scam, before Christmas each year, was also no coincidence, aiming to prey on anybody looking for a bargain”. (source)
8. Nicolae Popescu is a Romanian fugitive who sold non-existent cars, boats, motorcycles, and other expensive items and got away with more than $3 million. He has not been captured until today.
Nicolae Popescu is a Romanian con man who managed to use fake documents to create online accounts in the US and target US consumers. He targeted major websites and sold non-existent sport cars, motorcycles and expensive products. In a few years, he managed to make more than $3 million and transfer the money from the US to Europe. When the FBI learned of the con man, they landed him a spot on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. Popescu is also on the “red list” of Interpol, which is basically an international arrest warrant. Six of Popescu’s accomplices were arrested but he is still at large. The FBI even has a $1 million reward for anyone who provides information on him that would lead to his arrest. (source)
9. Brian Kiddell, a 75-year-old tenant, sold his landlord’s house in Devon, England. He made more than $90,000, by pretending to be the owner of the house.
In 2013, Brian Kiddell, a 75-year-old man, used a stolen ID to post the house he was renting for sale. The real owner of the house only found out about the plan when he drove past the house and discovered a “for sale” sign. Upon investigating, the owner also discovered that the house had been sold for more than $90,000 to an unsuspecting person. Kiddell then went into darkness and authorities had trouble finding him. However, Kiddell had no problem in finding trouble. After acquiring a stolen passport, Kiddell pretended to be the man’s brother who wanted to clear out the bank account that was related to the passport.
When the bank investigated, they discovered that the man associated with the account was alive and well. Kiddell was arrested and was charged with nine counts of fraud. He received a sentence of six years. (source)
10. Carlos Kaiser, one of the greatest soccer players in history, to never play the game. While he technically didn’t sell things he didn’t own, he did sell himself and made millions by fooling Brazilian teams.
Carlos Kaiser is known as the biggest con man in the history of soccer. After joining a soccer club at the age of 16, he managed to move through multiple clubs and sign contracts that made him rich and allowed him to live the high life without kicking the ball. While soccer players or any athlete would think about how they would perform for a match, Kaiser arrived at the field thinking how he could get out of it. He always faked injuries during practice sessions, pretending to fall or hurt his muscles. One time, his coach forced him to play and as Kaiser was warming up, he found the perfect opportunity.
A fan was bad mouthing Kaiser, to which he responded by starting a fight until he was thrown off the field. The charade continued for 24 years before he officially retired without playing a single game. During the time, he managed to live an amazing lifestyle as well as make millions. Kaiser was never charged for his actions. Today, he trains women at the gym. (source)