The 5 Most Half-Assed Scams That Were Shockingly Successful
The con man is the classic anti-hero of films and folk tales around the world. Always on the cusp of being caught, only his insurmountable cunning keeps the sly rogue out of harm's way. He may not ever make it big; but he'll never stop hustling just enough to get by.
On the other hand, there are also lazy idiots who go after insane sums of money with stunningly dumbass scams. While way less lovable, they apparently do quite a bit better.
Losing a Quarter Billion Dollars On a "Nigerian Prince" Scam
By now, everybody on the Internet is familiar with the "419 Nigerian Prince scam"--a "Prince" in Nigeria claims he has millions of dollars hidden away in some mysteriously locked account that may or may not be guarded by a fearsome dragon that only one of pure blood can open. The good news is he will gladly share it with you, and the even better news is that you only have to send him a few thousand dollars to get in on the action. Even though it's now become the Internet equivalent of the old cliche "bridge in Brooklyn" scam, occasionally a little old lady who keeps her money under her cat's mattress does get taken in and loses a few thousand dollars. That doesn't surprise us.
What does surprise us is when somebody like Nelson Sakaguchi falls for it. You see, Sakaguchi was director of the Bank Noreste, in charge of--you cannot make this shit up--its overseas accounts. While Sakaguchi presumably came armed with a vast array of knowledge from a lifelong career in bank management, he was no match for the Nigerians who probably came armed with a fax machine from a foreclosed-on Staples, some second-hand Hypercolor sweaters and a command of the English language only rivaled by Japanese t-shirts run through Babelfish a few times.
The spammers sent Sakaguchi an invitation from the Nigerian government to get in on a plan to build an airport, because the usual bag-with-money-sign was considered played out that season. Sakaguchi agreed to a meeting and met with a man who introduced himself as the director of the Bank of Nigeria. How did he fool a sharp-eyed real life bank director? He had a business card! That's seriously it. He promptly wired them $4 million dollars. We don't know off hand what the exchange rate is in Nigeria, but we're pretty sure that's enough money to buy the entire country and staff it with Diamond-encrusted whore robots.
But the scammers weren't content with precious jewel skankbot money; oh no. They continued playing him even after he'd wired them enough money to start a minor but influential religion. Building an airport ain't cheap, and Sakaguchi just kept transferring cash.
Luckily for him, both Lloyd's Bank and Citigroup also had hired directors with only a dim understanding of the word "money," because somehow no one in the giant corporation saw anything suspicious about the millions of dollars being funneled through their accounts to "some dude" in Nigeria. When the other directors at Sakaguchi's bank started noticing that the piles of money they used to jump into were noticeably worse at cushioning their cannonballs, they finally put a stop to it. Unfortunately, by that time Sakguchi had sent $242 million to the scammers.
Oh, but don't worry: Not all of it was lost to the Nigerians. $20 million of the money was actually lost when he paid a Voodoo priestess to buy 240,000 pigeons for a ritual to help him get out of his jam. The pigeons, as usual, contributed nothing helpful.
You, Too, Can Be a Fake Doctor
Who doesn't want to be a doctor? It's one of the very few avenues left in modern life for self-conscious nerds to earn feudal-style titles before their names. Nerds like Christian Eberhard. He too wanted to save lives and junk or whatever but he had a problem: He just didn't have the time or money to invest in the decade or so of schooling. What he did have, though, was a home computer. So of course the University Hospital of Erlangen hired him on!
Unless you're reading this by virtue of a gross misuse of magical powers, you too have a computer! So do we! Shit, we're all doctors! Who's disappointed now, parents!?
OK, so it wasn't quite that easy--he did have to make up some credentials that would fool the medical establishment ... or as it's known in the realms of high stakes international crime: some forms he found on the Internet. Yep, all it took for Christian to create a medical degree from Oxford was an internet connection and a printer. This might not be quite so horrifying if he hadn't managed to misspell "doctor" on the forms. Seriously. He wanted to be a doctor badly enough to risk fraud and imprisonment, but not badly enough to run a spellcheck.
He continued on to make numerous other errors on the form, including misspelling the name of his place of birth. The application was presumably filled in with crayon and in "position applying for," we're laying fair odds that he put "doggy style."
We're going to hedge our bets and say that he spelled "doggy" wrong, also.
So surely this comically inept half-tard had one day of hilarious misunderstandings, and was promptly jailed! Nope. He worked at the hospital for two years before he was caught. Now, if he had just been working alone in an office photocopying his ass we could understand how he might have flown under the radar. However, it turns out he was involved in 190 operations during that time--five of which were organ transplants, and none of which apparently required the tiniest bit of medical training.
