The Con Artist Chronicles: 10 SCAMS to Avoid in a Digital Age

By Aaron Stone

While robbing five bucks out of a pocketbook is one thing, these ten con artists’ chronicles will leave you in shock.

Netflix’s Puppet Master

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A three-part documentary on Netflix titled “The Ultimate Conman” follows British con artist Robert Hendy-Freegard, who has spent twenty years robbing victims of their money while masking his true identity. He poses as an MI5 agent and tells them tales about IRA assassination schemes. In addition, he manipulated the mother of Jake and Sophie Clifton, persuading her to break away from her family and embezzle her wealth.

John Mehan

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Renowned nurse anesthetist and con artist John Meehan was well-known for his insurance schemes and fake lawsuits. He was found guilty of numerous crimes and had several relationships with women. After revoking his license to practice as a nurse anesthetist, he was forced to concentrate on misleading people. Meehan’s stepdaughter, Terra Newell, killed him after stabbing him thirteen times in self-defense.

Michael McFarland

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Michael McFarland, a serial scammer who developed real estate in New Jersey, was charged with scamming over 100 investors out of more than $26 million. Before the Fyre Festival, McFarland started Magnises, a credit card company that provided discounts at high-end restaurants and clubs and invited-only parties and VIP events. Critics, however, drew attention to the fact that Magnises duplicated the magnetic strip on the customers’ original cards, returning all charges to them.

Charles Ponzi

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Italian immigrant Charles Ponzi, the mastermind of the Ponzi scheme, was an investing con artist who promised to turn an ordinary American worker into a multimillionaire overnight. Ponzi started experimenting with illegal smuggling and check forgery after his employment at Bank Zarossi went bankrupt. He bought and redeemed postal coupons from poorer nations using the international postal coupon system. His plan brought in over forty thousand investors in less than six months, making him a millionaire.

Sylvia Browne

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Controversial psychic Sylvia Browne built her wealth by offering parents of missing children false hope. Browne, born in 1936, established The Nirvana Foundation for Psychic Research in 1974 and stated that she had psychic abilities when she was a little child. Browne claimed to be able to see into the past and communicate with the dead, charging $850 for a half-hour telephone consultation. She became well-known for providing parents with “premonitions” or information about their children’s location when she appeared on The Montel Williams Show. A thorough analysis of Browne’s 115 public forecasts regarding missing children revealed that 25 were incorrect, and 90 cases remain unresolved. She was charged with grand theft and investment fraud in 1992. 

Victor Lustig

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Slick conman Victor Lustig was well-known for successfully ” selling” the Eiffel Tower in France twice. He started making a living on ocean liners, where he invented a sophisticated con known as the money box. Lustig got bids by pretending to be a French government worker and writing letters to the heads of the scrap metal sector. His involvement with counterfeit bills increased his fame. 1935 ended his con career as he was apprehended and given a 20-year sentence to serve in Alcatraz jail.

Jerome Jacobson

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Former police officer Jerome Jacobson and his accomplices covertly manipulated the McDonald’s Monopoly advertising scheme. With a neurological condition, Jacobson oversaw the security of the game pieces, which he afterward gave to customers. His network had around fifty co-conspirators, including gamblers, psychics, and prisoners. Jacobson profited $24 million from the scam, but in 2001, the FBI discovered who was behind it all. He was given a 15-year prison sentence after being accused of conspiring to commit mail fraud.

Jim Bakker

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Renowned televangelist preacher Jim Bakker, who founded several megachurches, was embroiled in a scandal in 1987 after having an extramarital affair with a church secretary. She allegedly received $265,000 from the church to keep it quiet. After acknowledging the affair and accepting hush money, Bakker resigned as PTL’s president. He received a 45-year prison term after being found guilty of fraud and conspiracy. After his release, Bakker launched The Jim Bakker Show, a new program that advertised fake coronavirus antidotes and gear for extreme survival warfare.

Elizabeth Holmes

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Elizabeth Holmes was a scam artist who invented a quick blood test device that offered immediate medical findings. She was also the CEO and founder of the now-defunct Theranos. At first, Holmes’ bold concept was relentless, but as it grew on her, she developed an obsession with it and made up a series of falsehoods to give the impression that it was working. After Theranos was closed in September 2018, federal agencies charged Holmes with wire fraud. The HBO program was based on her book Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup.

Bernie Madoff

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Famous Wall Street scammer Bernie Madoff received a 150-year prison term for his massive Ponzi fraud. Known for his exceptional money management skills, Madoff conned billions of dollars from investors via his hedge fund. Even with his stellar reputation, Madoff’s scam started to look fishy when people began pressuring him for their money. After being detained in 2008, Madoff filed a guilty plea to eleven charges of theft, perjury, money laundering, and fraud. Because of the severe harm he inflicted on his customers, he is currently regarded as one of the most disliked people in America.