There have been con artists in history presumably as long as there have been people. When an opportunity to con people out of money or other resources is presented, there is bound to be a person or persons who are willing to take advantage of the opportunity. Some con artists stick to small swindles, taking little money and attracting little attention. Other con artists, like those mentioned in this article, go for the bigger swindle. They make a lot more money, but they sure do attract a lot of attention.
*Note: The term con artist is derived from confidence artist. They are called such because of their ability to gain a person’s confidence before robbing them of their resources.
Famous Con Artist in History: Frank Abagnale Jr.
Frank Abagnale Jr. was made famous by the book Catch Me If You Can and the subsequent film. His character is much exaggerated and dramatized in both. However, he was a real con artist and he was quite good at it.
Frank Abagnale Jr. began his career as a con man at the age of 16. His swindles started small (just a few thousand dollars). By the end of his career, he had written 2.5 million dollars worth of forged or otherwise ‘bad’ checks. While doing this, he also posed as a pilot, a lawyer, a doctor and a teacher, all with a degree of success. His con games ended when he was 21. He spent time in prison in both France and Sweden before being taken back to the United States to serve 15 years in a federal prison. He reportedly escaped U.S. authorities twice while he was detained by them, once from an airplane and once from prison.
Frank has worked with the F.B.I. for the past 35 years on cases like his. He is also “one of the world’s most respected authorities on the subjects of forgery, embezzlement and secure documents.” He has turned his life of crime into a lucrative life of fighting crime. He is now reportedly a legitimate millionaire.
Famous Con Artists in History: Charles Ponzi
Charles or “Carlo” Ponzi is the man for whom the “Ponzi scheme” is named. Before he began his pioneering in the con world, he was a small-timer who was caught and jailed on two occasions. Once he began his investment swindle, he moved from city to city, changing his name and avoiding the authorities. In the end, he wound up broke in Brazil (a testament to the reckless nature of the Ponzi scheme). He died there in 1949.
The “Ponzi scheme” is a simple, yet effective method of making money from investors. Con artists essentially promise an investment with exorbitant returns. Investors’ judgment is clouded by the promise of large returns. The cons then pay their early investors with funds collected from later investors. There is no real investment involved. The con artist simply makes off with their earnings when their plan starts to fall apart, or they are caught.
In the long run, the Ponzi scheme is bound to fall apart. It attracts a lot of attention, as well being unsustainable. Without a constant influx of investors, the whole thing falls apart.
Famous Con Artists in History: Bernard “Bernie” Madoff
Bernie Madoff is among the most recent in the line of con artists who have pulled off the Ponzi scheme. Madoff managed to steal as much as 65 billion dollars from his investors. He did this through his Wall Street firm, Madoff Investment Securities LLC. He reportedly has close to 9,000 victims, some of whom were rendered poor because of Bernard.
In 2009, Bernie Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison. He was 71-years-old at the time. He will almost certainly die in prison. Interestingly, the bulk of the money he swindled has never been found. Millions went into funding his lifestyle, but a lot is still missing. Rumor has it that he sunk the money into foreign bank accounts. If so, neither he nor his victims are likely to ever see it again.
Con artists may seem suave in the movies, and they are to an extent in real life too. They have to be to pull off the cons that they manage. However, they are still criminals. They con a person into trusting them and they steal from them. In some cases, a person’s livelihood, retirement or life savings is stolen from them. It just goes to show that we should be very careful whom we trust.
Teather, David, Bernard Madoff receives maximum 150 year sentence, retrieved 8/24/10, guardian.co.uk/business/2009/jun/29/bernard-madoff-sentence
Charles Ponzi, retrieved 8/24/10, u-s-history.com/pages/h1800.html
Abagnale & Associates, Home, retrieved 8/24/10, abagnale.com/index2.asp