There's nothing like a good con game story. Anyone who has moved to the big city can tell you how they were swindled out of a dollar on the subway, or how someone came knocking at their door with a suspicious-sounding sob story. And then there are the long cons, the con games that last for months - or even years. The amount of planning and risk involved in those types of schemes are extraordinary, and you have to be pretty charming and extremely smart to pull them off.
The people behind the biggest swindles are larger-than-life characters. Take the case of a man known as "The Great Imposter," who was able to perform surgery on people after just glancing at a textbook, or the con artist who was able to sell the Eiffel Tower as scrap metal - twice.
These are the stories of some of the greatest con men and women in history. By the time you're done reading, you'll never trust anyone again.
You've probably heard of a Ponzi Scheme before, but you may not know that it was invented by Italian immigrant Charles Ponzi in the early 1900s. He arrived in America without much money, but that all changed when he set up a business called the "Securities Exchange Company." Ponzi offered investments that would pay back 100% interest on the original investment after 90 days. However, he never actually invested money for anyone - he was using one investor's cash to pay off another investor, and so on.
Ponzi was able to keep up the illusion for about two years before being caught. At one point, he was reportedly raking in $250,000 a day.
Frank Abagnale, Jr. was so good at conning people that he made a career out of it. Before getting caught in 1969, Abagnale successfully posed as a doctor, an airline pilot, a college professor, and a lawyer, despite having no training in any of those fields. During the 1960s, he passed about $2.5 million in fake checks all over the world. After spending some time in jail for his crimes, he opened Abagnale & Associates to help companies detect fraud.
His exploits inspired the 2002 film Catch Me If You Can, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks.
Bernard Madoff is responsible for orchestrating the biggest fraud in U.S. history. He conned more than 1,300 investors out of $65 billion over the course of several years, causing many of his victims to be destroyed financially. He even managed to con some celebrities, including Kevin Bacon and Stephen Spielberg.
Madoff used the tried-and-true Ponzi scheme. He promised investors unusually high returns on their money, and as he gained new investors, he used their money to pay off the old ones so as to seem legitimate. However, Madoff pocketed the extra money himself. He was arrested in 2008, convicted, and sentenced to 150 years in prison.
In July 1918, Russian revolutionaries executed Czar Nicholas II and his family in a basement. Two years later, Anna Anderson emerged, claiming to be the czar's youngest daughter, Anastasia, the heir to the Romanov line. She said that two brothers had carried her out of the basement on the night of the shooting and took her to safety in Romania. Romanov relatives didn't believe her story, but Anderson did gain the support of several prominent people. Her tale served as the inspiration for the 1956 movie Anastasia, starring Ingrid Bergman.
DNA testing performed after Anderson's death in 1984 finally confirmed that her story was false.