The 10 Smartest Scammers In The World


Well, since chances are these people folks won’t be scamming anyone anytime soon, we probably shouldn’t worry about them. And now that you’re aware of them, make sure you’re not scammed by these scam products either. And if you happen to have some money lying around, make sure to save it — perhaps like these cheapskates did.

Now go out there and try not to get caught up in a scam, people.

The Prayer Profiteer

The best kind of scam is one where you get money for something your customer can’t see or touch, which is why Seattle businessman Benjamin Rogovy’s plot was so damn clever. As fictional pastor John Carlson, he operated the Christian Prayer Center, an online business that promised a direct line to God in exchange for between $9 and $35. People all over the world paid up for the CPC’s pastors and ministers to pray for them, and the website had glowing testimonials from people whose prayers came true. Only one problem: Rogovy had no pastors, was tricking people into agreeing to monthly automatic payments, and made up all the testimonials. Oops. When the authorities finally shut him down, they figured he’d made a staggering $7 million off of his scam.

The Face Cheese Mogul

The mark of a real expert scam artist is coming up with ideas that nobody else would dare to try. So we celebrate the sheer balls on Gilberte van Erpe, a French woman who somehow managed to convince thousands of people in Chile that they could make tons of money by manufacturing cheese to be used in beauty treatments. It sounds desperately absurd, but somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,500 Chileans sent “Madame Gil” over $16 million in total. Her claim that the cheese could be re-sold to wealthy Parisian cosmetics companies was, of course, a total lie, but she hooked victims by giving them a small payoff first to encourage them to invest more cash in the scheme. Those payoffs came from new investors, in classic pyramid fashion. It all collapsed on her in 2015 and she was given three years in prison.

The Fantastic Forger

The thing about scamming is that it’s not a low-effort enterprise. To really succeed, you have to work hard, and art forgers work hardest of all. Wolfgang Beltracchi is one of the most notable art scammers in the world, responsible for literally hundreds of mock masterpieces by painters like Picasso, Gauguin and Monet. He’d then turn them over to his wife, who would mock up a history for them and sell them at insane prices. Beltracchi was eventually found out when he used a pigment that wasn’t available during an artist’s life, and spent a few years in prison. When he got out, Beltracchi was shocked to discover that people wanted his paintings with his own name signed on them, and has now moved on to a second career as an actual non-fraudulent artist. Maybe that’s the biggest scam of all.


The Airline Lounge Freeloader

One of the hallmarks of a truly next-level scam artist is knowing when a small investment can pay big rewards. For an unidentified Chinese man, buying a first-class ticket on China Eastern Airlines was a large purchase. But he never had any intention of flying with it. Instead, he’d show up at the airport, show his ticket and enter the airport lounge, where he’d eat his fill of the free food served there to first-class passengers. Then he’d go back to the ticketing area and change his departure date to the next day. By the time anybody caught on, he’d run this scam over 300 times. The airline didn’t even get their ticket fee in the end, as the freeloading passenger applied for and got a refund.

The Psychic Rockstar

Psychic scams are some of the most time-tested grifts out there. Who can prove that the con artist isn’t in touch with the world beyond, after all? But for every storefront psychic content to nickel and dime people with bogus tarot readings, there’s one who really has to push things. Betty Vlado gets on our list for realizing that her Upper East Side victims had a lot of money to flush away and holding the toilet open for them. Vlado was busted in 2013 when some of her victims approached police, claiming they’d been swindled of as much as $50,000. One of her biggest cons was getting a gullible customer to shell out $15,000 for a rock she claimed was part of a meteorite brought back to Earth by NASA, telling them that it was required to clean the dark energy off of their aura.

The Original Welfare Queen

If we’re going to be honest, the total volume of welfare fraud in the United States is a tiny fraction of the budget, dwarfed by out of control military spending and more. But some people still manage to grift the system to an insane degree. Linda Taylor was a Reagan-era welfare cheat who used multiple false identities to claim benefits from the government. Living in Chicago, she was already known to the police for reporting numerous burglaries and claiming insurance payoffs on “stolen” property that may not have existed. When they dug into her life, they found she was attached to 27 names, 31 addresses, and 25 phone numbers. Taylor had a couple dozen wigs she’d use for each identity, and was married to seven different men at the same time. Her total tab from the government alone was $150,000, which was a boodle in 1970s dollars.

The Bottle Bandit

Returning glass bottles for their deposit is a classic way of making money out of nothing, and homeless people around the world depend on it to survive. But one enterprising German found a way to get a whole lot more than a nickel out of a single bottle. By modifying an automatic return machine with a wooden plank and a magnet sensor, he was able to retrieve his recyclable instead of having it fall into the maw. By feeding the same bottle through the unit over and over again, he racked up a profit of over $55,000. It took 177,451 goes to get that money, but we have to say he earned it. The scammer eventually got busted when the cops got an anonymous tip, but they believe there are others pulling the same hoodwink all over Germany.

The Treacherous Talent Agent

You have to have big balls to really pull off high-level scams, and Yugeshwar Rajkumar certainly showed that to the world. The New Jersey man ran a company called American Talent Agency that promised to be able to book some of the biggest names in music, including T-Pain, Chris Brown and Akon. Rajkumar would take deposits of $45,000 to $300,000 from concert promoters and then spend the money on himself. It seems like a swindle that would fall apart pretty quickly, but the dude managed to make nearly $2 million before the cops tracked him down. He got three years and change in state prison for his efforts, and it’s highly likely that few of his famous clients will be visiting him behind bars.

The Cursed Family Con Artis

Here’s another spectacular scam from a con artist who tapped into the supernatural to screw with her victims. Xeukun Su made a really good living telling other Chinese immigrants that their families were under a curse that would kill them if not dealt with. The treatment for the hex was simple: they had to take gold, cash and other valuables and put them in a sealed bag for some time. After the curse was lifted, they were allowed to open the bags, only to find out that Su had made off with everything inside it. She got away with this for quite some time, making over $160,000 before the cops ran her down.

The Imaginary Prince

A core tenet of any scam or swindle is something very valuable that nobody is allowed to see. So when Gregor MacGregor came back from abroad with grand claims that he had been installed as potentate of the South American country of Poyais, the fact that nobody else had been there should have been a red flag. MacGregor claimed to have a functioning diplomatic government, an army, and a banking system in Poyais, and was ready to sell land to speculators. It was a very attractive pitch, and he raised about $2 million in investments. The thing was, MacGregor did own some land down there, but it was unfarmable, barely habitable swampland, and his Poyaisian government didn’t exist. Even worse, seven shiploads of settlers sailed out there to make new lives and two thirds of them died of a variety of tropical diseases.

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