Now, Who Is The Cybercriminal?

In recent times, Nigerians have been tagged internet fraudsters or cybercriminals. Sincere business proposals are turned down by potential business associates as soon as it is observed that the IP address originates from Nigeria.

In a country with purportedly the happiest people on earth, one of the most religious and stinking rich in human and natural resources, with its average citizen actually toiling it out daily to eke out, honestly in most cases, a living; it is a shocking but also an understandable allegation. Scam mails or any email’s origin can easily be identified through the internet protocol (IP) address. However, it takes two to tango. Rightly or wrongly tagged, Nigerians are just like the average earthling – faced with the vagaries of the reality of a nanosecond paced world. But how this has come to be is another matter entirely.

The internet arrived Nigeria quite late. As late as the late, late 90’s and the early 2000’s. Then, petty deception was the order of day just like in most countries especially in the western world. Naples, Italy, New York, USA, London, UK and many other locations had tales to tell of conmen and all that. Not much was heard of Cyber-crimes from anywhere near the shores of any African country since cyber-activites were virtually non-existent. No one drives a dream car without actually purchasing or owning it.

All of the earliest recorded histories of deception or conman-ship were never of Nigerian or even African dramatis personae, for that matter. According to well-informed chroniclers of this ignominious way of life, a confidence trick or confidence game (also known as a bunko, con, flim flam, gaffle, grift, hustle, scam, scheme, swindle or bamboozle) is an attempt to defraud a person or group by gaining their confidence. The victim is known as the mark, the trickster is called a confidence man, con man, confidence trickster, or con artist, and any accomplices are known as shills.

Confidence men exploit human characteristics such as greed and dishonesty, and have victimized individuals from all walks of life. A conman is a person who intentionally misleads another person, usually for personal financial gain. In recent history there have been a number of conmen who have really stood out for either the wealth they amassed, or the ease with which they tricked people.

The record keepers reeled out a list of 10 of the most famous con men in recent history:

1. Frank Abagnale (born in 1948)

Frank Abagnale is a former cheque con artist, forger and imposter who, for five years in the 1960s, passed bad cheques worth more than $2.5 million in 26 countries. His nefarious acts inspired the shooting of the recent blockbuster film ‘Catch Me If You Can’. He began carving a fraudulent niche for himself as a youth when he used his father’s Mobil card to buy car parts that he would then sell back to the gas station for a lower price. Records have it that he did not realise that his father was the one who had to foot the bill and when he was eventually confronted with the fraud, his mother sent him for four months to a juvenile correction facility.

After moving to New York, Frank lived solely on the income of his fraudulent activities. One of his most famous tricks was to print his own account number on fake bank deposit slips so that when clients of the bank deposited money, it would actually go in to his account. By the time the banks realised what had happened, Frank had taken $40,000 and gone underground.

For about two years, Abagnale globe-trotted around the world for free by parading himself as a Pan Am pilot. He was able to abuse the professional courtesy of other airlines to provide free transport for competing airline pilots if they had to move to another city at short notice. Once he was nearly caught leaving a plane, but he changed his masquerade to that of a Doctor and he worked as a medical supervisor for 11 months without detection. Sometimes he worked as a lawyer and a teacher.

He was eventually caught in France and spent six months in prison there. After that he was extradited to Sweden and imprisoned for a further six months. After a successful escape whilst travelling to the United States, he was finally given 12 years in Prison. He escaped from his prison by masquerading as an undercover officer of the Bureau of Prisons. He was once again captured in New York City and returned to jail. After serving only five years of his sentence, the US Federal Government offered him his freedom in return for helping the government against fraud and scam artists without pay.

He currently runs Abagnale and Associates, a financial fraud consultancy company and is a multi-millionaire.

2. Charles Ponzi [Born: 1882; Died: 1949]

Ponzi, an Italian immigrant to the United States became one of the most famous con men in American history. While many people do not know the name Ponzi, the Ponzi Scheme is extremely well known and continues today in Internet Make Money Fast schemes. His early life is not entirely known as he was prone to fabricate stories about it. What is known is that he spent a short amount of time at University in Rome and, after dropping out, caught a boat to Boston, USA where he arrived with $2.50 in his pocket.

His early years in the United States were troublesome. He began working at a restaurant but was soon fired for playing tricks with the bills and shortchanging customers. His next job was working in a bank in Canada that catered for Italian immigrants. His knowledge of numbers helped him to do very well there. Unfortunately it turned out that the owner of the bank was stealing money from newly opened savings accounts to pay the interest on the interest bearing accounts and to cover bad investments. The bank owner eventually fled to Mexico and left Ponzi without a job. After writing a fraudulent cheque and spending a number of years in prison, Ponzi determined to become wealthy at any cost.

Once he had settled in to life on the outside, he discovered postal reply coupons through a letter that was sent to him from abroad. He realised that he could buy foreign coupons at massively devalued prices (because of price fixing after the war) and then resell them in the United States for a 400% profit. This was a form of arbitrage and it was legal. Ponzi began canvasses friends and acquaintances for money – promising them a 50% return or a doubling of their money in 90 days. He started his own company, the Securities Exchange Company, to promote the scheme.

The word of this great investment quickly spread and before long Ponzi was living in a luxurious mansion. He was bringing in cash at a fantastic rate, but the simplest financial analysis showed that he wasn’t making money, he was losing it rapidly. For every dollar he took in, he went more deeply into debt. As long as money kept flowing in, Ponzi would stay ahead of the eventual collapse.

