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!
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.