...Or a Cop
A rookie police officer in Chicago showed up for his first day at work in January of 2009, where he was presumably paired with a wise old sergeant two days from retirement and assigned the biggest case the precinct has ever seen. There was possibly also a lovable dog companion. Whatever the circumstances, he was soon sent out on his first patrol, which lasted about five hours, two of which he drove the patrol car for. He even assisted in arresting a suspect. What a first day! Especially considering he was never a police officer at all.
"Dead or alive, you're coming with me!"
To become a police officer generally requires the applicant to at least have a high school diploma, passed drug and fitness tests, and has 25 weeks or more of training at a police academy. The unidentified young man in Chicago had none of those things--including the high school diploma--because it turns out he was a child. Not even old enough to get a driver's license.
The young boy reportedly slipped through an unlocked back door of the station wearing a fake uniform and, despite the fact that he had no weapon or badge (he was fucking 14 years-old, by the way), none of the officers on duty questioned the new rookie on the force that most likely couldn't stop talking about all the boobies he'd touched for realsies and kept stopping to pull his comically oversized slacks back up over his Pokemon underwear. It was only after he came back to the station that a supervisor finally noticed that the boy had no gun, an incomplete uniform and that he had not yet reached puberty. Sadly, that was the end of Officer Bobby's illustrious career. As he was escorted out, he was heard to lament that he was, in fact "not old enough for this shit."
Flipping a House is More Profitable If You Don't Buy It First
If you've never seen Flip This House on the A & E Channel (that'd be you, heterosexual men) the show revolves around people who buy old houses and then fix them up to sell for a profit. A & E, in an effort to illustrate how everyone could flip houses for huge profits, decided to feature a man named Sam Leccima. Of course when doing a show like this you want to make sure you have the right lighting; that you have the filming permits; and that the person who you are showing fixing and selling the house actually owns the house. You know, the small details that really make or break a show. You probably see where this is going, but if not, don't feel stupid; there's always doctoring!
Leccima got his friends and family to pretend they were potential buyers and then stuck some "sold" signs on the houses, and voila! TV Magic! It's just that he never owned the houses in the first place. Also, it turns out Leccima's realtor's license had been revoked, so he couldn't have legally sold the houses even if he'd owned them. Also he didn't actually "renovate" the houses, he just hid the bad spots from the cameras. Also, he was a clone from the mirror world.
But even after his 15 minutes of fame were up, Leccima continued to profit from the scam; viewers, believing that TV is a magic trust box full of wishes and earnestness, contacted him to invest their money based on his appearance on the show.
So how did he slip one by the cunning studio executives? He checked "yes" on the "do you own this house" box on the sign-up sheet. An executive at the channel actually admitted that they just take people at their word, and don't investigate any of the claims on their reality shows. Speaking of which, watch out for the new Cracked reality show coming to A&E in the fall!
A few years ago, criminals targeted a large grocery corporation based in Minnesota called SuperValu. They own some of the biggest super market chains in the country, and like all corporations, the dollar is their bottom line. They very tightly monitor every cent that flows in and out of, ah, just kidding! They hurl that shit at anything that moves until it goes away.
See, while the criminal's plan was to steal millions of dollars from the company--possibly by robbing the company's armored cars, hacking into the company's bank accounts or breaking into the company's headquarters and looting the vault--the options, as you can see, are not easy ones. So they just sent an email to SuperValu asking them to send the money instead; which they did. To the tune of more than $10 million.
Back in 2007, the accounting group at SuperValu received two emails, one from Frito-Lay and one from American Greetings. The emails told SuperValu that the bank accounts for these companies had changed and that all payments should be sent to the new accounts. As the emails did not come with a large picture of a pirate flag and blinking lights spelling out the word "Danger: Scam Ahoy!" SuperValu figured the emails simply must be legit.
Though one employee did actually try to confirm the authenticity of the emails, he was promptly suspended. Presumably for his Negative Nellying and Rampant Corporate Buzzkillery.
And so, based on nothing more than a few emails, SuperValu started sending money to the phony accounts. In the end, nine payments were made before someone at the company finally stopped spinning in circles trying to catch their own ass long enough to question why they were sending money to accounts opened by a company named Society Nights Productions, which sounds more like the erotic but villainous antagonists from Silk Stockings than a financial subsidiary of one of the world's largest snack companies. It was at this point that SuperValu called the police to report their own stupidity.
Officer Bobby dutifully recorded the complaint before returning to his paused game of Halo 3.
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To see more gutsy flimflammers, check out The 5 Ballsiest Con Artists of All Time. Or find out about some awesome robberies inspired by Hollywood, in 5 Real Bank Heists Ripped Right Out of the Movies.
And stop by our Top Picks (Updated 3.17.2010) to see found out more about that $16 million we want to split with you.