People soon began to become suspicious and the press were starting to publish negative articles about him. Inevitably people were starting to demand their money. Shortly after, federal agents raided his office and shut it down. No stock of stamps was found and everyone that had invested their money with Ponzi lost every penny. It is probably that he lost tens of millions of dollars. Ponzi plead guilty of mail fraud and was sent to prison. After one escape he was returned to jail to complete his sentence. He was eventually deported back to Italy and he died there in poverty in 1949.

3. Joseph Weil [Born: 1877; Died: 1975]

Joseph “Yellow Kid” Weil was one of the most famous con men in his era. Over the course of his career he is believed to have stolen over 8 million dollars. In his first job as a collector, he realized that his co-workers were collecting their debts but keeping a little part of the money for themselves. Weil started a protection racket – offering not to report their activities in return for a small portion of what they were taking.

He also used phony oil deals, women, fixed races, and an endless list of other tricks to steal from an increasingly gullible public. He could change his persona daily to further his gains: one day he was Dr. Henri Reuel, a noted geologist who travelled around and told his hosts that he was a representative for a big oil company while draining them of the cash they gave him to “invest in fuel.” The next day he was director of the Elysium Development Company, promising land to innocent believers while robbing them in recording and abstract fees. Or he was a chemist par excellence, who had discovered how to copy dollar bills; promising to increase your fortune, he would multiply your bill’s then take the booty once the police arrived.

In his autobiography, Weil writes:

“The desire to get something for nothing has been very costly to many people who have dealt with me and with other con men,” Weil writes. “But I have found that this is the way it works. The average person, in my estimation, is ninety-nine per cent animal and one per cent human. The ninety-nine per cent that is animal causes very little trouble. But the one per cent that is human causes all our woes. When people learn — as I doubt they will — that they can’t get something for nothing, crime will diminish and we shall live in greater harmony.”

4. (Count) Victor Lustig [Born: 1890; Died: 1947]

Victor Lustig was renowned as the Man who Sold the Eiffel Tower. He was born in Bohemia but later moved to Paris where he was able to con people on his frequent journeys between Paris and New York. His first con was to show people a device that could print $100 bills. The only problem, he would tell them, is that it only prints one bill every six hours. Many people paid him enormous amounts of money (usually over $30,000) for the device. In fact, the device contained two real hidden $100 bills – once they were spat out by the machine it would produce only blank paper. By the time the buyers discovered this, Lustig was well gone with their money.

In 1925, as France was recovering from the war, the upkeep of the Eiffel tower was an almost unbearable expense for the city of Paris. When Lustig read about this in a paper, he came up with his most brilliant idea. After forging government credentials, he invited six scrap metal dealers to a secret meeting in a hotel. He explained that the City could not afford to keep the tower and that they had to sell it for scrap. He told them the secrecy of the meeting and all future dealings was due to the fact that the public may become distressed at the idea of the removal of the tower.

While it seems implausible, at the time the tower was built it was meant to be temporary and this happened just 18 years after the original date for removal of the tower. Lustig took the dealers in a limousine to tour the tower. One of the dealers, Andre Poisson was convinced that the tale was legitimate and he handed over the money. When he realised he had been conned, he was too embarrassed to tell the police and Lustig escaped with the money. One month later, he returned to Paris to try the whole scam again. This time it was reported to the police but Lustig managed to escape.

At one point, Lustig convinced Al Capone to invest $50,000 with him. He stored the money in a vault and returned it two months later, stating that the deal had fallen through. Capone, so impressed by Lustig’s honesty gave him $5,000 for his effort. In 1934, Lustig was found guilty of counterfeiting. He plead guilty and was sentenced to 20 years in Alcatraz. In 1947 he died of pneumonia whilst in jail in Springfield, Missouri.

5. George Parker [Born: 1870; Died: 1936]

Parker was one of the most audacious con men in American history. He made his living selling New York’s public landmarks to unwary tourists. His favorite object for sale was the Brooklyn Bridge, which he sold twice a week for years. He convinced his marks that they could make a fortune by controlling access to the roadway. More than once police had to remove naive buyers from the bridge as they tried to erect toll barriers.

Other public landmarks he sold included the original Madison Square Garden, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Grant’s Tomb, and the Statue of Liberty. George had many different methods for making his sales. When he sold Grant’s Tomb, he would often pose as the general’s grandson. He even set up a fake “office” to handle his real estate swindles. He produced impressive forged documents to prove that he was the legal owner of whatever property he was selling.

Parker was convicted of fraud three times. After his third conviction on December 17th, 1928 he was sentenced to a life term at Sing Sing Prison. He spent the last eight years of his life behind bars. He was popular among guards and fellow inmates who enjoyed hearing of his exploits. George is remembered as one of the most successful con men in the history of the United States, as well as one of history’s most talented hoaxers. His exploits have passed into popular culture, giving rise to phrases such as “and if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you”, a popular way of expressing a belief that someone is gullible.

6. Soapy Smith [Born: 1860; Died: 1898]

Soapy Smith (born Jefferson Randolph Smith) was an American con artist and gangster who had a major hand in the organized criminal operations of Denver, Colorado, Creede, Colorado, and Skagway, Alaska from 1879 to 1898. He is perhaps the most famous “sure-thing” bunko man of the old west. Some time in the late 1870s or early 1880s, Smith began duping entire crowds with a ploy the Denver newspapers dubbed The Prize Package Soap Sell Swindle.

