Many fraudsters have made it into the great hall of infamy. Whether they gained notoriety amongst the most powerful or wealthy, made headlines for scamming thousands of people, or have taken advantage of any opportunity to engage in embezzlement, these con artists are masters at their craft. You’d be surprised what these imposters got away with. Here are some of the most brilliant and “ballsy” con artists of our time.
- His list of victims are only the wealthy and powerful. As an imposter and con artist taking on the persona of a French member of the Rockefeller family, Raconcourt sold a property he didn’t own for $1.4 million, pretended to be a movie producer, boxing champion, and even married to a Playboy model. His trademark moves were to always have a gorgeous woman on his arm and drop large amounts of cash at entertainment venues. He was charged with theft, smuggling, bribery, grand larceny, and perjury against almost 20 victims including well-known actors. In an interview with Dateline, he claims to have amassed at least $40 million in embezzlement. Given five years in prison and fined $9 million, he is one of the greatest imposters of our time.
- A notorious name when it comes to financial scandals, Charles Ponzi is one of the greatest swindlers to have ever lived. His genius lies in the famous “Ponzi Scheme,” a concept he created that pays early investors returns from the investments of later investors. Basically, he promised clients a large sum of money; 50% profit within 45 days of investing, or 100% profit within 90 days. In the 1920s, he was making $250,000 a day, an enormous amount of money at that time. He was finally apprehended after a newspaper started to investigate the “Ponzi Scheme.” He was later sent to prison for his actions and spent his later years in poverty.
- Victor Lustig was such a master con artist that he convinced scrap metal dealers to buy the Eiffel Tower (yes, the one in France) for scrap metal. He also sold “money-printing” machines for outrageous amounts of money, while the machines only produced two 100 dollar bills in a span of 12 hours, which gave him more than enough time to disappear. Lustig’s endeavors also included making deals with notorious gangster Al Capone, advising him to invest more than $40,000 in stock. After keeping Capone’s money in a safe for two months, Lustig returned the gangster’s money, saying the deal did not go through. Capone was impressed with Lustig’s “integrity,” and rewarded him with five grand. Lustig’s luck eventually ran out after a number of scams in the U.S., where he was arrested and sent to Alcatraz.
- Frank Abagnale’s prosperous exploits have been recreated in the movie, Catch Me If You Can, which shows him making almost perfect copies of checks and pretending to be a pilot for Pan Am, flying around the world for free. Frank also impersonated doctors, forged a Harvard University Law diploma, and got a job at the office of the State Attorney General of Louisiana. However, Frank’s story did not end tragically. After being caught in France and serving quite a number of sentences in different countries, he was offered an extraordinary opportunity to turn his craft of fraud and forgery into a legitimate business, opening a fraud consultation business. He is now using his honestly-earned millions to repay all those he wronged in previous years.
- Known for his “Miracle Crusades,” Benny led thousands to believe that God can give him powers to heal and prophesize unforeseen circumstances. His followers have donated millions of dollars to him. Hinn’s ministry has been criticized many times, but he still is out there performing miracles daily and making lots of money for it.
- Adopting the identity of Alexi Indris Santana, a self taught orphan from Utah, James enrolled at Princeton University, claiming on his application that he slept in the Grand Canyon, raising cattle and reading philosophy. He proceeded to defraud the university for $30,000 in financial aid. His scamming scheme of college institutions didn’t end there; he became a security guard at Harvard’s on-campus museums where he replaced several gemstones with inexpensive fake ones.
- Known as “The Great Imposter,” Demara’s resume is pretty impressive. He has taken various identities working as a civil engineer, a doctor of applied psychology, a monk, an assistant prison warden, a hospital orderly, a lawyer, and a teacher among other professions. He definitely had a knack for assuming various identities with ease and poise. He was caught in an unusually heroic circumstance: while impersonating a doctor on a Navy ship during the Korean War, there were several seriously wounded soldiers from combat on board who needed to be saved. Since Demara was the ship’s only surgeon, he crawled into his quarters with a medical textbook and emerged to save the lives of everyone on board. Demara apparently had a photographic memory and an unusually high IQ. When news of his heroics spread throughout the nation, the resulting media attention revealed his true face and identity.
- An African-American con artist, David Hampton’s story became the inspiration for the movie, Six Degrees of Separation. Assuming the identity of Sidney Poitier’s son, he gained celebrity status and got many free meals at restaurants and other perks. He then persuaded many A-list celebrities, like Calvin Klein and Gary Sinise, to allow him to stay the night in their homes, claiming he was a friend of their children.