10 Biggest Con Artists Ever

From scottish soldiers to slimy stock brokers we countdown the ten biggest con artists ever.

10. Lou Pearlman

Lou Pearlman

Thanks to this man, the Backstreet boys and boy band NSync were able to rise to prominence. However this wasn’t enough for Pearlman, so he became one of the biggest con artists of the modern age. Pearlman promised to invest people’s money in return for high profits, but he spent the money all on himself. This resulted in Pearlman getting a total 25 years in jail. It was also agreed that for every million dollars paid back, his sentence would be reduced by one month. All together he had $300 million to payback, so much of his sentence stayed intact.

9. Victor Lustig

Victor Lustig

Known for stealing from the rich, Victor Lustig was one of the smartest con men of the 1900s. He started his con artist career off by selling a magical printing box to the wealthy. The box would print an endless supply of $100 bills, but obviously it was fake. The machine actually did work at first. However, it took 6 hours to print one bill, and after two bills were printed, only blank dollars were made. The rich love money, so this scheme quickly took off for him.

8. Charles Ponzi

Charles Ponzi

This con artist was so famous, the Ponzi scheme was later named after him and his systems. This scheme was created by promising investors 50% profit in 45 days, or 100% profit in 90 days. The previous investors were paid off with the future investors’ money to keep the project going. The Italian con man, may have thought it was a good idea back in the early 1900s, but after defrauding so many people and even causing damage to six banks, he was arrested.

7. Gregor MacGregor

Gregor MacGregor

This con man was so good at selling things that weren’t his that he made up a fictitious island, and sold sections off to people in the 1800s. Over 200 settlers went out to colonize the landmass, only to find nothing but open waters. After these settlers died off, he resold the lands to others. Eventually he was caught, however the scheme was clever nonetheless. Without satellite, people just had to take each other’s word that a land mass actually existed back then.

6. Benny Hinn

Benny Hinn

Performing so called “miracles” in front of thousands is another way to get rich. Benny Hinn made profits through church donations when he went on tours performing miracles in front of large crowds. Hinn wrote several books and even had his miracles shown on television. All was going well until people started to catch onto his hoax, and he was exposed. 100 million dollars was brought in annually because of his campaign, yet he didn’t serve any jail time.

5. George Parker

George Parker

Nothing says “con artist” more than selling something that isn’t yours. That’s exactly what George Parker had in mind when he sold multiple landmarks away for profit. They included the Golden Gate Bridge and even the Statue of Liberty. It may be even more surprising that someone is willing to pay upwards of $50,000 for a bridge. In 1928, Parker was served justice for stealing many people’s money, and was given life in prison.

4. James Hogue

James Hogue

Princeton University was the prime target for James Hogue’s scheme. At only 16 years old, James enrolled into Princeton after changing his name and stating that he was a self-taught author. His application stated that he read from philosophers while living by the Grand Canyon as a sheep herder. Students soon caught on and found Hogue to be guilty. After three whole years in jail, Hogue took his actions to Harvard University and became a security guard. At his new position, Hogue took the opportunity to steal gemstones from exhibits at a museum which he was working at as a security guard. The museum later found out and he was charged with theft.

3. Bernard Madoff

Bernard Madoff

As the chairman of the NASDAQ stock market, Madoff conducted the largest financial fraud scheme in American history. Like Charles Ponzi himself, Madoff used the Ponzi scheme to make his profit. It was the Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC that was guilty of these schemes, and was it even one of the upper firms on Wall Street. It wasn’t until 2008, 48 years after the founding of the investment company, when Madoff was arrested. The con artist is quoted as saying the firm was simply “one big lie.” Madoff’s planned release date from Prison: November 14, 2139.

2. Jordan Belfort

Jordan Belfort

Also known as the ‘Wolf of Wall Street,” Jordan Belfort was one of the top con men of the 1980s. As a Wall Street broker, Belfort founded Stratton Oakmont. The company sold small penny stocks to brokers, while using a “pump and dump” scheme. The penny stocks were small in cost, however, Belfort resold them for double the cost and made a profit. This resulted in billions of dollars in gains and Belfort later pleaded guilty to fraud and stock market manipulation. Surprisingly, instead of living the rest of his live in jail, or fleeing, Belfort is now a motivation speaker. Nevertheless, he can still relive his glory days by watching Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie that depicts Belfort in Hollywood fashion.

1. Frank Abagnail

Frank Abagnail

After portraying himself as a PAN AM pilot to get free flights, Frank Abagnail also posed as a doctor and a lawyer, and he was only a teenager. Over a million miles flown, on 250 aircrafts, to 26 countries, was what Abagnail accomplished just as a high schooler. In addition, he mastered the art of creating false checks that he cashed in on a regular basis. It wasn’t until 1970 when he was arrested and put in jail for 5 years. Amazingly, after he was released he was able to get a job as an FBI security consultant, but says he doesn’t ever want to relive his life as a con man. It seems as though Leonardo DiCaprio has a liking for con artists, because he once again played as Frank Abagnail in Steven Spielberg’s movie Catch Me if You Can.

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