Jefferson would open his “tripe and keister” (display case on a tripod) on a busy street corner. Piling ordinary soap cakes onto the keister top, he would describe their wonders. As he spoke to the growing crowd of curious onlookers, he would pull out his wallet and begin wrapping paper money ranging from one dollar up to one hundred dollars, around a select few of the bars. He then finished each bar by wrapping plain paper around it to hide the money. He mixed the money-wrapped packages in with wrapped bars containing no money. He then sold the soap to the crowd for a dollar a cake.

A shill planted in the crowd would buy a bar, tear it open it, and loudly proclaim that he had won some money, waving it around for all to see. This performance had the desired effect of enticing the sale of the packages. More often than not, victims bought several bars before the sale was completed. Midway through the sale, Smith would announce that the hundred-dollar bill still remained in the pile, unpurchased. He then would auction off the remaining soap bars to the highest bidders.

Through the masterful art of manipulation and sleight-of-hand, the cakes of soap wrapped with money were hidden and replaced with packages holding no cash. It was assured that the only money “won” went to members of what became known as the “Soap Gang.” Soapy was eventually shot to death by a group he swindled in a card game.

7. Eduardo de Valfierno

Eduardo de Valfierno, who referred to himself as Marqués (marquis), was an Argentine con man who allegedly masterminded the theft of the Mona Lisa. Valfierno paid several men to steal the work of art from the Louvre, including museum employee Vincenzo Peruggia. On August 21, 1911 Peruggia hid the Mona Lisa under his coat and simply walked out the door.

Before the heist took place, Valfierno commissioned French art restorer and forger Yves Chaudron to make six copies of the Mona Lisa. The forgeries were then shipped to various parts of the world, readying them for the buyers he had lined up. Valfierno knew once the Mona Lisa was stolen it would be harder to smuggle copies past customs. After the heist the copies were delivered to their buyers, each thinking they had the original which had just been stolen for them. Because Valfierno just wanted to sell forgeries, he only needed the original Mona Lisa to disappear and never contacted Peruggia again after the crime. Eventually Peruggia was caught trying to sell the painting and it was returned to the Louvre in 1913.

8. James Hogue [Born: 1959]

Hogue is a US impostor who most famously entered Princeton University by posing as a self-taught orphan. In 1986 Hogue enrolled in a Palo Alto High School as Jay Mitchell Huntsman, a 16-year-old orphan from Nevada. He had adopted the identity of a dead infant. A suspicious local reporter exposed him. In 1988 Hogue enrolled at Princeton University using the alias Alexi Indris Santana, a self-taught orphan from Utah. He deferred admission for one year because he had been convicted of the theft of bicycle frames in Utah. Hogue claimed in his application materials that he had slept outside in the Grand Canyon, raising sheep and reading philosophers. He violated his parole to enter class. For the next two years he lived as Santana and as a member of the track team. He was also admitted into the Ivy Club.

In 1991 Hogue’s real identity was exposed when Renee Pacheco, a student from the Palo Alto High School, recognized him. He was arrested for defrauding the university for $30,000 in financial aid and sentenced to three years in jail with 5 years probation and 100 hours of community service.

On May 16, 1993 Hogue made headlines again through his association with Harvard University. Having lied about his identity again, he was able to take a job as a security guard in one of Harvard’s on campus museums. A few months into his tenure, museum officials noticed that several gemstones on exhibit had been replaced with inexpensive fakes. Somerville police seized Hogue in his home and charged him with grand larceny to the tune of $50,000.

On March 12, 2007 Hogue pleaded guilty to a single felony count of theft of more than $15,000 in exchange for a prison sentence not to exceed 10 years, and prosecutors’ agreement to drop other theft and habitual criminal charges.

9. Robert Hendy-Freegard [Born: 1971]

Robert Hendy-Freegard is a British barman, car salesman, conman and impostor who masqueraded as an MI5 agent and fooled several people to go underground for fear of IRA assassination. He met his victims on social occasions or as customers in the pub or car dealership where he was working. He would reveal his “role” as an undercover agent for MI5, Special Branch or Scotland Yard working against the IRA. He would win them over, ask for money and make them do his bidding. He demanded that they cut off contact with family and friends, go through “loyalty tests” and live alone in poor conditions. He seduced five women, claiming that he wanted to marry them. Initially some of the victims refused to co-operate with the police because he had warned them that police would be double agents or MI5 agents performing another “loyalty test”.

Hendy-Freegard also seduced a newly married personal assistant who was taking care of his children. He told her he was with MI5 and forced her to cut contact with friends and family lest the IRA would kill her. He also took naked pictures of her and threatened to give them to her husband if she would not cooperate. She had to change her name and tell the deed poll officer it was because she was sexually abused as a child. Her loyalty tests included sleeping in Heathrow airport and on park benches for several nights and pretending to be a Jehovah’s Witness so that his bosses in MI5 would let them marry.

