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

Yesterday we hit you up with Part 1 of the finest scams in the world, and now, here, for your enjoyment and future benefit (should you wish to be incarcerated for some time) are the top five greatest scams in the world. Enjoy!

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#5: Don Lapre’s Scam

How it works: This scam falls under the get-rich-quick variety, and means any kind of scam in which a product that essentially does nothing is sold to you with the promise of making you insane amounts of cash. The closest analogy would be those e-books that collect a bunch of easy-to-find, near-useless information online and foist themselves onto suckers as wonderful, amazing opportunities online. You just gotta pony up a bit of cash first.

Why it’s cool: This scam is cool only because Don Lapre is the king of god-I-hate-this-asshole-but-I-can’t-stop-watching-him infomercials. His voice, face, and hair, combined with the insidious ways he tries to convince you that his remarkable plans are full of ways to make money make him an entirely fascinating figure. Kevin Trudeau has got nothing on this asshole. The only dude who comes even close is Billy Mays, except that he’s not really a scam artist as much as an insane salesman, and it’s not Billy Mays as much as his unbelievable beard that make him a king among men. No, Don Lapre is a master with few contemporaries.

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#4: False Good Samaritan Scam

How it works: You need two guys for this one. One guy finds a mark with a stealable purse or wallet. He grabs it, and takes off. The second, playing the good samaritan, gives chase, and gets the “mugger” to drop the wallet or purse. The mugger gets away, of course, and the good samaritan returns the purse to the mark. He hopes for a reward.

Why it’s cool: Strictly for the risk involved. This scam plays on two big ifs: first, that no one else will give chase, in which case the “mugger” is liable to be in a whole load of pain and trouble, and second, that the mark will be generous enough to hand over some cash. It’s a remarkable amount of risk for what would probably be a pretty cursory reward. There’s a better version of this scam in The Wire, when Bubbles finds a guy painting a house, up high on a ladder. He starts shaking the ladder, pretending he’s crazy, and his partner runs up and “scares” him off. For his valiance, he gets a $10 reward from the shaken dude up the ladder.

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#3: Snake Oil Scam

How it works: Claim a product has special powers that are, unfortunately, not provable through empirical methods. Sell product. Take money and flee.

Why it’s cool: This scam is old as anything and has been run countless times, but every time I go into a bookstore I’m still stunned to see Kevin Trudeau’s books on the shelf. The Weight Loss Cure “They” Don’t Want You to Know About is a mix of the Snake Oil and the Don Lapre scam, in that the book is absolutely jam-packed with bullshit claims, many of which require a useless product to be purchased through a false front company run by Trudeau himself. He is selling about 500 varieties of snake oil, and from the looks of it, largely getting away with it.

Not only does he make false claims about food and nutrition in general, which increase his book sales (that’s the Snake Oil part), but if you were to follow every piece of advice in the book, and purchase every suggested product through the channels he recommends, he would personally stand to gain something like 16 million dollars from just you, alone. This man is a god damn genius, and evil.

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#2: The Spanish Prisoner

How it works: This one plays on greed. The original verison is the best: a guy approaches you and claims he knows of a wealthy man imprisoned in Spain. The man can’t reveal his identity, but he has entrusted the con man to go out and raise enough money to try and get him out of prison. The prisoner is exceedingly wealthy, but can’t access any of his own money because he’s currently in prison. If you can just front a bit of cash, you’ll be handsomely rewarded when he finally gets out.

Of course, he never does get out, and an endless number of further complications continue to deprive you of your precious money. Strangely, the complications disappear once all your money has, too. So does the con man, and the prisoner, who never actually existed.

Why it’s cool: The fun part about this scam is the illegitimate money. Since the dude is in a Spanish prison, it already adds an element of foreign intrigue (or once did–now it’s usually set in Nigeria, presumably since we know too much about friendly Spain), and also conveniently ensures that you can never go complaining to the police, since the money you were hoping to get as a reward would have been illegal anyway, sucker.

The modern version of this scam is known as the 419 Scam, named after the area code in Nigeria where most of the scammers, claiming they could get access to the cash of a deposed African King if only you’d wire them a bit of money, originated from. This is a brilliant article on those very scams, probably the finest thing you’ll read on cons ever. You can also check out David Mamet’s The Spanish Prisoner for a film (with Steve Martin, no less) that features this scam.

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#1: Fiddle Game

How it works: This one is complicated, but kind of amazing. Two con men go into a restaurant, separately. One looks crappy, one looks rich. The crappy one eats his meal, then claims to have left his wallet (all he has, the poor guy) at home. He begs to go home and get it, and he leaves his precious little violin as collateral with the restaurant owner or a sympathetic waiter.

The second con man, feigning great wealth, watches the whole thing go down. He asks to see the violin and claims it’s a Stradivarius, worth thousands. The crappy dude just doesn’t know what he’s got, see? He offers thousands upon thousands of dollars for it, but then realizes he’s got an appointment (see, he’s rich!) and runs off, but not before leaving a business card with the waiter, begging him to call when the crappy dude returns.

The crappy dude comes back, and the waiter or restaurant owner decides to buy the violin for, say, five grand, thinking he’s going to make a killing off that rich dude who left his card. The poor, crappy dude sells the violin, albeit with some trepidation, and then leaves. Of course, the business card is fake. The two con men split the five grand.

Why it’s cool: Again, this is more of a moral lesson than an actual con, but if were ever pulled on someone, damn. What a lesson. Don’t be greedy, see? It’ll only make you lose five thousand dollars.

Missed anything? Check out Part 1 for the top scams #10 through #6.

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

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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.

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#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.

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#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.

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#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.

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#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.

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#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!