Four of the World’s Most Famous Con Artists


They say “cheaters never prosper,” but the really talented ones do seem to get away with it, for a little while at least. Here are four cheaters who were so effective, you can’t help but be impressed.

George C. Parker

A true confidence man after the old traditions, George C. Parker is the origin of the old saying, “And if you believe that, then I have a bridge to sell you.” His claim to fame is the sale of New York landmarks to unwary victims. He sold Lady Liberty, Madison Square Gardens, even posing as a grandson of General Grant in order to sell his tomb. Most famously, however, was the repeated sale of the Brooklyn Bridge, hence the phrase. He was convicted of fraud three separate times and spent his final years behind bars.

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Charles Ponzi

One of the grandfathers of white-collar crime, Charles Ponzi was an Italian immigrant, whose scam became so famous they named it after him. Ponzi ran an investment scheme wherein he paid dividends to a first round of investors with the capital from a second. In other words, he wasn’t accumulating wealth so much as he was accumulating debt. Eventually, people caught on, he was sent to prison, then extradited to Italy, and died a pauper there in 1949.

Robert Hendy-Freegard

A particularly insidious scammer, Robert Hendy-Freegard posed as an undercover MI5 agent in the UK in the 90’s, much to the personal torment of many innocent victims. Unlike the others on this list, who mainly deprived gullible marks of their liquid assets, Freegard subjected his victims to non-trivial amounts of psychological torment. Among other things, he convinced many to go into hiding fearing IRA assassination, seduced multiple women (who he abused) under the pretense of wanting to marry them, and conned his victims out of hundreds of thousand of Great Britain Pounds. Worse yet, unlike many of his con artist peers, Freegard has filled his sentence, and today walks free.

Frank Abagnale

We end with Mr. Abagnale, a confidence man so impactful they made a movie about him. Frank is famous for writing false checks in the 1960’s, a trick that accumulated him a total value of over $2.5 million. He’s also famous for impersonating a Pan Am pilot, a medical supervisor, a lawyer, and a teacher. He served 6 months each in a French prison, and a Swedish one. During a transfer to the U.S. he escaped, only to caught again and returned to prison, where he escaped again by pretending to be an undercover office of the Bureau of Prisons.

Eventually, the government decided he was more valuable as an asset than as an enemy, and offered him his freedom in exchange for assisting the FBI in fraud and scam cases pro bono. As of today, he runs a fraud consultancy, which has once again made him a millionaire.

Cons and scams still happen today, so keep your eyes peeled, and be wary of any deal that seems too good to be true. And by doing your research, you will actually be able to identify good opportunities, such as the mislabelled “ACN scam.”

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