In 2002 Scotland Yard and the FBI organized a sting operation. First, the FBI bugged the phone of the American psychologist’s parents. Her mother told Hendy-Freegard she would hand over £10,000 but only in person. Hendy-Freegard met the mother in Heathrow airport where police apprehended him. He denied all charges and claimed they were part of a conspiracy against him and continued this story in the subsequent trial. On June 23, 2005, after an eight month trial, Blackfriars Crown Court convicted Robert Hendy-Freegard for two counts of kidnapping, 10 of theft and 8 of deception. On September 6, 2005 he was given a life sentence. Police doubt that they have discovered all the victims. On April 25, 2007, the BBC reported that Robert Hendy-Freegard had appealed against his kidnapping convictions and won. This means that the life sentence is revoked but he will still serve nine years for the other offences. He could be free by the end of 2007.

10. Bernard Cornfeld [Born: 1927; Died: 1995]

Bernard Cornfeld was a prominent businessman and international financier who sold investments in US mutual funds. He was born in Turkey. When he moved to the US, he first worked as a social worker but became a mutual fund salesman in the 1950s. Although he suffered from a stammer, he had a natural gift for selling and when a schoolfriend’s father died, the two of them used the $3,000 insurance money to purchase and run an age and weight guessing stand at the Coney Island funfair.

In the 1960s, Cornfeld formed his own mutual fund selling company, Investors Overseas Services (IOS), which he incorporated outside the US with funds in Canada and headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Although the headquarters were offcially in Geneva, the main operational offices of IOS were in Ferney-Voltaire, France, a short drive from the Swiss border to Geneva—this was simply a means of avoiding the problems of obtaining Swiss work-permits for the many employees. During the next ten years, IOS raised in excess of $2.5 billion, bringing Cornfeld a personal fortune of more than $100 million. Cornfeld himself became known for conspicuous consumption with lavish parties. Socially, he was generous and jovial.

A group of 300 IOS employees complained to the Swiss authorities that Cornfeld and his co-founders pocketed part of the proceeds of a share issue raised among employees in 1969. Consequently he was charged with fraud in 1973 by the Swiss authorities. When Cornfeld visited Geneva, Swiss authorities arrested him. He served 11 months in a Swiss jail before being freed on a bail surety of $600,000. He returned to Beverly Hills, living less ostentatiously than in his previous years. He developed an obsession for health foods and vitamins, renounced red meat and seldom drank alcohol. He suffered a stroke and died of a cerebral aneurysm on 27th February 1995 in London, England.

The great grandfather of all scammers in history is Bernard Madoff, mastermind of the largest investment scam. This report by Reuters is about his trial and conviction:

”Bernard Madoff was sentenced on Monday to 150 years in prison — the maximum penalty the judge could give him for “extraordinarily evil” crimes in Wall Street’s biggest and most brazen investment fraud”.

It goes:

”Fleeced investors in the courtroom cheered and applauded as the judge handed down the penalty.

Madoff, 71, stood passively with his hands clasped at his waist, showing no reaction when he heard the sentence that will send him to prison for the rest of his life.

The former nonexecutive chairman of the Nasdaq stock market has been jailed in a Manhattan cell since he pleaded guilty to 11 charges including securities fraud, money laundering and perjury in March.

“Here the message must be sent that Mr. Madoff’s crimes were extraordinarily evil,” U.S. District Judge Denny Chin said in rejecting defense pleas for a lenient, 12-year sentence. “The breach of trust was massive.

“I simply do not get the sense that Mr. Madoff has done all that he could or told all that he knows.”

The gray-haired money manager was dressed in his signature dark gray suit, white shirt and tie instead of a prison jumpsuit.

The disgraced financier sat passively throughout the hour-and-a-half hearing as his victims called him a “beast,” an “animal” and a “lowlife.”

He apologized to them, at one point turning toward the 250 people in the courtroom.

“I will live with this pain, with this torment, for the rest of my life,” he calmly said. “I live in a tormented state knowing the pain and suffering I have created.”

Madoff, who has been accused of bilking investors worldwide out of as much as $65 billion, said, “In my business, when you make a trading error, you’re expected to make a trading error, it’s accepted. My error was much more serious. I made an error of judgment.”

CAUGHT OUT BY FINANCIAL CRISIS

Madoff’s December arrest came as investors were feeling the brunt of the worst financial crisis since the 1930s Great Depression.

The case has triggered widespread criticism of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which has been accused of missing red flags that could have brought the curtain down on his asset management business.

It was not known where Madoff will serve his sentence for what prosecutors described as a worldwide fraud of small and wealthy investors, charities and financial institutions.

Judge Chin heard wrenching statements from nine of Madoff’s victims, some of whom said they had lost their life savings, were forced to sell their homes, or had to apply for government assistance to buy food.

“I only hope that his prison sentence is long enough so that his jail cell will become his coffin,” said Michael Schwartz, 33, who said his family had been robbed of savings earmarked for the care of his mentally disabled brother.

The White House said that the judge had sent a strong signal to those who handle other people’s money.

“My guess is that that message will be heard loud and clear,” said President Barack Obama’s spokesman Robert Gibbs.

Madoff was arrested in December after his two sons told authorities that he had confessed to them that his investment empire was a sham.

Prosecutors have said that Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities showed $65 billion in customer accounts weeks before his arrest, but the trustee winding down the firm has so far only been able to collect $1.2 billion to return to investors.

As much as $170 billion flowed through the principle Madoff account over decades. Madoff was symbolically ordered to pay that amount in restitution.

While a much lower sentence would have sent Madoff to prison for life, Chin said he deserved the maximum, typically handed down to organized crime bosses.

“The fraud here was staggering,” the judge said.

One law professor said she was surprised by the sentence but uncertain whether it would serve as a deterrent.

