The All-Time Top 10 Scams, Cons, and Tricks: Part One.


Wikipedia is full of wonders. There are pages on there that will give you more information than is ever humanly necessary on the most useless tripe in the world, and then there are pages like this one. It’s called a “List of Confidence Tricks“. Confidence, of course, being the source of the short-form con, as in con man or you are getting conned as I speak.

Turns out history is just full of great cons, and as we all know, they continue right up to this very day. There’s a sucker born every minute, they say. Or someone once said, somewhere. Chances are a loved one or friend is getting conned right now, on the street in front of your building. Seriously, check it out, I don’t think that guy actually works for UNICEF, man.

Why scams? Well, the best cons are brilliant. They bring us back into touch with the seedier side of the world, with the villainy that exists out there and wants our cash. But there’s more than that: the con artist is part of a long tradition of hucksters and tricksters, going right back to the devil himself. See, the best cons do the following things:

  1. Teach us a moral lesson.
  2. Show their genius only in retrospect.
  3. Represent significant risk for the con artist.
  4. Take all your god damn money.

So: What are the best cons in the world, in any context? We took a look at some of the top selections, and here, we give you our thoughts. Remember, the con man is often referred to as an artist, and the intended victim is the mark. That’s it–you’ve now mastered the con-man’s lexicon; let’s go.


#10: Salting the Mine

How it works: Putting gold or other precious minerals around the superficial part of a dig site in order to convince prospectors that a mine contains a ton of gold, see? You just gotta dig it out!

Why it’s cool: This has become a kind of metaphorical scam, since no one is really wandering around the west, looking for gold to pan anymore. But what a metaphor it is, especially when you read that scammers used to load shotguns with gold dust and fire them into the sides of mines. Just think about any false investment, anything that appears too good to be true from the outside, like an amazing investment account. Just think of Bernard Madoff loading up a shotgun with shells full of consistent 10% returns and firing it at his balance sheets, hoping no one would notice the suspicious pockmarks next to all the precious gold. What a metaphor, right? No, really, it’s genius, I tell you. Plus, Deadwood used this one, so, suck on that.


#9: The Ponzi Scheme

How it works: This one is simple, and if you’ve read anything about the aforementioned Bernard Madoff you probably already know how this works. At its simplest: take money from people, promise amazing rates of return, keep finding new investors while you blow through the cash. If anyone asks for their money back, give it to them. The whole scam relies on few enough people wanting their cash, and many people wanting to invest. Once that situation changes, you’re completely screwed.

Why it’s cool: Only because a 50-billion-dollar fraud seems to be an unbelievably high amount for what is essentially a scheme that nearly all of us have heard about. This guy was printing out his account statements using dot-matrix printers and an accounting firm with about 3 employees that no one else used. And no one (!) caught on, except for the few that did and couldn’t prove anything. For anyone who ever said big, long-running, but ultimately simplistic-as-hell scams are impossible in today’s complicated world of finance, meet Mr. Madoff.


#8: The Gold Brick Scam

How it works: Paint a brick gold. Find idiot. Sell brick to idiot. Run.

Why it’s cool: Because you can do this with broken TVs, too, and in a wonderful bit of poetic justice, pay tribute to the original scam by loading the TV down with bricks. Hell, paint them gold just to drive the point home a bit further, like you’re some kind of comic-book villain. So: if you ever find some dudes selling you a TV in a parking lot, don’t buy it. You can’t report it to the police because they’ll scold you for trying to buy stolen goods, and you can’t get your revenge on the guys that sold it to you because they will probably beat you up real good. Even if the TV turns on, or the speakers seem to work, you probably shouldn’t bother. There’s always a catch somewhere.


#7: Melon Drop

How it works: Find a Japanese tourist who is used to paying exorbitant amounts for watermelon, if such a tourist exists. Bump into him or her with a cheap watermelon in hand. Drop watermelon, begin screaming, and demand money from tourist. Rely on her bad english and cultural sense of propriety in order to extract the most amount of money possible, you asshole, you.

Why it’s cool: This scam is still being done today, only with a different variety: a couple with a baby walks by a gullible university student in New York. They drop a knapsack. Something breaks inside, and the husband will claim that it’s medicine for the baby. Angrily. The student is so mortified that he instantly agrees to be accompanied to the nearest ATM, where he gets out the appropriate amount of cash and pays the (distraught) parents. Repeat 10x. Check out this New Yorker piece for proof.


#6: Barred Winner Scam

How it works: Show up at a Las Vegas casino, find a man outside with a big handful of chips. “See, I won big, but they ejected me from the casino cause I offended a waitress. Now I can’t cash my chips!” You, fine upstanding person you are, offer to cash the chips for this poor soul, who promises you $100 as a reward. But wait–he demands a little collateral. What if you’re gonna scam him, see? He’s gotta be careful! Ah, OK, no problem, here’s your credit card, watch, whatever. He’ll hold on to that, you’ll cash the chips, and you’ll both meet back here in 10 minutes.

The chips, of course, are completely fake, and your watch, of course, is completely gone.

Why it’s cool: This one relies on you not asking too many questions–a hallmark of most quick scams. The more questions you ask and insurance you seek, the more the scam will fall apart. Why can’t he cash the chips tomorrow? Why can’t he file a complaint with the casino? Why can’t he call a lawyer, if he’s got so much cash coming to him? All these inquiries, and many more, will seem obvious to you after he’s run off with your wallet, and you’re left sitting on the curb, contemplating the next four days in Las Vegas with no money.

Click Here for Part 2: the Top 5 cons of all time!

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