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The Greatest Scams of All Time

Scams, Hoaxes and Con Men


The best way to prevent scams may be to examine the most successful ones.  Two new Web sites hope to expose the tricks, while providing some good reads at the same time. Quatloos was created by an attorney hoping to create a forum to discuss scams. The site bills itself as a “museum of scams and frauds,” and is loaded with posts about current crimes, Q&A sessions with concerned readers and book recommendations. Hall of Infamy focuses more on the people behind the scams, compiling a detailed list of the greatest con artists in history. Check out five scams from these and other Web sites, and don’t let yourself become a victim.

Photo Credit: Kaiban

The Great Diamond Hoax


While many of the biggest scams have occurred in recent years, crimes of this nature have been taking place for hundreds of years. In 1871, two miners tricked Tiffany’s into buying fake diamonds. It may sound simple, but in order to fully convince the jewelry giant, the miners actually led representatives from Tiffany’s on a four-day long expedition to a field they had littered with fake diamonds. It worked – the miners managed to get $600,000, or about $8 million in today’s money. Now that’s a swindle.

Photo Credit: Swamibu

Bernie Madoff


Remember him? Madoff has a special place in the Hall of Infamy, with the largest swindle in history. Madoff conned $65 billion from close to 9,000 investors. According to Quatloos, two things distinguish Madoff’s scam from others: the dollar amount and Madoff himself. From the site: “Perhaps what makes the Madoff scam is the reputation of the main crook. Most pyramid schemes are run by those with no real financial education, background or experience… Madoff was the chairman of the NASDAQ from 1990 to 1993 -- no pyramid schemer has ever had such stellar credentials.”

Photo Credit: philectric

Kosher Organs


It may be recent, but we can’t resist including this one. It has everything necessary for a juicy scam: shifty religious figures, corrupt politicians and a black market for organs. According to the Jerusalem post, five rabbis were accused of laundering tens of millions of dollars from charities, three mayors took big bribes and one suspect in the racket actually sold more than $150,000 in kidneys.

Photo Credit: Steve Punter

Cheating the Heart


It’s called the Nigerian Dating Scam and it’s been around for as long as dating sites have existed.  The original Nigerian Scam asked people to send in an advance fee with the promise of profitable returns. In the dating version, the scammer uploads attractive photos of themselves onto a dating Web site and pretends to be a foreign specialist working in Nigeria (or any other African country). The scammer lures you into loving them, then ask for massive amounts of money for a sick relative, or some other sob story. RomanceScam.com breaks down many of these and has even conducted surveys with scammed lovers.  Sixty-nine percent claim to have fallen for the scammers because of their charms. Most of the rest fall for the incredible photos. One Milwaukee man lost $3,000 in small increments from such a scam, while a family in New Zealand lost a massive $200,000.

Photo Credit: sweethaa

The Watchman


In the early 1930s, Richard Whitney was the youngest man to serve as president of the New York Stock Exchange, and according to the Hall of Infamy, he was credited with easing the Great Depression. Then, in 1938, he pled guilty to embezzling millions (much more in today’s money) from family and from the securities he oversaw as president. This scam is almost 100 years old, but it’s instructive for us now. Those who watch over our money should face the toughest scrutiny themselves.

Photo Credit: Ernst Moeksis

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