“I’d love to think that the mini-Madoffs out there would think that what happened today has something to do with them, but I suspect most of them do not,” said Jayne Barnard of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Madoff’s lawyer said no decision had been made on whether to appeal the sentence.

None of Madoff’s relatives came to court. They have not attended any of his prior court appearances.

The judge said he had not received a single letter on Madoff’s behalf, testifying to any good deeds or charitable works. “The absence of such support is telling,” Chin said.

Madoff’s wife Ruth, 68, has not been charged with any crimes but she has been vilified by defrauded investors, shunned by friends, and pursued by the media. Breaking her long silence, she said in a statement on Monday that she had been “betrayed and confused” by her husband’s scam.

“From the moment I learned from my husband that he had committed an enormous fraud, I have had two thoughts — first, that so many people who trusted him would be ruined financially and emotionally, and, second, that my life with the man I have known for over 50 years was over,” she said.

Madoff has said he acted alone. The only other person charged criminally is his outside accountant.

Madoff’s brother, Peter, and his sons, Mark and Andrew, were executives in his firm’s brokerage unit. They have said that they were not aware of or involved in the crooked asset management side.

Madoff and his wife have agreed to the sale of three luxury properties and other assets and valuables. Proceeds from asset sales will be distributed to defrauded investors.

Ruth Madoff will be left with $2.5 million, after forfeiting claim to some $80 million in assets including the couple’s Manhattan penthouse apartment.

Madoff told investors in the courtroom that he could offer no excuses, saying he tried to undo his crimes but “the harder I tried, the deeper a hole I dug for myself.”

Investors said the apologies left them cold.

“There’s something very pathological. He is still making excuses for himself,” said George Nierenberg, 57.

(Reporting by Grant McCool, Martha Graybow, Daniel Trotta, Mike Erman and Christine Kearney; Editing by John Wallace, Toni Reinhold)”

The scam stuff gets on our collective nerves so much that sincere business proposals don’t get a look-in by most foreign prospects once the IP address shows Nigeria: But one fact remains – most victims of scams are either greedy, or gullible and commensurately criminally minded, while a few are compassionate enough, to fall for such schemes. The victim also willy-nilly by acceptance of the get-rich-quick proposals, perpetrates the crime as an unlikely (?) accomplice.

According to Wikipedia, ”The first known usage of the term “confidence man” in English was in 1849; it was used by American press during the United States trial of William Thompson. Thompson chatted with strangers until he asked if they had the confidence to lend him their watches, whereupon he would walk off with the watch; he was captured when a victim recognized him on the street”.

The respected online encyclopedia further explains: ”Confidence tricks exploit typical human qualities such as greed, dishonesty, vanity, honesty, compassion, credulity and naïveté. The common factor is that the mark relies on the good faith of the con artist. Just as there is no typical profile for swindlers, neither is there one for their victims. Virtually anyone can fall prey to fraudulent crimes.

Certainly victims of high-yield investment frauds may possess a level of greed which exceeds their caution as well as a willingness to believe what they want to believe. However, not all fraud victims are greedy, risk-taking, self-deceptive individuals looking to make a quick dollar. Nor are all fraud victims naïve, uneducated, or elderly. A greedy or dishonest mark may attempt to out-cheat the con artist, only to discover that he or she has been manipulated into losing from the very beginning. This is such a general principle in confidence tricks that there is a saying among con men that “you can’t cheat an honest man.”

The confidence trickster often works with one or more accomplices called shills, who help manipulate the mark into accepting the con man’s plan. In a traditional confidence trick, the mark is led to believe that he will be able to win money or some other prize by doing some task. The accomplices may pretend to be strangers who have benefited from performing the task in the past.

Wikipedia also listed its own record of World renowned con artists, some of them were mentioned in previous paragraphs above, and obviously none of them was Nigerian or even African for that matter:

Notable con artists

Born in the 18th century

Gregor MacGregor (1786–1845) – Scottish conman who tried to attract investment and settlers for a non-existent country of Poyais.

Born or active in the 19th century

Lou Blonger (1849–1924) – organized massive ring of con men in Denver in early 1900s.

Helga de la Brache (1817-1885)

Horace de Vere Cole (1881–1936)

Canada Bill Jones – riverboat gambler and card sharp

Victor Lustig (1890–1947) – born in Bohemia (today’s Czech Republic) and known as “the man who sold the Eiffel Tower”.

George C. Parker (1870–1936) — U.S. con man who sold New York monuments to tourists.

Charles Ponzi (1882–1949) – “Ponzi scheme” is a “get rich fast” fraud named after him.

Death Valley Scotty (1872–1954) prospector, performer, and con man, famous for gold mining scams and the mansion in Death Valley known as Scotty’s Castle.

Soapy Smith (1860–1898) — confidence gang boss, who operated in Denver, Colorado; Creede, Colorado; and Skagway, Alaska

William Thompson (active in 1840–1849) – U.S. criminal whose deceptions caused the term confidence man to be coined.

Joseph Weil (1875–1976) – one of the most famous American con men of his era.

Cassie Chadwick (1857–1907) — defrauded several U.S. banks out of millions of dollars by claiming to be an illegitimate daughter and heiress of Andrew Carnegie.

Born or active in the 20th century

Bernie Cornfeld (1927–1995) – ran the Investors Overseas Service, alleged to be a Ponzi scheme.

Richard Eaton (1937–1979) – con artist, saloon owner, and general manager of Moo Moo Vedda’s dress factory and an associate of the Lucchese crime family.

David Hampton (1964–2003) – Inspiration for the play and film Six Degrees of Separation

Konrad Kujau (1938–2000) – German forger of the supposed Hitler Diaries.

Eduardo de Valfierno – Argentine conman who allegedly masterminded the theft of the Mona Lisa in 1911.

Living people

Frank Abagnale (1948) — U.S. cheque forger and impostor; his autobiography, Catch Me If You Can, was made into a movie.

Peter Foster (1962) — Australian conman with convictions and imprisonment on three continents for fraud and money laundering, known for the Bai Lin slimming tea scam and involvement in property transactions with Cherie Blair.

Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter (1961) — Bavarian-born con artist who, for nearly two decades, claimed to be a member of the wealthy Rockefeller family.

Robert Hendy-Freegard (1971) — Briton who kidnapped people by impersonating an MI5 agent and conned them out of money.

James Arthur Hogue (1959) — U.S. impostor who most famously entered Princeton University by posing as a self-taught orphan.

Clifford Irving (1930) — U.S. writer, best known for a false “authorized autobiography” of Howard Hughes.

Samuel Israel III (1959) — Ran the former fraudulent Bayou Hedge Fund Group; faked suicide.

Bon Levi (1943) — Aka Ron the Con and Ronald Frederick. Arguably Australia’s most notorious conman who tricked Australian and U.S. citizens into investing in scam franchise businesses. He has been jailed both in Australia and the United States.

Bernard Lawrence Madoff (1938) — American former chairman of the NASDAQ stock market who admitted running a world-record $65 billion Ponzi scheme. Headed the hedge fund Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC until his arrest in 2008. In March 2009 he pled guilty to 11 federal crimes.

Matt the Knife (1981) — American-born card cheat and pickpocket who bilked corporations, casinos, and at least one Mafia crime family.

Barry Minkow (1967) — American entrepreneur. His company, ZZZZ Best, cost investors an estimated $100 million before he served seven years in prison for fraud and other offenses.

Semion Mogilevich (1946) — is a billionaire organized crime boss and a global con artist believed by European and United States federal law enforcement agencies to be the “boss of bosses” of most Russian Mafia syndicates in the world.

Lou Pearlman (1954) — U.S. businessman and manager of boy bands, sentenced to 25 years for operating a Ponzi investment scheme.

Casey Serin (1982) — Self-confessed mortgage fraudster who became the “poster child” of the housing bubble.

Solomon Dwek (c.1973) Syrian-Jewish Orthodox rabbi and real estate investor from Deal, New Jersey who pleaded guilty to a $50,000,000 bank fraud involving PNC Bank.

Michael Sabo (1945) Best known for his history as a check, stocks and bonds forger. He became notorious in the 1960s and throughout the 1990s as a “Great Impostor”, and was featured on national TV, had over 100 aliases, and earned millions.

With the foregoing, it will be unreasonable to stigmatise Nigerians for the criminal enculturation by the western world in almost virtually every aspect of contemporary life. Western movies bring into Nigerian and African homes all sorts of immoralities hitherto alien to them. People wear three-piece suits in hot weather and recently lots of scammers have started using religion to actualise their scamming thought-processes. Well it is not a surprise to yours truly as Jesus already warned us two millennia ago that ”in the last days, many shall come to deceive many in my name”. Now we are seeing the many, and most of them are not Nigerians. But why treat them with such ignominy?

As noted earlier, the internet and mobile technology arrived these shores in the late 90’s. Before then, western deceivers continued to cheat people through various schemes and were not as maligned as Nigerians. They hacked computer systems with viruses and did other untoward things against humanity. 95% of Nigerians do not have access to the internet but we hear of mind-boggling internet fraud schemes being attributed to Nigerians.

Many of such emails are also sent to most of us (Nigerians) but we ignore them without batting an eyelid.

For instance, you get a scam mail saying you just won the sweepstakes and blah blah blah. You knew you never played any game and you fall for it. That’s greed and trying to reap where one did not sow. Or someone sends a mail saying someone else died and left money in a fictitious bank account and needs your help to get it out into yours. I wouldn’t buy that idea for half a cent because I am not greedy. In my little research I found out that these scam schemes are actually inherited from the western world itself. Its just like the back-to-sender syndrome. What is more, we hear these days of the Madoffs of this world whose loot alone surpassed the entire loot of the so-called Nigerian scam artists. 0.001% of Nigerians unlike most parts of the Western world are actually involved in it in any way. Their ability to send bulk mail to millions at the touch of button does not make the average Nigerian a scammer much as the singular act of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s action on Christmas Day 2009 does not make all Nigerians terrorists or suicide bombers.

The real, average Nigerian is hardworking and strives daily to earn his keep. The world in most cases thinks of people and places they’ve never been as a representation of what they get from their news sources.

My advise to scam-phobics is simple: Never attempt to get into a building through the windows when the door is wide open. Greed and selfishness is a sine-qua-non for being a scam victim. Compassion is seldom an underlying cause but if that is the case, as an African parable says, until the rotten tooth is pulled out, the mouth must chew with caution. Look before you leap!

I rest my case for now.

PS

This testimony about the real Nigerian was inboxed to me by a Caucasian American, and one of my friends on Facebook:

15 March at 14:54
Hi Henry – Thanks for telling me about the fan page. Yes, I know and understand that – it is a shame that some have not known any Nigerians and have wrong/ignorant assumtions about them. There are swindlers and hustlers from everywhere, and we are to pray for the Lord’s protection from such evil people. I have been used and scammed in person by people in real life, even just recently here in Montana, and none of them were ever Nigerians.

I used to live in southern California and my son had a medical emergency. In order to pay for it I had to refinance the house my mom had just left me as she had just died. I called every mortgage company I could find. I lived in Orange County (I hated it there, was not originally from there) and I called companies in Los Angeles, and Ventura counties as well. Any companies I could find. I had just declared bankruptcy.

Finally, I reached a company in Thousand Oaks, CA. They all had British accents. They were the only company out of thousands who would help me. To help me they had to trust me. They were also Christians. I shared with them the condition of my son, and also that the Children’s Services were threatening to take my kids away because I could not find a doctor who knew how to work on him – he had/has a very rare condition (that is how we ended up in Montana).

They refinanced my home. I had to pay 6 thousand dollars to an attorney just to keep my son at home. It was ridiculous Henry as his problem was with his knee and their main complaint was that he was overweight. It was not life threatening in anyway and I had already taken him to 10 different doctors and had the proof!

Then they refinanced it again!! They said it would not be easy as with my bankruptcy, and already having a loan on it, they would have to find a private party. I pleaded with them and told them my case and what was happening with my son. He shared with me that they were Christians also.

Everyone in the office was so kind to me. They all said they were praying for me and my children.

I finally sold the home as the only surgeon I could find who knew how to work on my son was up here in Montana.

On my way out of California, I drove by their office. I wanted to thank them in person for all they had done for us. Their trust and kindness kept my family together. They were also very fair with their rates and business dealings.

I stopped and went in, and was so surprised they were all from Africa, from Nigeria. They had been educated in England. And the owner’s wife to this day remains the most beautiful African woman I have ever seen in my life. She was wearing tradtitional Nigerian clothing.

Henry, those people were my angels here on this earth. My parents were passed on from cancer, my brother was a drug addict (he is clean now and has found the Lord, praise God), my husband ran off to be a bum on a train (true story) and his family, who were wealthy, did not care if my children were dead or alive.
These Nigerians saved my family – my children – the most precious thing on the face of this earth to me. I will never, ever, ever forget what they did for me and my children. I am so grateful to God for them.

Also, i have met wonderful Nigerian people here on facebook.

Thanks for hearing this story. God Bless you!!
Sincerely,

(Name withheld)

28 comments

  1. Hi Henry,

    Thanks for the very educative piece you’ve compiled, as a matter of fact it’s well composed and factual.

    Honestly,I’ve had cause to asked people several times when i see articles either on internet or in any media describing my country as the most corrupt country in the world,unfortunately they can only confused people who does not see beyond their nose, cause the question i used to asked then, is that the word corruption where does it originate from ? obviously not from Nigeria so it does exist in your culture and so it will be hypocritical if you are now pointing accusing finger on anyone/country.

    I’m not surprised about this antics again about calling Nigerian No1 scammers becuase it seems the practice of ascribing Africa with negativity is part of their culture, so as to maintain their supremacy over the region. Take for instance,the word “HIV/AIDs” first surface in Newyork in 1986 and only for 2 decades after it became Africa’s biggest problem and this is the sole reason why some people are still skeptical about HIV/AIDS existence.

    So if Internet blossoms in Nigeria in the lase decade and today it’s now Nigeria’s problem it’s logical to conclude that it’s the same culture that has come to manifest again.

    I really do not blame the western world, cause Africa has really failed to build her home and so ” A house that is divided against itself can never prevail” , not until we have good leaders in Africa that can really develop the region and compete with the world leaders in-terms of GDP and Technology, this scenario will continue for ever.That is why I love Dambisa moyo- the young economist that wrote about dead aids in Africa,

    I rest my case here, guess i have so much to say but i just have to stop here.

  2. Great blog post. You forgot the biggest evidence of all that con artists are as American as apple pie. This present world crisis, where the world food banks are so depleted people just drop dead in the streets in many countries throughout the world.

    This economic crisis was caused by an American cabal of realtors, mortgage brokers and our lovely politicians from the last administration. Theses so called professionals and ‘public servants’ conned people into buying over inflated priced homes and the bankers took their commissions from ‘creative’ financing. Nobody could see it coming, my ass! I saw it coming-like a freight train.

    I just realized I have been a mark in a long con game from an African, not Nigerian. But what you say here about the mark having to be greedy, that is not the case. I never asked for anything in return and just felt compassion for a young woman, mother of two. So, not only had she been lying and conning me, but she has taken from the poor of her own country because now my plans on going there are in jeopardy. And if it would have worked I would not have had the funds to go to Africa, at all.

    And as she was asking me to give her my banking information so she can do a wire transfer into it, she was telling me how she was praying about it. I think she was misspelling ‘prey.’ Nothing hurts more than letting someone into your heart only to find out they were just laughing at you all along. It’s one thing to have someone cheat you, but when it is someone that you really cared about and didn’t even ask anything of them, to have them just get tired of the crumbs and burn the bridge. There were many times that I didn’t go out that last weekend or two of the month, or not buy that perfect pair of shoes because I had sent a couple hundred dollars to her. How could I buy shoes that I didn’t need when someone I care about is eating nothing but rice or because of the political situation and cyclone season, there might not have been rice to buy.

    So, what’s my point? People are incredible opportunists. I’ve seen my day of that ‘me first’ ‘get what you can’ attitude. But I really don’t think I ever purposefully harmed anyone. It is obviously the human condition. Pretty sorry lot in some respects.

      • I posted something on my FB page asking for advice from my Christian friends, not that I’m not one, but I’m not one to quote the Bible, so I asked for Biblical advice. I got none. I have always heard that the Bible is full of practical advice. No one could provide me any so I did what I learned from A Course in Miracles. I just forgave her, love her and release her. It worked perfectly.

        I just wanted someone to tell me Jesus said to forgive. Is this the hidden message of the Bible? I thought it was a simple solution but it is so hard to do. Now that I have, I feel much lighter. Forgiveness works!

  3. I am so thrilled by this story. You mean these actually happened. These guys invented it now they are pushing it back to us in Nigeria. Well, one should also blame people who want to reap from what they did not sow.I found the story of the soap fraudster amazing and I can’t stop but laugh because it looks like a comedy to me.(honestly)
    Keep up the good work Henry.

    • Americans didn’t invent con artistry. It is a part of the human condition when we think we are separate from each other. When I think my needs are greater than yours, then I can feel justified in taking from you, because, after all, you aren’t as important as I am. This thought process goes on in everyone’s head regardless as to where they live. It’s the thought that is the culprit. And it is a trap for those who think that way.

      Truth: You and I are just dust of the earth. It doesn’t matter if you are a homeless refugee or a millionaire. We are all the same. If you think that if you have a nice car or big home you are better than me, you are open to taking what isn’t yours. It is a trap. We take things from others who are not our equals in order to be happy. What a silly belief. Happiness comes from within, not by having things. As Jesus said, ‘There is more happiness in giving that receiving.’ It’s true. Don’t believe happiness comes from having things; it’s a trap that can never bring happiness.

  4. Henry, Where do you get time to do this kind of research. I hope you are not wasting resources by not being in the academia. In any case that was a very good one.

  5. bros you hit the nail, We are not the creators but our people too are part of the long drama, we started in the 5th episode. I hope the west know and understand that as far as they help our rulers loot Nigeria they have no moral right to accuse her.

  6. What a painstakingly revised facts about conmen in history! EFCC .This is a note for agencies stemming down fraudster activities in Nigeria to ponder on. Steps should taken to re-orientate few Nigerian youths who are into such nefarious acts . Jobs creation and promotion of patritism are among the needs of our youth .

    • i agree wiv u KBJOJO, its really alien to our culture…wiv massive agric revolution in these days of desire 4 biodiesel/biofuel, who’d bother about such obnoxious get-rich-quick schemes?

      • Henry. Thanks for your reply. What’s on about agric revolution in Nigeria..Are we awaken to farming again..tell me more ..Are you saying that more Nigerian youths are turning to agric..if that’s the case then future is bright..What’s happening in agric sector now , bruv.. Those of us abroad can see some of our problems back in Nigeria and we view it as a no problem at all if Nigerians turn to job creation thru agric, provision of social infrastructure , power – energy ,(telecom is not what we should emphasise on any more) adequate security and motivating every Nigerian to be thier brothers keepers and not preaching hate or division in the society….Nigerian youths are really hard working and ever strugling to eke out livelihood…Is agric taking a new trend in Nigeria business? pls tell me bruv…
        KBJOJO

      • the youth still look down on it with some ignominy…but with proper repackaging of agric and agroallied activities…they should stream back to farms. mechanized farms…

  7. It’s a well researched piece. Thank you for the reflection and also for engaging my thought. We are not like the Oyinbos who hardly pursue what they don’t need…we will buy what we don’t need for the effect…we can do anything to get anything…I believe you understand what I mean…our leaders have not helped the situation with their corrupt and fraudulent activities even in the top echelons of the government functionaries…have you been to OAU in Ile Ife? see the architectural designs of those buildings since the 50s and the 60s and see the structures we have in some newly established universities now and even government owned corporations…what has really gone wrong? There is a culture of greed in every one here and our orientation is so bad that we live as if we won’t die one day…I want to rest my case so that you won’t have to read too much.

  8. From ur record and other records of some big time conned men, their end is never pleasant. Always a sad ending. My amasement is why people dont learn from this simple arithmetics. The truth is, they are pointing a finger at us but, 4 fingers are pointing back at them. Lets pray 4 our leaders so that our economy can blossom. With this, the westhern world will beg to do business with us.

    Thanks for the great piece.

  9. I will start by saying the scams of yester years keep reoccurring and our people still find it difficult to understand or it is short memory? About 15 years ago I fell victim to the Ponzi scam(500% returns) through Ether investment in Warri, Planwell investment in Benin and others all over Nigeria. 2009 saw the return of this same Ponzi scam causing people to not only loose everything but some went mad and some took their life.
    Please lets help educate our people in Delta state and Nigeria that those who seek to get something out of nothing end up loosing everything for nothing.
    Thanks Henry for this info to our attention, scammers and huslers are every were not just Nigerians.

  10. A nice piece. I wonder how you have time to compile this. People say na small ‘shit’ dey stain ‘yatch’.

  11. A good blog post. I enjoyed reading it. Thanks for the info. The stories of Conned men don’t end well. Keep up the good work.

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